Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Titanic the exhibition

From Titanic: The Exhibition. All photos are courtesy of Titanic: The Exhibition Instagram (@titanicexhibit)

David the Docent: Why visit Titanic exhibition

Youth will gain empathy and insight from this important dive into history

Severin Swensen was 14 when his parents put him on the ship to sail to the United States.  

He had 15 kroner sewn into his coat for emergencies—barely enough to buy a postcard. But Severin wasn’t worried. He was 14 and on an adventure to see America. He soon met a group of Swedish teens and, with them, roamed every nook and cranny of the ship.

Little did Severin know that the ship—the newest and biggest cruiseliner of its time—would soon be famous for another reason. It’s name would go down in infamy: Titanic.

As most of us adults know, the Titanic’s maiden voyage did not go as planned.  

Titanic exhibit comes to Seattle

I tell the story of Severin because his story is part Titanic: The Exhibition, a traveling show that opens in Seattle July 25 at the Maritime Building located at 906 Alaskan Way.  Historian Claes-Goren Wetterholm’s enlightening research for the show is the backbone for visitors’ understanding of not only why the great ship sunk but also why people have been fascinated by the Titanic since its sinking on 15 April 1912

Why take kids?

This exhibit works hard to separate the two and is a great opportunity for kids, and their parents or caregivers to dive into the many aspects of a newsmaking tragedy. 

Like so many of the big news stories that kids of all ages hear about in the news, on the internet, or by listening in on conversations when we think they aren’t, heroism, luck, greed, luxury, family, determination, dishonesty, and especially inequity, are all part of the Titanic story. 

Severin was not a first-class passenger or even a second-class passenger. When the Titanic began to sink, he knew how to get from third class to the deck. The first lifeboat he found wouldn’t let him in, and neither did the second. A leap into the third lifeboat just as it hit the water saved his life. This is a story about the haves and the have-nots, and it is a critical one for kids in our time to hear and understand.

There’s much to talk with kids about here. Some things—like racism and classism—continue to impact the lives of millions in our country and elsewhere. Other things, like communication have improved vastly: News traveled very slowly in 1912. Rumors were much faster. Severin’s parents had no idea what happened to their son until a postcard arrived from him—a postcard purchased from the kroner hidden in his coat. 

Titanic the exhibition

All photos courtesy Titanic: The Exhibition Instagram (@titanicexhibit)

A recreation of the voyage

The exhibit uses three tools to create an atmosphere and experience. Wall-size photos of passengers and the crew meet visitors at the show’s entrance. As you navigate the maze of the exhibit, you will meet each them, an audio guide telling their stories.  The exhibits rely on letters, diaries, and family memories. Some photos are of people who were lost at sea. Others are survivors who lived to tell what happened. The effect of the photos and the audio guide is to transform the numbers (1,517 people died when the ship sank) into real human beings, people just like us. 

In addition, there is a third tool that adds to the lump that may come to the throat. Artifacts, personal items, letters, and simple objects connect us to the actual passengers. They are found in cases along the path. There are full-size first-class and third-class cabins to help understand what life on the ship was like.

Titanic the exhibition

School report heaven

If your kids ever need to write or give an oral report on the Titanic for history class, this exhibit will provide A+ material. Instead of copying something off the internet at the last minute, Titanic: The Exhibit provides factual historical material and an experience that allows them to think and analyze what happened like mini-experts. 

They will be able to recount the story of Kate Phillips, a woman who was saved after the sinking. And her husband, who drowned. Their baby was born nine months later. 

They will remember the Asplund family: a father, a mother, three boys, and two young daughters.  The mother and girls made it to the lifeboat. The father and sons did not. 

And they will meet Molly Brown, the American girl who took control of the hysterical men folk on one lifeboat, then organized and led the tiny boat to safety.

Titanic the exhibition

A docent’s age recommendation

If you check the exhibit’s Instagram you’ll see kids of all ages visiting the exhibit in other cities. But to get the full historical, social, and equity picture, questions, and lessons of this exhibit, I recommend it for kids aged 12 and older. Younger kids, especially ship enthusiasts, will enjoy seeing the spaces and artifacts but may not pull in the larger impacts of the show. 

These stories of hope, leaving home, life, and death are not part of a long-ago tragedy. They are, to some degree, part and parcel of every life. Visitors, young and older, will each find something they recognize as they move through the exhibit—and something they should hold onto in the hopes of not repeating the mistakes that led to the Titanic’s end.

Titanic the exhibition

If you go

Tickets are $34 for adults, $24 for kids 12 and under, $29 for seniors, and children age 4 and younger are free. Tickets are available online

Read more:

‘Home Beyond Earth’ exhibit is out of this world

Museum of Illusions: Believe it when you see it

Indigenous StoryWalk returns to Magnolia

About the Author

David Turner

David Turner is an art lover, an art maker, a writer and volunteer docent at Seattle Art Museum where he leads tours and inspired kids to think and feel when they look. His favorite artwork in the museum changes with every tour.