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Midwest Travel: Explore The Titanic In Peoria

Ever since Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet stood on the bow in that blockbuster movie, crowds have flocked to exhibits dedicated to all things Titanic. Swinging a trip to museums in Southampton, England, or Halifax, Nova Scotia, would be a stretch, but your heart can go on with a day visit to Peoria. 
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is at the Riverfront Museum until mid-March. The show, which has spent 15 years traveling around the world, fills two galleries and 8,000 square feet at the Peoria museum.

The exhibition features 125 to 150 artifacts recovered from the massive White Star Line ship, which sank after hitting an iceberg on April 15, 1912. 

Museum staff had been interested in securing the Titanic exhibit even before Riverfront opened in 2012, according to Ann Schmitt, vice president of programs. “Many members of our staff had seen variations of this exhibition in venues around the country and knew what a huge appeal it has for visitors,” she said.

Securing it for Peoria took some time and effort, but staff members are hopeful the exhibit will draw many people, including those who would not normally come to the museum or even to Peoria. “We had more than 46,000 visitors for ‘The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not’ (exhibit),” Schmitt said. “We expect more visitors for the Titanic.”

Those who come will receive a replica of a boarding pass of an actual passenger as they enter the exhibit. They will then learn about the ship’s building, its launch in Southampton, life onboard as it journeyed into the North Atlantic, the iceberg disaster, the loss of more than 1,500 lives and rescue efforts to save survivors huddled in lifeboats in freezing water.

The exhibit re-creates some of the ship’s rooms and includes White Star Line china, passengers’ belongings and a refrigerated ice mass representing the iceberg. A memorial gallery will allow visitors to see if their passenger and friends survived or died.

Bodies of many victims ended up in Halifax, home to a maritime museum and extensive collection of Titanic memorabilia. North Atlantic cable ships from the Nova Scotian city rushed to the disaster site and brought back victims and wreckage. The Southampton museum emphasizes the White Star Line’s history and the Titanic’s departure from that southwestern England port.

Schmitt said various aspects of the Peoria exhibit will appeal to different visitors. “For many, seeing actual objects that have been recovered from the wreck has tremendous appeal. For others, stepping back into the past and seeing what the staterooms looked like and learning what passengers had for a typical meal is very appealing.”

Information on the ship’s construction and operation may draw those who are fascinated by engineering, she said. “Personally, I always enjoy the iceberg display at the venues I’ve visited.”

After exiting the Titanic exhibit, visitors can head to other galleries and experiences at the Riverfront Museum. Those include the Illinois River Encounter, which includes a 400-gallon aquarium and explores life along the river. The Street History Gallery highlights local history, and several rooms showcase examples of the earth sciences.

The museum also houses galleries devoted to fine, folk, international and decorative arts and features an outdoor sculpture garden.

You can test your high school sports and activities skills in an interactive gallery or take young ones to Discovery World for some water, construction and magnet play.

A replica of a first-class cabin is part of the Titanic exhibit coming to the Riverfront Museum in Peoria this winter.PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER EXHIBITIONS

General admission includes the shows in the Dome Planetarium. Schmitt recommends the live show at 3:30, which has an ocean theme in honor of the Titanic. The Giant Screen Theater requires a separate admission. 

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Free parking is available in a covered garage off of Water Street. The museum’s address is 222 SW Washington Street in Peoria, overlooking the Illinois River.

Regular museum admission is $11 for adults, $10 for seniors and $9 for youth aged 3-17. Additional charges for the Titanic exhibit are $7 for adults, $6 for students and seniors and $5 for youth.

Throw in a show in the Giant Screen Theater and a stop at the museum store, and the cost can add up. It still is a bargain, however, compared to hauling the family off to Nova Scotia or England. 

For more information on the Riverfront Museum and its Titanic exhibit or to order tickets, go to www.peoriariverfrontmuseum.org.

Mary Bohlen is a freelance travel writer.  This article ran in the Illinois Times in November.

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