PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) – The sinking of the Titanic happened more than 107 years ago, but the tragedy still captivates the hearts and minds of thousands of people around the country.
We now know there were not enough life boats to save everyone on board, but there were plenty of life jackets. 3,000 in fact. Experts say there are 12 known to exist today, and six are now on display at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge through December.
Mary Kellogg, Co-Owner of the museum said Tuesday the exhibit took two years of planning and traveling to find how many life jackets remain.
Kellogg, proud to be able to give the rare opportunity to the public, believes their exhibit is the biggest assembly of life jackets since 1912.
Paul Burns is the curator for both the Pigeon Forge and Branson, Missouri museums. His job is essentially to manage the artifacts, acquired by various private collectors and historians.
Burns explained the time and effort that went into getting the life jackets to East Tennessee. His team built customized acrylic stands, to offset the weight of the corks on the deteriorating canvas that holds the more than 107-year-old jacket.
Kellogg asked Burns to travel around the United States and abroad to find the remaining life jackets.
Of the private collectors he found in Europe, just one was willing to transport their artifact to Tennessee to be put on display through December.
Kellogg said she’d like to have all twelve for the public to see.
Each of the jackets were brought in individually, by their owner, Kellogg said. Each jacket is also in different condition and each jacket represents one person’s story, going back to the tragic sinking.
The museum knows who wore two of the jackets on display, Madeline Astor and Laura Mabel Francatelli.
Francatelli worked as the secretary for the most famous dress designer of the time, Lady Duff Gordon. Francatelli and Gordon got onto lifeboat one with ten other people. Francatelli wrote in an affidavit she wanted everyone to sign her life jacket, so she could remember who was on the boat with her. Today, you can make out about five or six of eight or nine remaining signatures.
Kellogg hopes visitors walk away with added appreciation for the Titanic tragedy.
“I’d like them to get in the car and talk about their families. Where did they come from and what is their story? Because here, there’s 2,208 stories to share.”
Vincent Astor is a distant cousin of John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest passenger on Titanic, who died in the sinking. Astor spoke about his relative in Pigeon Forge at the unveiling.
“Colonel Jack was happier when he was married to Madeline than he had ever been before and they were married for such a short time, they were expecting a child and they had to be separated in a tragic way,” he said.
Tuesday, he saw Madeline’s life jacket in person.
“This is real. It makes things much more real than they ever have been.”
Burns called his job a privilege because he gets to preserve history and tell it.
“We are always looking for the next artifact to come available, we’re always looking for that next relative or descendant to come with that next artifact, we believe history is ever-changing, what we try to do is get is correct at the time we develop or design something.”