By Joe Edwards
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titanic museums in the Smoky Mountains and Branson, Mo., have told the ship's story to 7 million visitors in the past six years. Now the attractions are marking the Titanic centennial by sponsoring a Coast Guard cutter to take 1.5 million rose petals to the North Atlantic site where the ship sank 100 years ago.
The museums also will have special ceremonies April 14 in Tennessee and Missouri to commemorate the anniversary.
The flowers will be dropped at the location to memorialize the victims on the luxury liner, which sank April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. More than 1,500 of the 2,200 on board died.
The cutter will leave Boston April 10 and join several commercial cruises in the area for the occasion. The museum-sponsored trip is not open to the public.
"It's a memorial, and we're just going to do the ceremony," said Rick Laney, a spokesman for the museums, who'll be on board. "We'll have a priest, pastor and rabbi along."
Laney, of Knoxville, is not worried about bad weather or danger that befell the Titanic a century ago.
"I'll be in the hands of the Coast Guard," he said. "The capable hands of guys out there all the time."
The museums, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Missouri's country music-oriented resort town of Branson, are to conclude activities April 14 with a symbolic re-enactment of the launching of Titanic's distress flares and the lighting of a memorial flame at the bow of the ship.
John Joslyn, co-owner of both museums, said the ceremonies "will pay tribute to the courage of the rescuers and survivors, respect the sacrifice so many made so that others might live, and honor the memory of all those aboard."
Joslyn was co-leader of the first private expedition to visit the ship's resting place on the ocean floor. Other expeditions also have been conducted, including one by the director of the "Titanic" movie, James Cameron.
In 1987, Joslyn and a team spent 44 days at sea. The expedition dived to the site 32 times, getting hundreds of hours of ghost-like images used in the TV special "Return to Titanic...Live!"
Up to 20 descendants of those who were aboard the Titanic's ill-fated voyage are scheduled to attend ceremonies at the museums, Laney said. The Titanic Historical Society is helping coordinate the activities.
The museums, half-scale replicas of the giant ship, are home to hundreds of artifacts from survivors of the disaster and from the ocean liner. The attractions, with eerie symbolism, strive to show visitors how it felt to be part of the tragedy: They can learn how to send an SOS signal; dip their hands into 28-degree water simulating the water the night the ship sank; and feel the chill of an iceberg. Each guest gets a boarding pass of an actual Titanic passenger or crew member. At the end of the tour, they learn the fate of the passenger.
Visitors can walk hallways, parlors, cabins and a grand staircase while surrounded by the artifacts and exhibits.
The two museums are billed as exhibiting one of the largest permanent collections of Titanic artifacts and memorabilia.
The museum in Branson has had more than 5 million visitors since its opening in 2006; its counterpart in Pigeon Forge has had 2 million visitors since it opened in 2010.
The 1997 movie, which won 11 Academy Awards, starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and is being rereleased in 3-D in time for the centennial.