Thursday, 23 June 2011


In the dim hours after the Titanic artifacts exhibit had closed for the day at the Putnam Museum, the aroma of cigar smoke was smelled. It was unmistakable, drifting near a sealed glass case that contained an ill-fated passenger’s cigar holder.
The holder had been retrieved from the wreckage of the ocean liner.
“It was strong, the strangest thing I ever experienced,” says Ciara Tanaka, volunteer coordinator at the Putnam.
Others on the staff of the Davenport museum had smelled cigar smoke in those moments. It was spooky because smoking is not allowed anywhere in the Putnam, certainly not under the strict rules governing the exhibit of Titanic artifacts.
That essence of cigar smoke adds mystery to cigar smoke odor that has gone unexplained during at least one other exhibit of Titanic artifacts.
“I have known of paranormal happenings at other Titanic displays,” says Lowell Lytle of St. Petersburg, Fla., who has portrayed Edward Smith, captain of the doomed ocean liner, at Titanic exhibit openings around the country, including Davenport. “Life itself is a mystery,” he says.
In Orlando, Fla., where there is a large permanent Titanic display, cigar smoke has been smelled — among other apparitions. The ghost of a little girl who died in the sinking on April 15, 1912, is said to roam the Orlando exhibit and tug at coattails. A passenger who died in the disaster tipped his fedora to a cleaning worker before disappearing .
So far, such ethereal things have not happened or knowingly raised eyebrows at the Putnam, where Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition has been extended to July 10. But the cigar smoke smell is talked about as very real among the museum staff.
“It was in the room where the cigar holder is displayed. I smelled cigar smoke, definitely,” says Tanaka. “It was distinct, really crazy. My mind was not playing tricks. I know and like the smell of cigar smoke.”
The exhibit was closed for the day, which adds to the mystery. Others on the staff questioned, “Did you smell that?” One of them, Tom Richmond, who is customer service assistant, says, “I distinctly smelled cigar smoke.” Seriously, he says, “You can believe there are spirits around here.”
Kara Fedje, education specialist at the Putnam, says, “I definitely smelled the smoke, though faint.  “I looked in a garbage container, thinking someone had stuffed a cigar inside. Nothing was there. Who knows what it was?”
Jason Hess co-founder of Rock Island Paranormal, a group that researches unnatural happenings, says, “The smell of cigar smoke at the Titanic exhibit is highly credible. Artifacts, such as from the Titanic, hold energy from bodies and souls that had died quickly.  The odor can be like a rewind of tapes from the past.”
While wandering the Titanic exhibit, I sensed nothing unusual. But Kristine Mullen of DeWitt, Iowa, a professional historian who is a guide for the exhibit, recalls one visitor who seemed to freeze while looking at a faded sheet of music recovered from the Titanic. “He told me that he had to leave the room. Something seemed to happen to him. It was very strange,” she says. The song was “The Land of Romance,” but it did nothing for me when I stood before it for several minutes.

I visited by phone with people at the Orlando exhibit, titled Titanic — The Experience. It’s an  attraction, with live actors portraying the ship’s “night to remember,” along the city’s touristy International Drive.
Joe Zimmer, who is in officer’s uniform as Titanic’s purser in Orlando, frankly says, “Yes, for certain, some very odd things happen in this exhibit.  I have smelled cigar smoke. One night after we closed, I stood in a T-shirt and jeans in the replica of the ship’s veranda café. I looked in a mirror and there was a real-life Titanic officer.  I yelled, ‘Who’s that?’ He — or it — smiled and walked away.” A similar thing happened to Greg Czinke who once was handling the display’s music, says Lytle.
“One night he looked at the memorial name board — solid with names — to see the image of a live, smiling Titanic officer.  Scared, Greg ran around to the back of the board. No one was there,” Lytle says.
Employees and actors in Orlando are convinced it is haunted by a little girl they call Catharina. A 10-year-old, Catharina Van Impe, died with her parents, Jacob and Rosalie, traveling third class to New York from their native Belgium.
“We have a Raggedy Ann doll for her in the gift shop. If it is moved, she will knock down books,” says Zimmer. “When I am guiding a tour, something will lift the back of my uniform jacket.  I know it is Catharina’s ghost. I scold, ‘Cut that out, Catharina,’ and she will stop. Staffers sense her around us.  When we close the exhibit, we says, ‘Good night, Catharina.’ I know this sounds crazy, but it’s true.”

Zimmer tells of Madeline, a cleaning woman who was running a vacuum cleaner after closing hours. She was working near a teak deck chair, authentic from the Titanic as a piece that had likely been washed ashore.
“All of a sudden, a man sat at the edge of the chair, in a suit just like they were wearing at the time of the Titanic. He tipped his fedora hat and smiled at her. She was so scared that she ran out of the exhibit. When I opened the place the next day, the vacuum cleaner was still running. She was too frightened to turn it off.  She wouldn’t come back in. She quit. I had to go outside next week to give Madeline her paycheck.”
Back at the Putnam, Kim Findlay, the museum’s CEO and president, has not smelled any cigar smoke.
“It’s interesting,” she says. “In an exhibit like this, I suppose that anything can be expected.”
Dave Walker, general manager of the Orlando exhibit, says, “A radio station set up equipment one night with a psychic present. They heard music in the walls and sensed some unusual things.”
Hess, of the Rock Island paranormal group, says he intends to contact Putnam officials to possibly set up some sensory equipment some night. 

Thanks to Michał Zapotocki
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