Edward Kamuda, founder of the Titanic Historical Society and curator of its Titanic Museum, remembers well how he first got hooked on the story of the Titanic.
He was in junior high school in Indian Orchard, a part of Springfield, MA, in the early 1950s, and his teacher required the class to read an essay and write about it. Ed chose “A Great Ship Goes Down,” by Hanson Baldwin. It was about the sinking of the Titanic. The experience changed his life.
Edward S. Kamuda started the Titanic Historical Society’s collection of survivors' artifacts in the early 1960s, and he and his wife, Karen, have been caring for it ever since. The collection is housed in the back room of his family’s jewelry shop at 208 Main St. in Indian Orchard. Titanic survivors donated many of these artifacts to Ed himself.
The collection is diverse and includes an original blueprint for the ill-fated ship from its builders, Harland and Wolff, in Ireland, Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s lifejacket, a 9-foot-long, remote-controlled model of the ship, the ice warning message that never made it to the bridge, menus from the ship, various letters and postcards from the Titanic, a wooden breadboard, a piece of a railing and a deck chair picked up as flotsam from the site, photos, many books, film posters, and sheet music, among many other interesting items.
The museum also has artifacts from other ships, such as the bridge bell of the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, and a bronze bell from the cable ship Mackay-Bennett, a Halifax vessel dispatched to pick up the frozen bodies floating near the site of the disaster.
Something you won’t find at Ed’s museum are any artifacts that have been collected from the bottom of the ocean since the location of the ship was discovered in 1985. As far as Ed is concerned, that site is a burial area and should never be disturbed: “Protect the Wreck!” is his motto. In fact, Dr. Robert Ballard — the explorer who discovered the wreck and a man Ed knows well — and his team placed a bronze plaque on the Titanic for the Titanic Historical Society in memory of those who lost their lives.
Ed and his wife, Karen, also produce a high-quality, color quarterly journal for members called The Titanic Commutator (see photo in gallery). A commutator is a device found on the bridge of a ship that measures its tilt.
The Commutator is full of interesting stories and information dealing with the people associated with the ill-fated ship as well as information about other famous vessels such as the Andrea Doria, the Carpathia, the Olympic and many others. It has been published since 1963.
The Titanic Historical Society has a global membership exceeding 7,000. The society and its members have been a valuable resource for many, including James Cameron, producer and director of the 1997 blockbuster movie, "Titanic." In fact, during a research phone call to the THS, the movie staff offered a cameo part in the movie to Ed and Karen Kamuda. They appear on deck in one scene while Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) walk by. There is a still photo of the scene in the museum (see photo in gallery).
The THS also regularly loans out some of its artifacts for display in other museums. For example, Mrs. Astor’s lifejacket is currently on display at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge, TN.
The museum publishes a handout for visitors containing frequently asked questions about the Titanic. Here are some of the more interesting facts found in the handout:
- Three survivors of the disaster have had their ashes scattered over the wreck.
- The iceberg was so high that it “towered over the ship.” (The top of the ship’s funnel was 175 feet from the water.)
- The ship sank in 2.5 miles of water.
- There were eight dogs and one cat onboard.
- The water at the site was about 29 degrees. Most victims didn't drown — they froze to death.
- Three survivors picked up by the Carpathia later died on that rescue ship and were buried at sea.
- In 1912 money, the cost to build the ship was $7.5 million.
The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays. If you visit, park on Main Street and enter through the front door of the jewelry shop. It is well worth a visit.