Thursday, April 12, 2012

Titanic's French Connection

La Cite de La Mer -Titanic Exhibit
On April 10, 1912 the Titanic begun on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. At 6:35PM that evening it stopped briefly in Cherbourg, France the largest artificial harbour in the world. 
Here, 281 passengers embarked on board the liner.   Among them 151 were first class travelers including some of the world's wealthiest like American businessmen Benjamin Guggenheim,  John Jacob Astor and Isidor Straus of the famed Macy's department store. Passengers were of 26 different nationalities including eastern European, American, English, Belgian, Canadian, Croatian, Greek, Italian, Lebanese, Polish, Russian, Syrian, Uruguayan and 21 French passengers. While in Cherbourg, the ship also loaded with an impressive supply of cheese, Champagne, wines and other French luxury products to satisfy its first class passengers.  It resumed its voyage at 8:10 PM towards Queensland (now Cobh) Ireland, its last stop where some 120 mostly third class passengers embarked, for the most part Irish immigrants. In all Titanic carried 2224 people, of which 865 were crew members.  Tragically, 68% (1525) of those on board perished on that fateful night of April 15 when the Titanic hit a massive iceberg.

 Cherbourg is one of seven cities that are closely linked to the infamous liner. They include: Liverpool, location of the transatlantic company White star line headquarters, Belfast where she was built, Southampton, her port of departure, Cherbourg, her first stop-over (the only one on the continent), Cobh (Cork, Ireland), her second and last stop-over, Halifax (Novia Scotia, Canada), where most of the bodies found at sea were buried and New York, the ship's final destination which was never reached. 

These cities joined together to commemorate the centenary of the titanic voyage. To that effect, the Musee de la Mer in Cherbourg ( Museum of the Sea)  inaugurated a new permanent exhibition comprised of two parts. One section is dedicated to the Titanic: the ship’s construction, working on board, life on the ship and, of course, its journey, the collision and the sinking; showing things from the crew’s point of view as well as the passengers’.

 The other section of the exhibit installed in Cherbourg's passenger terminal’s impressive baggage rooms is dedicated to the immigrant experience. It depicts through slides, films and archive photos portraits of immigrant, the passengers’ journey, their arrival in Cherbourg, their hotels, life on board the liner and much more. Cherbourg was a major departure point for immigration from Europe between 1900 and 1914 and involved immigrants essentially from Eastern Europe. Their reasons for emigrating were mainly for economic reasons but also on political or religious grounds. Almost 70,000 transatlantic passengers travelled through Cherbourg-Octeville harbour in 1913. This exodus was interrupted at the start of the First World War, but resumed again from 1919 on with increased strength.  It dwindled in the 1920 s after the enactment of quotas laws by the US Government. Through the 1930's, and into the 50's many prestigious liners made Cherbourg their port of call including Queen Mary I and II and Queen Elizabeth.

Today immigrants are replaced by leisure cruisers who make Cherbourg a favorite port of call . To learn more about the Cherbourg's Museum of the Sea Titanic exhibit visit

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