From the violin that was played as the ship sank to a heartbreakingly small pair of children's shoes, recovered Titanic artifacts offer a vivid and very human connection to the disaster. When the ship sank in 1912, more than 1,500 people lost their lives, and the world has never forgotten.
These are some of the most emotionally powerful artifacts recovered from the ship, and they tell the story of the disaster, often with such poignancy and precision that we feel the loss more than a century later. Some were found on passengers who died in the disaster when their bodies were recovered, and others come from the shipwreck that has rested on the floor of the North Atlantic for more than 100 years.
The Violin Played During the Sinking
You've probably heard about how the the band on the Titanic played music to help calm themselves and the passengers as the ship was sinking, but you might not have heard that the actual violin played in that moment is one of the recovered Titanic artifacts.
Bandmaster Wallace Hartley drowned in the North Atlantic when the ship went down, but his body was recovered 10 days later. Strapped to his back was a music case containing his Stradivarius violin. It sold for $1.5 million in 2013, but it often travels with Titanic exhibits on loan.
Titanic's Deck Bell
As the Titanic approached the iceberg that would cause its sinking on April 14, 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet rang the deck bell that hung over the crow's nest three times to warn of the danger ahead. The ship struck the iceberg anyway, and the bell, along with most of the Titanic, sank to the bottom of the ocean. It stayed there until 1987, when the bell was among the recovered artifacts. It's a powerful reminder of the futility of efforts to avert the disaster and of the moment the great ship sank.
Vials of Edwardian Perfume
Imagine smelling perfume that had spent almost a century on the ocean floor and had last been opened in 1912. That's exactly what happened in 2000 when divers recovered 65 vials of perfume that belonged to first class passenger Adolphe Saalfeld, a chemist who survived the disaster. Although Saalfeld didn't die on the Titanic, he was ostracized by society for being a male who occupied a spot in a lifeboat. His family said he was tortured by the disaster and never slept well after it.
In 2012, a replica of one of Saalfeld's perfumes from the Titanic his store shelves. It was called Legacy 1912, and it received mixed reviews. It wasn't very popular and is nearly impossible to find now.
Letter Written the Day Before the Sinking
When passenger Oscar Holverson sat down to write a letter to his mother on April 13, 1912, he had no idea that the ship he was on was about to sink. He described the opulence, saying, "The boat is giant in size and fitted up like a palatial hotel." He also mentioned seeing the richest man in the world on board, John Jacob Astor. When the ship sank in the early hours of the following day, Astor and Holverson both drowned. Holverson's body was recovered, and the water-stained letter was in his pocket. It was eventually delivered to his mother.
Titanic Life Jacket
When the rescue ship, the Carpathia, arrived about two hours after Titanic sank, Chicago physician Dr. Frank Blackmarr was on board as a passenger. He immediately sprang into action, helping tend to the Titanic passengers. He kept a Titanic life vest as a souvenir, and it's now part of the Smithsonian collection. It's a clear reminder of the night the Titanic sank.
Shoes of the Unknown Child
When the bodies of Titanic victims were recovered and prepared for burial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, their clothing was burned to discourage collecting and selling of the objects as souvenirs. However, Clarence Northover, a Halifax Police Department Sergeant, didn't have the heart to burn the tiny shoes belonging to an unidentified two-year-old little boy, the youngest victim recovered from the wreck. Northover's grandson reports he kept them in a desk drawer until he retired. The shoes now belong to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Recovered Titanic Artifacts Help Us Remember
Although no single recovered Titanic artifact can tell the whole story of the disaster, they offer insights into what the night of April 14, 1912 was like for the people on board. Taken together, these items paint a picture of heartbreaking loss, but they also help us remember and honor this devastating shipwreck more than a century after it happened.