Titanic Museum Attraction guests and I often reach out together through imagination. For a few moments we linger at the port in Southampton, England, pretending that we are Titanic’s first passengers waiting for the great ship to appear.
There is a ripple in the crowd as the first among us catch a glimpse of the Titanic steaming toward us with a calm, magnificent pace, growing ever larger as it approaches.
“Imagine,” I say to our guests, “how overwhelming it is for citizens of 1912 to catch their first glimpse of a vessel that dwarfs previous ships. Titanic is nearly twice the size, and she has a new, futuristic design.
“We would have to imagine our reaction today to something that suddenly appears on the Parkway outside our museum. Something beyond our experience.
“It seems to have sailed right off the page of a sketch completed by an artist who imagines some new technology of the future. For people of 1912, however, it is not a sketch. It is the actual, physical representation of that breathtaking new idea of what the future will hold.”
Electricity is another exciting technology that causes Titanic passengers to feel swept into the future.
Today, we seldom think about how the abundance of electricity onboard Titanic creates such a dizzying effect.
It is worth noting that today’s technology has come so far that we have become numb to technologies that—though they thrilled the world a hundred years ago—are commonplace today.
Electricity was not universally available in 1912. There were even parts of America that did not have electricity until later in the twentieth century. For many of Titanic’s passengers—including the Irish and the Eastern Europeans—Titanic might be their first experience of electric lights.
Think of that!
The Titanic has four massive electric dynamos producing more electricity than many power plants of the early twentieth century. There are ten thousand lights, and they emit a cleaner, brighter light than most people are accustomed to in 1912.
No wonder passengers feel as though they have been swept decades ahead into the future!
Even passengers in First Class and Second Class do not take electric lights for granted.
No doubt, White Star Line is aware of how light can dramatically affect how we perceive our world. Perhaps this explains why the company sought out new glass for the famous dome. This skylight overarches the top of the ship. Visible from A-Deck, the dome features milk glass.
Previous ships included similar skylights. However, earlier skylights tended to be stained glass, which produces a darker light. White Star Line wanted a clean, clear light. Milk Glass translates daylight so that it presents a fullness and clarity not seen until the Titanic.
“Can you imagine,” I ask our guests, “the sheer wonder of entering the A-Deck of the Grand Staircase? Certainly, there is impressive elegance. Shimmering crystal chandeliers, for example. And the balustrades are hand-carved woods. Twenty-four karat gold-leaf covered medallions catch the eye, and much more.
“But a fullness of light surpassing anything you’ve experienced on a ship, much less in your home. It is nearly a physical blow to your senses.”
And yes, even at night the ship glows everywhere with its thousands of clear lights. Even the Grand Staircase skylight is backlit with electric lights at night or on cloudy days. This is a dramatic accomplishment for 1912. Only the Titanic, with its four huge electric dynamos, can assail the senses with such wondrous light.
But it does seem that we humans, in every era, become dull and numb with the technologies of the past. These technologies thrilled when they were new. However, they seem ho-hum today.
Size is another factor. What might have been enormous a hundred years ago does not overwhelm us today. We require larger and larger creations before we are awed.
Our guests, for example, sometimes express the opinion that our Grand staircase is smaller than they expect it to be. We did use the original blueprints, though. Our staircase is precisely the same size.
Our modern ships dwarf the Titanic. Modern cargo ships, for example, are like floating islands in the sea.
Who knows what the future will bring?
It may be, however, that the Titanic inspires us less for its technology than for our universal longing in every era to reach toward this something we sense just beyond our outstretched fingers.
Today, more than a hundred years after Titanic inspired the world, we sense a vast ocean of Time. It is as though we are riding the swells of the ocean just as the Titanic did in April of 1912. We are always stretching, always reaching.
Perhaps the most significant territory that remains to be discovered in our future involves ideas of who we are as humans and what we are becoming. In every era we create our great ships, our wondrous new technologies. We reach toward new adventures, new wonders, and unexplored frontiers.