Rosette, mortuary bag among new Titanic artifacts unveiled at Halifax museum

April 15, 2009 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

A rosette fashioned from splintered pieces of the Titanic’s grand staircase and a simple canvas bag used to transport one man’s belongings to his grieving widow were unveiled Tuesday in Halifax, where 150 victims of the infamous maritime disaster are buried.

The items, which were acquired in October from an auction in England, have been placed on display at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – 97 years after the ill-fated luxury liner sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

“Halifax is a real centre of the grim reality of the sinking,” said Dan Conlin, a historian with the waterfront museum.

More than 1,500 crew and passengers – from poor immigrants to American socialites – died when the so-called unsinkable ship went down on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg southeast of Newfoundland. More than 700 people survived.

The ocean liner, owned by the White Star Line, had been on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City when disaster struck.

Though the luxurious vessel boasted cafes, a swimming pool and a vast promenade deck, it had only enough lifeboats to carry about half the people on board.

Among the doomed ship’s victims was Edmund Stone, a 33-year-old first-class bedroom steward from Southampton.

After the sinking, Stone, who was buried at sea, was known simply as Body No. 41. The mortuary bag placed on display Tuesday had been used to safeguard the young man’s belongings – a pocket watch and a receipt from a pawn shop, among a few other items.

The hand-stitched, white bag was stencilled with a large 41, sealed with red wax and tagged with Stone’s name and a note to “query payment of wages” – a reminder to his widow that she was owed his salary up until the time the vessel sank.

The bag, the note and the wax seal remain intact, though the items it once contained are not part of the exhibit.

Conlin admitted that holding the bag and knowing what it once contained feels “a little spooky.”

“I just imagine this arriving in the mail to Mrs. Stone’s home in Southampton and her opening this up and this is all that’s left of her husband … a rusty pocket watch and few keys,” he said.

“It really does connect you quite viscerally with the sinking.”

The bag, which Conlin said fetched about $34,000 at auction, was sewn aboard the Mackay-Bennett, one of a number of cable ships sent from Halifax to pull bodies from the frigid water.

The three other items unveiled by the museum are connected to William Parker, a Nova Scotia carpenter who worked aboard the Minia, another recovery vessel.

Parker, like many others who helped the grim mission, collected pieces of the Titanic’s debris as it floated on the ocean’s surface. He crafted the square rosette out of eight pieces of the mahogany balustrade from the ship’s ornate grand staircase, which featured carvings of leaves and berries.

Parker also created a cribbage board fashioned from Titanic oak that’s also displayed at the museum.

Conlin also presented a photograph of Parker, a moustached man outfitted in the uniform he wore while working aboard the Minia. A cap badge belonging to a different uniform that Parker would have worn on another vessel during his career has also been put on display.

The four items, which Conlin said cost about $80,000, represent a small portion of the artifacts recovered from the Titanic.

The museum is always looking for more, he said.

“We’d love to have a genuine life-jacket with provenance,” he said. “Titanic was a floating city. Everything that you have in a hotel in Halifax you found aboard Titanic.”

The waterfront museum’s permanent Titanic exhibit, which is one of the largest in Canada, also boasts an intact deck chair and wooden panelling from a lounge, among other items.

The Canadian Press

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