Since the RMS Titanic sank in the early morning hours of the 15th of April in 1912, it has become one of the most famous ocean liners of all time.
When Mark Shaw of Xenia was just eight years old, he remembers being fascinated by the so called “unsinkable” ship, after first learning of her while watching a movie with his father, Lawrence.
“I first became interested in Titanic while watching ‘A Night to Remember,’ a movie based on a novel by Walter Lord,” Shaw said. “My parents bought me books about the ship and my fascination grew.”
Shaw said he never lost interest as he grew up but when Robert Ballard finally discovered the Titanic on the bottom of the ocean in 1985 it rekindled it once again.
“I started trying to find out more about the wreck,” he said. “I already had a bit of a collection by that time and had moved to Colorado and was going to college out there. Then James Cameron’s movie came out.”
The worldwide blockbuster 1997 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio inspired Shaw to branch out and contact scientists involved in researching the movie and the wreck. “I contacted Walter Lord, the author of “A Night to Remember,” and we became friends and started to correspond,” Shaw said. “I began to collect taped interviews with him and also with several scientists including Dr. Robert Ballard and HP Leighly, the metallurgist who received the first pieces of metal from Titanic from the bottom of the ocean.”
As Shaw continued to contact individuals involved in Titanic excavation, his collection of artifacts was growing. “I wanted to get whatever I could get my hands on,” he said.
Then four years ago, he met his wife to be, Darla Dutton, who would eventually share his passion for the ship once thought to be unsinkable and who would encourage him to build a collection that today the couple hopes to share with others around the region and state.
“I met Darla four years ago and told her I was a Titanic enthusiast and historian,” Shaw said. “She kind of dove right into the passion with me and told me that whatever we had to do to make the collection grow we would do. She is really my inspiration with the collection and through her we have been able to find artifacts and purchase them.”
Shaw said their collection today has been authenticated by prominent collectors in both Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and Branson, Missouri, where two major Titanic artifact museums are located.
“We have metal from what is known as the ‘big piece,’ brought off the bottom of the ocean” Shaw said. “We have 13 signatures of survivors ranging from the most prominent to some that haven’t been heard of. None of them are living now but I was friends with the last remaining survivor, Millvina Dean and we corresponded for years.”
Shaw and Dean remained friends until Dean passed away in 2009. Dean, who lived in Southampton, England, was just a year old when she was among the rescued survivors of Titanic, along with her mother and brother. “She didn’t have memories herself,” Shaw said. “Only what her mother told her, but her father died on Titanic.”
The Shaws also have thousands of actual ship artifacts and more than two dozen of those are White Star Line items. “The largest piece we have in our collection is a part of the aft grand staircase of Titanic,” Shaw said. “The piece has already been in three museums and it was found floating in the water the next day after the sinking by a body recovery ship. We are the sixth owner of the piece.” The piece of wood is about 3.5 inches wide by 2.5 inches tall and since it was never on the bottom of the ocean has been preserved from decay.
Now that the Shaws have a large collection, they hope to share it with the public so everyone can see the ship as they do.
“I’m working with Greene County to come up with a schedule,” Shaw said. “The whole reason I’d like to take it out on the road is that I’m very thankful to my wife. It’s our collection and it’s something I believe in. She would say we are the love story of the Titanic. Even though it’s been on the bottom of the ocean for over 100 years, it’s still the most famous ship in the world and it still makes headlines.”
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