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Titanic time capsule boarding now
(Filed: 16/05/2003)

The clang of the ship's bell rung three times by the duty lookout Frederick Fleet was the first indication that the Titanic was in trouble.

And on Monday, when Millvina Dean visits a new exhibition in London, the bell will be the first thing she will seek out.

"I will look at that bell and wonder what happened to my father," said Miss Dean, the youngest living survivor of the Titanic, as she plans her visit to the Science Museum's Titanic exhibition which opens today.

"I will be wondering whether he jumped overboard or just died when the ship went down. It will be very emotional because I never knew him. I was nine weeks old."

The Titanic sank in 1912, but public interest in the disaster remains so strong that the London museum hopes its display of salvage from the wreck will break visitor records.

From porcelain plates to decanters, shaving brushes to perfume bottles that retain their scent, the 200 relics represent a poignant time capsule.

A two and a half ton section of the ship's steel hull dominates the exhibition, while smaller artefacts, including banknotes that survived remarkably in leather purses, give a sense of intimacy.

Mystery surrounds many items such as a recovered clarinet belonging to Howard Irwin, whose wooden trunk was raised in 1993.

There is no indication that Mr Irwin was on the ship, but his belongings may have been brought on board by his travelling companion, Henry Sutehall Jr, who booked a third class cabin for the Atlantic crossing.

Visitors are given a "boarding pass" containing the details of one of the Titanic's passengers. They then walk through specially reconstructed cabins before learning whether the person on their boarding card was lost or saved.

Controversially, James Rudoni, the exhibition manager, has built a replica of part of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

Visitors are urged to touch it and envisage the freezing water in which 1,500 of the passengers and crew died. Miss Dean, now 91, said she "didn't think much of the idea".

Her father was an East Dulwich publican who was taking his family, including her brother Bertram, to run a tobacconist's shop in Kansas. On the night of 1912, he went to the cabin and told his wife: "You had better take the children up on deck. I will follow you." He never did. Millvina was lowered to a lifeboat in a sack. Brother Bertram followed.

They never set up home in the United States. Their mother, Georgette, chose to return to England.

The exhibition is accompanied by Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary by James Cameron, director of the Oscar-winning Titanic film, at the museum's Imax cinema.

Cameron and experts descend in mini-subs to steer miniaturised cameras around the rusty bowels of the ship on the Atlantic seabed.

A list of all 2,228 people on board is displayed in the final gallery. The exhibition designer, Mark Lach, said: "To come into contact with real pieces of history really brings the story back to life like nothing else can."

Jon Tucker, head of the museum, said: "The exhibition provides an incredible window on life aboard what was then the greatest liner ever built.

"It also reveals the cutting edge of science and technology used to recover and preserve hundreds of artefacts, allowing visitors to appreciate the challenges of bringing these items two and a half miles to the surface."

Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition runs until Sept 28. Tickets cost £9.95 for adults, £6.95 for children/concessions. Advance booking is recommended on 0870 870 4868.

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