Titanic exhibit designer talks visiting submerged ship, importance of artifacts

Story by Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer, Video by Caroline Waterhouse | Broadcast Reporter

Baylor students, faculty and staff, as well as Waco residents were treated to a lecture Thursday from Mark Lach, the designer of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, a traveling exhibit that will remain at Baylor’s Mayborn Museum until Jan. 6.

Lach’s successful Titanic exhibition has been visited by over 14 million people around the world and is created to be an immersive experience for visitors. A highlight of Lach’s lecture involved his stories of traveling on a Russian sea vessel to visit the Titanic wreckage site himself.

Lach has created traveling exhibitions related to King Tut’s tomb, Saturday Night Live and Hamilton, but he said the Titanic will always be the most meaningful for him.

“I’ve done many exhibits on different subjects over the years, but nothing as moving as the journey of the Titanic,” Lach said. “My trip to the wreckage site was physically and emotionally uncomfortable with all you’re taking in, but there’s a beauty and excitement to it. When you see the ship for the first time, you’re overwhelmed by it — it was an unforgettable experience that I’ll take with me forever.”

Lach primarily spoke about his underwater journey to visit the Titanic, recounting how seeing the site with his own eyes was not only an interesting experience, but an emotional one as well.

“It was an out of body experience,” Lach said. “It was very exciting but, very emotional too — it was really about taking the moment in and connecting with the ship and its passengers. It’s surreal and quite personal.”

Lach said designing the Titanic exhibition was particularly interesting for him, as many of the artifacts on display are ones that were recovered on his trip to the site. A moment that was especially moving for him was visiting Captain Smith’s cabin quarters.

“Looking into that cabin, you feel like it’s almost a movie set,” Lach said. “When you have that moment, you realize he was in that exact cabin when the iceberg scraped along the ship. Knowing that he planned on retiring after this journey, and that he had promised his wife this was his last trip, you had to imagine what he was thinking concerning his life and the lives of his passengers. It was obviously an emotional and powerful moment for him, and for me as well.”

Lach also discussed his experience recovering items from the wreckage site, and how he particularly remembers finding a perfume sample set. As soon as the conservation crew opened the set onboard, the aroma from the perfumes filled the air, even after all of its years submerged in salt water.

“The fragrances filled the room — it was a powerful experience of this sweet scent in the room. That night on the set’s satchel we saw a stamp and realized it belonged to a perfume salesman going to New York with his sample kit,” Lach said. “It’s one of the most powerful pieces and stories in the exhibition.”

Lach finished up his lecture with anecdotes from when James Cameron and Millvena Dean, the oldest Titanic survivor, visited his exhibition. He also displayed photographs and video clips from the underwater wreckage site.

Groesbeck senior Marisela Cruz has worked at the Mayborn Museum for two years overseeing different exhibits. She described the Titanic exhibition as an interactive experience, noting how visitors receive a “boarding pass” upon walking in with a classification as either a first, second or third-class passenger.

“The exhibit is divided into rooms — the first entry is my favorite part — the life-size photography is amazing,” Cruz said. “The colors and music makes you feel the optimism of the people as they entered the ship. Once the ‘iceberg hits’, it gets cold with dark lights — the design elements make the exhibit an emotional journey.”

Cruz also mentioned how Titanic has a Baylor connection — letters destroyed when the ship sunk were meant to be delivered to what is now Armstrong Browning Library. She believes Lach’s journey to the wreckage site led to a realistic and immersive exhibition.

“I think his journey to see the site was crucial as a designer,” Cruz said. “He spoke about how he felt seeing the ship for the first time — that really spoke to me.”

Cruz noted how the Mayborn is a special part of Baylor’s campus community and hopes students, staff and Waco residents take time to explore the spot rich with history.

“The Mayborn Museum is centered around Waco,” Cruz said. “It’s important to learn about the area where you go to college — it’s part of your experience as a Baylor student.”