free hit counter code Titanic exhibit in Skokie recreates rooms, shows artifacts, fills in story – Freeht.buzz

Titanic exhibit in Skokie recreates rooms, shows artifacts, fills in story

Visitors examine displays near a replica of the luxury ocean liner at "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.
Visitors examine displays near a replica of the luxury ocean liner at “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.

The real story of the Titanic – far beyond the cinematic doomed love story of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet – can be found far from an ocean, but close to Chicagoans intrigued by the grandest ship that met one of the greatest disasters of its era.

Amid a labyrinth of rooms in the former Bloomingdale’s store at Westfield  Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, the saga of the luxury ocean liner touted as unsinkable features realistic exhibits starting with the ship’s design and construction, portrayal of both first- and third-class life aboard and finally its demise after it struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic in 1912, though it keeps resonating into another century.

The extensive museum-style exhibit docked here is both the culmination of a 25-year dalliance with the Titanic story for the exhibit firm’s boss and the evolution of the nearly 70-year-old mall from its retail roots.

Now occupying space opposite Imagine Exhibitions’ Downton Abbey experience, “Titanic the Exhibition” just opened for undetermined run lasting at least through spring. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $29 for adults with discounts for children, seniors, military and groups.

Visitors get a personal tie to the ship’s fate as soon as they walk in the door. Each receives a replica boarding bass of “White Star Royal Mail Triple-Screw Steamer at Belfast Wednesday, 10th April, 1912 and 9:30 a.m.” The document bears the name of a passenger on the ocean liner, and they can check later in the exhibit to learn whether their alter ego survived.

Visitors examine at "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie check to see if the passenger they were assigned to survived the voyage. Photo: Pioneer Press.
Visitors at “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie check to see if the passenger they were assigned to survived the voyage. Photo: Pioneer Press.

Then, if desired, they can get a photo taken of themselves by a replica Titanic front railing, with a green screen behind the photo frame showing one of the ship’s smokestacks in the finished image.

By the time visitors wind their way to the end of the exhibit, they will have gone back in time with realistic re-constructions of the Titanic’s two-story grand staircase, first-class corridors, cramped third-class cabins and the ocean floor where the fractured liner now lies more12,000 feet down in its grave. A model iceberg provides an accurate feeling of just how cold the mid-ocean environment was on the ship’s last night.

Authentic period-piece dishes, china and other artifacts taken from the Titanic and its sister ships are scattered throughout the exhibit rooms. They were obtained from a prominent collector of Titanic memorabilia.

At "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, visitors learn how the ship captain radioed for help. The size of a lifeboat is shown in the floor. Photo: Pioneer Press.
At “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie, visitors learn how the ship captain radioed for help. The size of a lifeboat is shown in the floor. Photo: Pioneer Press.

Putting it all together is Cleveland native Tom Zaller, who runs Imagine Exhibitions. He is no detached chronicler of the Titanic. As his involvement in the ship’s history grew over the decades, he actually witnessed the wreckage close-up aboard the MIR, a 1980s Soviet-developed vessel that is one of only five submersibles in the world that can reach the Titanic’s crushing depth.

“This is a story of hope,” Zaller said of the underlying exhibit theme.  First-class passengers, literally the world’s elite, have gotten most of the publicity through three Titanic movies culminating in the James Cameron-directed 1997 blockbuster with Di Caprio and Winslet. But so many among the some 1,500 who perished with the Titanic were third-class passengers who were part of the massive wave of European immigration washing ashore in the United States in the early 20th century.

“This was the hope of passengers going to New York,” Zaller said. “The Titanic was the ‘Ship of Dreams.’

“The part that resonates with me is the human angle, from the owners to boiler stokers. Everyone can relate to somebody on that ship. People speaking four different languages sometimes were put in the same third-class cabin.”

A replica of the luxury ocean liner 's first-class hallways is shown in "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.
A replica of the luxury ocean liner ‘s first-class hallways is shown in “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.

A third-class menu of three daily meals shows “gruel” as the main course for supper. And yet the Titanic was so luxurious overall that third-class accommodations were equal to that of second-class on smaller liners of the era.

Titanic is the one of the ultimate triumph-and-tragedy stories rolled into one. Its construction in a size that dwarfed previous ocean liners, along with two sister ships, was a feat of the time. But when Capt. Edward Smith, coming out of retirement for the grand maiden voyage, planned to set a speed record for the Atlantic crossing, he set his ship on its fateful course with icebergs drifting further south than usual into the main sea lanes.

Many newspapers' headlines, including those of the Chicago Tribune, are included in "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. In the chaos after it happened, some reported too-rose figures. The actual number of those drowned was just over 1,500 and those who survived just over 700. Photo: Pioneer Press.
Many newspapers’ headlines, including those of the Chicago Tribune, are included in “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. In the chaos after it happened, some reported too-rosy figures. The actual number of those drowned was just over 1,500 and those who survived just over 700. Photo: Pioneer Press.

Everything that could have gone wrong did, said Zaller and other exhibit curators. The night of the collision with the iceberg was moonless; with moonlight, waves washing up on icebergs could have been spotted much more easily. The lookout in the ship’s crow’s nest did not have his binoculars on his watch. Other ships in the area alerted the Titanic’s wireless operators of the presence of ice, with one vessel reporting it had stopped dead in the water while surrounded by ice. Had the ship hit the iceberg head-on rather than the gashes on the side of five watertight compartments – one over the limit – the Titanic could have stayed afloat.

Having prepped in the entertainment world as a teen-age “roadie” helping produce performances ranging from the Grateful Dead to magician David Copperfield, Zaller first worked on a Titanic exhibit in Orlando inspired by Cameron’s movie in 1998. Two years later, he was involved in a Museum of Science and Industry Titanic presentation that he said drew 863,000.

Zaller formed Imagine Exhibitions in 2009 with hundreds of programs to its credit, including shows on Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. As malls increasingly struggled with the rise of online shopping, Zaller found a receptive ear with managers eager for fresh programming. The availability of free parking also became a big attraction as he sought prime locations for exhibits.

"Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie shows a recreation of the ship's grand staircase. Photo: Pioneer Press.
“Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie shows a recreation of the ship’s grand staircase. Photo: Pioneer Press.

During the COVID epidemic, Zaller pivoted to construct outdoor exhibitions that entertainment-starved people could drive through. Around the same time, he connected with the management of Westfield Old Orchard to place both the Titanic and Downton Abbey shows in the vacant Bloomingdale’s space in the northwest corner of the mall.

Some 20 to 30 workers, Zaller said, worked for four weeks to do the setup for Titanic, including gutting the space, leveling the floors and setting up the electrical connections. The exhibit workers were enthralled with their handiwork.

“It’s amazing,” said Sherita Evans, retail general manager of the twin exhibits. “Absolutely, I’m impressed this went beyond the (Cameron) movie.”

But time – and development – marches on. Westfield Old Orchard will not turn the exhibit building into a permanent host for traveling exhibits once Titanic and Downton Abbey move on later in the year. The mall’s ambitious plan for mixed-use development, including its first residential structures, likely will mean a limited lifespan for the building.

Visitors examine displays near a replica of the luxury ocean liner at "Titanic the Exhibition" at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.
Visitors examine displays near a replica of the luxury ocean liner at “Titanic the Exhibition” at Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie. Photo: Pioneer Press.

And yet success for the Titanic exhibit is likely to whet Westfield’s appetite for attracting other entertainment and cultural programs for Old Orchard.

“We’re always looking for opportunities,” said mall marketing director Gayle Gleespen. “This happened to work out because we had the space available. It’s incredible. I feel the sky’s the limit for what we could do (in the future).”

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