The 31st anniversary of the discovery of RMS Titanic’s wreck site is one of history’s major finds but at Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition inside Luxor Hotel and Casino, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, at the very least in the personal sense.
In commemoration of the anniversary, seven personal possessions belonging to First Officer William Murdoch are on display at the exhibition in Las Vegas through October before heading to the Orlando Exhibition. These artifacts have only been viewed once before by the public and that was in 2012. First Officer Murdoch was on the bridge when the “Unsinkable Ship” collided with the iceberg that fateful night in 1912 and desperately tried to save the ship before assisting passengers into lifeboats. Murdoch’s recovered belongings include a toiletry kit, which contained a shoe brush, official White Star Line officer’s buttons, a straight razor, a razor handle, a pair of long-johns, and a smoking pipe.
“Due to our continued research of our collection and Titanic, First Officer Murdoch is one of a handful of passengers and crew members whom we were able to directly identify personal possessions,” says Alexandra Klingelhofer, vice president of collections for Premier Exhibitions, Inc. “It is extremely difficult to link the artifacts to passengers aboard the ‘Ship of Dreams’ unless they are enclosed in a protective suitcase or other leather casing with the passenger’s name or initials inscribed. Murdoch’s discovery is incredible because it gives us the chance to help tell a story that was thought to be lost with the great ocean liner.”
Born to a Scottish seafaring family in 1873, William Murdoch was destined for the sea. On April 14th, First Officer Murdoch entered Titanic’s bridge shortly before 10:00 p.m. to begin his watch and relieve Officer Lightoller. As soon as the lookouts spotted the iceberg, Murdoch—in a matter of seconds—gave the order “Hard-a-starboard!” and then telegraphed the engine room “Stop. Full speed astern.” He then threw the switch to close the watertight doors. Once the situation was realized, Murdoch spent the remainder of his time loading the starboard lifeboats. First Officer Murdoch did not survive the sinking.
According to Klingelhofer, the items that pointed to First Officer Murdoch were recovered in 2000. The toiletry bag has the initials W.M. clearly embossed on it and the four medium-size buttons were White Star-made. White Star Line was the name of the company that operated Titanic.
“The brass buttons have cotter pins on the back,” she explains. “Instead of being sewn on, they were pushed through the button hole and the pin was attached to the material to keep the button in place. While given their uniforms, officers purchased their own buttons and couldn’t appear in public with one missing. In addition, the buttons were manufactures in Liverpool, home of the Titanic, and bore the White Star insignia.”
Insofar as the straight razor and the handle, they were found inside the leather bag that has Murdoch’s initials on it. Additionally, they were in a brand new cardboard box that did not deteriorate because it was inside the leather bag, although the blade was missing and the iron had corroded.
“Officer Murdoch had had a handlebar mustache at one time but he was clean-shaven on Titanic,” Klingelhofer notes. “These definitely belonged to a clean-shaven man.”
As for the shoe brush, the bristles are still intact. The long-johns belonged to someone of Scottish descent, which Murdoch was and having found references to his 5-foot-nine-inch height, Klingelhofer measured them ad found that the length of the garment corresponded.
“You could see where the ankles would have been because the ankles are tighter around the bottom of the long-johns,” she explains.
“The final clue was the pipe,” she adds. “Officer Murdoch was a pipe smoker – there is a photo of him holding a short type pipe that just fit in the palm of his hand. This is a high-quality pipe made by a well-known pipe-maker, Ben Wade.”
According to Klingelhofer after being on display in Las Vegas and then in Orlando, the items will go back into storage for the sake of their preservation since they are very fragile and light and temperature can hurt them.
While Premier Exhibitions Inc. is the only company allowed to recover artifacts from the Titanic, Klingelhofer says that there are no current plans for another expedition. There is still a debris of one mile by three miles field full of artifacts simply because the shop broke in half as it was sinking.