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Taking the Kids: Learning about the origins of the Titanic in Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

They were just ordinary families from around the world whose lives were derailed by extraordinary circumstance.

Not the pandemic. These families had the misfortune to be passengers and crew aboard the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage on April 10,1912. The ship sunk two nights later, after striking an iceberg.

There are so many stories you've never heard, not only of the passengers and crew but of those who built the Titanic. In 1907, Belfast boasted the largest docks in Ireland where more than 6,000 men worked at dangerous and low-paying jobs.

At the award-winning Titanic Belfast, the world's largest Titanic visitor experience, you are right where Titanic was built (a special dry dock had to be constructed -- the largest in the world at the time).

The museum experience tells the stories of those who built the ship and the stories of the passengers and crew. Along with some of the world's richest men like John Jacob Astor, there were chauffeurs and laborers, tailors and maids, and lots of children on board.

Seven-year-old Eva Hardman wrote "heaps of love and kisses to all" in a letter to relatives. Her father put the letter in the pocket of the coat he draped around his wife when Eva and her mother went into a lifeboat. That letter was found, and it is on display here.


One nine-week-old baby was handed to a lifeboat in a postal bag. Milvina S. Dean lived to be 98. She was the last Titanic survivor when she died May 31, 2009.

More than 1,000 people came to one toddler's funeral in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the dead were taken and some buried, but no one knew who he was until nearly 100 years later when his British-made baby shoes were found. DNA testing of his remains later determined he was Sidney Leslie Goodwin. Today, people believe his grave represents all of the children who died.

A total of 1,517 people died in the sinking of the Titanic. Not only weren't there enough lifeboats for all the passengers and crew, but many lifeboats were left half full. Denver socialite the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown famously begged her lifeboat crew to return for more survivors and later raised money for survivors. A ship sailing nearby that fateful night, The Carpathia, rescued 713 people before continuing on to New York.

This museum also shows us how the story was covered -- everything from inquiries in Britain and the U.S. about what happened and efforts to find the Titanic, which culminated with its discovery by Dr. Robert Ballard in 1985, two and a half miles below the surface of the North Atlantic. Ballard returned in 1986 to explore and photograph the wreck with a small remotely operated sub that went inside the mangled hull. At the museums, you can see what the marine scientists see as Titanic currently rests at the bottom of the sea -- bottles lying as they must have in crates, now disintegrated, a china cup, a shoe, floor tiles. Kids can learn what it is like today to be a marine biologist or hydrographer in the interactive Ocean Exploration Center. (While we are all sheltering-in-place and the museum is closed, check out the museum's free downloadable activities.)


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