Titanics In Tennessee & Missouri, Pirates of the Caribbean, Napoleonland & the Commercialization of History
Today, on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with the loss of 1,514 lives, it would be appropriate for a learned historian at an august university to sit down to ponder the commercialization of history and to consider how our consumer culture turns tragedy into theme parks.
This came to mind from articles about the Titanic of Tennessee, a sort of half-length half scale replica of the ship in the mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee which opened as a “museum attraction” two years ago. (See our previous post, Titanic Museum to Open in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee?) I am not sure exactly what a “museum attraction might be. Fortunately Mary Kellogg-Joslyn, the Titanic Museum Attractions owner explains, “This museum is not a thrill ride or Hollywood style museum. It is an interactive experience that brings in all elements of the famous and tragic Titanic story for families to experience.” One can only hope that bringing in all elements of the experience does not include drowning in the dark in icy water. That would certainly cut down on repeat visitors.
The “Titanic Museum Attraction” in Pigeon Forge,TN is one of two such creations. The other is in Branson, Missouri. According to the Washington Post, some forty descendants of the survivors of the Titanic will be visiting the two museums in Tennessee and Missouri today to commemorate the sinking.
Why are there two Titanic museums in the mountains of Tennessee and the plains of Missouri? Both Pigeon Forge and Branson are resort towns that exist primarily to entertain vacation travelers. The two museum attractions are just another entertainment venue competing for vacationer’s dollars.
Pigeon Forge has a population of less than 6,000 people and yet attracts 11 million visitors yearly. In addition to the Titanic Museum, attractions include the Dollywood theme park, the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame, the Country Tonight Theatre, the Comedy Barn, Wonderworks, the Miracle Theater, Dixie Stampede, Zorb, Flyaway Indoor Skydiving,the National Elvis Museum, and Nascar Speedpark.
Branson’s population is around 10,000 and attracts over 7 million guests. Branson is best known for its music halls featuring country and pop music. Other Branson attractions include the Hollywood Wax Museum, Silver Dollar City, White Water, Waltzing Waters, Mount Pleasant Winery, Stone Hill Winery, Ride The Ducks, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, The Haunted House and Monster Asylum, Butterfly Palace & Rainforest Adventure, Predator World and Branson Landing.
It is unfair to single out the two Titanic Museum attractions as examples of commercialized history. It seems that, in the eyes of many, their views on piracy are informed by a series of movies based on a Disney theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean. Likewise, earlier this year, it was announced that the French are planning to build a ‘Napoleonland’ theme park which will stage daily re-enactments of Battles of Waterloo and Trafalgar. And not quite a decade ago, Disney proposed opening a theme park in Virginia near the sites of Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields. After complaints from historians and some difficulty in transforming slavery and slaughter into fun-filled theme park rides, Disney shelved the idea.
One can only hope that future generations do not learn their history in theme parks and “museum attractions.” That may be too much to ask.
Thanks to Alaric Bond, Phil Leon and Brian Frizell for contributing to the post.