For Fred Hails, remembering the Titanic has been a long loved passion.
It started when he was 13 years old, aboard the Queen Mary in 1948 from England to New York. His family was traveling first class, but somehow the curious teen ended up on the lower deck of the ship. And just like on the Titanic, the Queen Mary had rails separating the first class from the second and third classes. When the young Hails tried climbing over, “I got clipped in the ears by one of the officers,” the owner of Dickens British Museum recalled. “They had to get the purser in first class to vouch for me in order to let me back up.”
Now, almost 65 years later, Hails has a collection of Titanic artifacts and replicas exceeding 1,800 pieces.
On April 15, 1912, the British passenger liner sank in the North Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. There were 2,208 on board, but only 1,178 life boats, leaving 1,030 lost at sea.
“It’s a history,” Hails said. “It’s a triumph, a tragedy. You think of all those people, of the heros, the band that played on, and of course Captain Smith’s last words: ‘Be British.’”
It’s something, he said, that can’t ever be forgotten.
In honour of the 100th anniversary this weekend, Dickens British Museum has expanded its RMS Titanic exhibition.
Visitors will be sailed back in time as they climb the gangway stairs, passing by framed photos, newsprint, posters and collages depicting the historical event.
On display, there are old suitcases, antique trunks, and an original cart, made in 1910, that was used on the dockyards. There are replica boarding tickets, pocket watches, pipes, and a tiny, shriveled-up, polystyrene cup that sunk two miles down from the Titanic. There is also a chunk of coal taken from the Titanic’s remains and replica dinnerware for first, second and third class settings.
And surely not to be missed is the VHS display, featuring more than 400 copies of James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Titanic.
“All I wanted to do was collect 100 for the anniversary, but I just kept going,” said Hails, who started collecting a year ago by scavenging through thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets.
The movie collection is meant to commemorate the 150 victims who were buried in Halifax, the 119 bodies that were recovered and buried at sea, and the 59 bodies that were shipped home to relatives.
In addition to the exhibit, the museum has also donated wheelchairs to the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization that delivers wheelchairs to children in need, in memory of Titanic patrons. Such patrons include Millvina Dean, the last survivor to die, Captain Edward John Smith, Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, and the “unsinkable” Molly Brown, an American socialite who commanded the crew of her lifeboat to go back and look for survivors.
Hails has been collecting his Titanic memorabilia for years, and “as long as I find more wall space, I’ll keep collecting,” he smiled.