The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 22, 2013

New gallery features toys, pictures of Titanic's youngest passengers

By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager

BRANSON, Mo. — Jamie Terrell said she feels honored to have the chance to tell the stories of the children who sailed on RMS Titanic's maiden voyage.

"It's absolutely an honor," Terrell said as families toured the Branson museum and attraction's newest gallery. "We are all fascinated with it. We finally get to tell the children's stories. To talk about those brave little heroes -- the ones who stood there so tall and didn't cry. They stood there by their mommies and maybe the daddy wasn't allowed into the lifeboat."

Titanic Museum Attraction Branson's newest feature is dedicated to the 133 children who set sail onboard the ship of dreams more than a century ago. The ill-fated White Star liner hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in April 1912.

The museum and attraction is at the intersection of Highway 76 and Gretna Road and has had thousands of guests tour its ever-changing exhibits during its time docked on Branson's strip.

The women and children onboard were the first people allowed into the ship's lifeboats, Terrell explained. Many if not most of the men aboard had to stand by and hope for the best as their wives, daughters and sons were lowered into the icy water below.

The once-thought "unsinkable" leviathan broke in half and sank in less than three hours of shipboard chaos.

The children of the Titanic are the focus. Museum staff take special care to tell visitors the stories they are tasked with preserving.

"The new gallery is fantastic," Terrell said. "It's a children's gallery. You see colorful art, artifacts and all of the pictures of the children of Titanic. Their stories have hardly ever been talked about."

Women, children first

While the women and young ladies onboard were the first into the ship's few lifeboats, men as young as 13 were considered adults and had to stand by and watch their mothers and female siblings row away to safety.

"The cutoff age would be 13 for a young man, while 12-year-old boys would be sent out to sea with their mothers and sisters," Terrell said. "At 13, you wouldn't have been allowed into a lifeboat. Imagine being frightened just like the adults.

"Your father has just told you to take care of mommy and he will see you in a little bit. You feel that gulp in your throat because you know you won't see him again. Now, it's up to you to take care of mommy. It's your job. You stand there with tears in your eyes, and you know mommy won't see him again, but it's up to you. Can you imagine how brave they had to be?"

The attraction's owners and staff have taken special care to make new features that are appealing, educational and interactive. Terrell -- a self-described "Titaniac" -- and crew tell stories that resonate with adults and children alike.

"The stories that resonate with them are those to which they can relate," she said. "Everyone has a mother and a father, even if they haven't seen them in years. They remember something about their childhood."

Younger children identify with artifacts, toys of the era and the stories staffers tell in the children's gallery.

"Little kids who come relate to the stories," she said. "Every kid has a favorite toy. There was a child on board, Master Robert Spedden, who had his favorite toy, a little white teddy bear. When you come to Titanic you will notice white polar bears everywhere. A Steiff bear, in particular, was one (Robert Spedden) had with him onboard. A Steiff bear is a centerpiece of the new gallery. He still looks pretty good for being more than 100 years old.

"It's our favorite artifact and toy in the gallery. It's our security blanket, and from now on that will never change."

Photos and artifacts

Terrell said parents identify with the story of young Master Spedden and the temporary loss of his favorite toy and security blanket.

"That's exactly what happened to Robert," she said. "He lost his favorite toy. Can you imagine mommy and daddy? They've survived the Titanic, but now they have lost their child's favorite toy? It's a much bigger deal to Robert, who is 6 years old, than the sinking of the ship."

Eventually a crew member found the bear and the pair were reunited, Terrell said. His mother wrote a story called "Polar, the Titanic Bear."

"It was a true story about the Spedden family's time on Titanic, and it was told through the eyes of the polar bear," she said. "So, when we repeat stories, we realize how things haven't really changed; how emotions haven't changed."

Terrell said that's what resonates with Titanic guests, even a century later.

"We can feel it today," she said. "It really happened 100 years ago to people we don't know and will never know, but we know how that feels. And that human emotion really resonates with them."

An interactive video-polar bear draws visitors of all ages into virtual conversations and shares the story of Titanic's children.

Terrell said children's interest begins the moment they cross the gangway and enter the attraction.

"It starts at the beginning when you get your boarding pass," she said. "The crew lets you know about the new Children of Titanic gallery. The moment we say that, the kids' eyes light up. Until that point, children might think there isn't anything for them because they think they are going to go to a museum. Then they discover there are stories of little children just like them, and the idea excites them. Then they get to the gallery and see the pictures and the types of toys they had. They relate and suddenly it's about them, and they have a place in the museum."