Rare ‘Titanic’ violin played by ship’s bandleader goes on public display
11 February 2020, 12:59 | Updated: 11 February 2020, 13:43
Of the stories told about the sinking of the Titanic, the ship’s musicians playing until the very end is one that has endured – and now there’s a chance to see a violin heard on the ship on that tragic day.
A million-dollar violin that survived the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic is going on display at a history museum in Branson, Missouri.
The string instrument had originally been given to Wallace Henry Hartley, the Titanic’s bandleader, as an expensive engagement gift and was taken on the ship’s maiden voyage.
Following the Titanic’s tragic collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912, Wallace had stood on deck with his eight-piece band and played hymns on the violin to calm anxious passengers as they jumped into lifeboats.
The harrowing scene was recreated in the 1997 film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and the story of the musicians playing on while the ship sank is one that has lived on from that tragic day.
And now one of “the most important pieces of Titanic memorabilia in existence” is being made available for fans to see firsthand.
The Branson museum, and its sister facility in Pigeon Forge, Tenn, currently hold more than 400 artefacts recovered from the disaster, which killed more than 1,500 people.
Sadly, the violin’s player Hartley didn’t survive and was found two weeks after the sinking with a music case strapped to his body. Incredibly, it was this case that allowed his violin to endure such cold, wet conditions and remain intact.
After it was salvaged, Hartley’s fiancée gifted the violin to a music teacher at the Salvation Army, before it was sold at auction for $1.7million.
Andrew Aldridge, a member of staff at the Aldridge Auction Home, which represents the anonymous owner, said: “When Wallace went into the water he had a valise, a big leather bag, and the violin was held within that valise. That kept most of the water off it.
“Also the life preserver [Hartley was wearing] would have allowed the person’s body to be two-thirds out of the water. So the violin really set out of the water inside the leather case.”
Paul Burns, curator at the Titanic Museum, told KY3: “For us to have [the violin] now is incredible. We’re extremely lucky. If this violin could talk, what incredible stories it could tell.”
Speaking about its position in the museum, he added: “When we place it on the stand we will take the weight completely off the violin so it will not rest on its own weight,” explaining that it’s critical to preserve the wood.
“It’s the most precious. What it represents, the icon, the human interest side of this, is the key to Titanic living on.”
When it was auctioned in 2013, the violin became the officially most valuable artefact from the Titanic sinking and the director of the auction house that sold it at the time, Andrew Aldridge, said: "I can honestly say I don’t think any other article has made people show as much emotion as this one.”
Hartley’s violin goes on show at the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri from 8 February to 15 June 2020.