Titanic museum entrance at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Titanic museum entrance at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 2012 is three weeks away. There will be concerts, plays, lectures, and memorial cruises. New books have been published. James Cameron is re-releasing his 1997 movie. People in Belfast (where Titanic was built), Southampton (her last port), and Halifax (where many of her dead are buried) are all are preparing. But there’s another part of the world that’s preparing. One you may not think of immediately when you think of Titanic, but deserves to be mentioned — and visited — if you’re in the area: the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

I visited the museum last summer on a family vacation. At first, I worried that the museum “attraction” in the heart of Dollywood country wouldn’t pay the proper respect toward the disaster or the deaths that followed it. (For those of you who haven’t been there, the area is kind of like a jumped up Jersey Shore in the mountains). But my fears were unfounded; the folks at the museum got it right. The museum’s mission seemed equal parts education, memorial, and tasteful entertainment.

The museum is an “attraction” because it’s an interactive experience that includes a tour through some of Titanic’s recreated famous spaces: the Grand Staircase, the Straus’ first class suite, a gated stairwell filling with rushing water, and the Bridge — complete with a moonless, cloudless sky full of stars,  a real life wall of ice, and an area where you can stick your hand in 28 degree water and feel how cold it is. (Yes, it hurt. Yes, I was surprised. And yes, I felt shock and horror all over again for anyone who had to face that, just as the museum makers intended me to.)

One of the things I liked about the museum was its mixture of static artifacts (a recovered deck chair, a dress made from one of Lady Duff Gordon’s drawings, cabin keys, lost letters) and live employees who served as both docents and actors playing crew members. We, the visiting public, got to play the parts of various passengers. (I was Gertrude Thorne, a first class passenger and the mistress of a married man. My dad got to play the part of the infamous Francis Millet, war correspondent, artist, sculptor, writer.)

One of the ways the Titanic Museum is paying tribute to those who died is its Rose Petal Memorial. Starting last September and ending April 1st, all guests who visit the museum can deposit a rose petal into a container in the Memorial Gallery. Once collected, these petals will be scattered over the surface of the Atlantic Ocean directly above the spot where Titanic sank. It’s a nice way for anyone, of any age, to pay tribute to the victims of the biggest peacetime maritime disaster in history.

What about you? Does Titanic’s story interest you? Are you planning on doing anything to mark the occasion? Have you been to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge? What did you think? Have you been to The Great Smokey Mountains?