National Geographic Museum Reveals Previously Classified Story About Legendary Shipwreck in ‘Titanic: The Untold Story,’ Opening May 30

On May 30, 2018, the National Geographic Museum will provide new perspectives on one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks in the exhibition “Titanic: The Untold Story.” The National Geographic Society uses its storytelling expertise to shed light on a significant part of the ship’s discovery, a narrative that was classified for many years and can now be revealed.

The story of the Titanic has captivated audiences for decades, but few today associate the discovery as a cover story for a classified Navy mission. In the mid-1980s, National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Robert Ballard — who also held the title of commander in the U.S. Navy and served as a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution — was sent on a top-secret mission to investigate the remains of two nuclear submarines, the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion, both of which sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic during theearly years of the Cold War.

In 1985, Ballard’s mission was to dive to depths of 9,800 feet using a towed camera system called Argo to find and document the imploded remains of the Scorpion. The objective of the mission was to locate the submarine’s nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons and to gain evidence to help determine what led to her loss. After concluding his successful investigations of the Scorpion, Ballard used the final 12 days of his expedition to discover the RMS Titanic at a depth of 12,540 feet. The following year, while the public was enthralled and distracted by the discovery of the Titanic, Ballard returned on a second classified mission to the Thresher and Scorpion.

“Titanic: The Untold Story,” was developed in collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and contains loans from the National Archives and Records Administration, The US Navy Submarine Force Museum, 20th Century Fox Archives and several private lenders. The exhibition — originally exhibited at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum — showcases the history of the discovery from an entirely new angle. Not only are visitors exposed to the historical events that led to the ship’s finding, but they also can hear the fascinating stories of some of the passengers on board the ship. Additionally, the exhibition contains a collection of artifacts belonging to survivors that have not been reunited since the night the ship sank in 1912.

As visitors enter the exhibition, they are greeted by material and photographs from the U.S. Navy Archives, such as the bow cover from the launch of the Scorpion that contains its name and the stars that make up the constellation Scorpius. Additionally, visitors are able to stand face to face with the HOV Alvin, the titanium research submarine that made 12 dives in July 1986 with a prototype robotic vehicle to document the wreckage of the Titanic.

In addition to artifacts on generous loan from families of the survivors, the exhibition also contains artifacts from the rich collections of the National Archives and the 20th Century Fox Archives. Among the items on display are:

  • Sheet music from Wallace Hartley, the bandleader who refused to stop playing, even as the ship sank

  • A Titanic deck chair, one of only seven known to exist

  • John Jacob Astor IV’s pocket watch and the life jacket worn by his wife, Madeleine

  • Marion Woolcott’s “lucky” coat that she wore while escaping the ship and from which she subsequently cut strips of fabric to make Bible covers for her three sons as they served overseas in the military

  • The only known set of Titanicboarding documents and tickets

  • Original footage of the Titanic’s maiden voyage

The exhibition also contains movie sets, props and costumes from the 1997 blockbuster movie “Titanic,” including Rose DeWitt Bukater and Cal Hockley’s first-class suite, Jack Dawson’s boarding suit and the iconic Heart of the Ocean necklace.

“Titanic: The Untold Story” will be on view until Jan. 1, 2019, and will be accompanied by a series of public programs, educational resources and special events. The National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th Street N.W., Washington, D.C., is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Press Preview:

Wednesday, May 30, 2018, from 8:30–9:30 a.m.

The preview will begin with a breakfast during which Kathryn Keane, VP of Experiences at the National Geographic Society will give remarks followed by a tour of the exhibition, given by Bob Ballard. To RSVP, please contact Lexie de los Santos at

Public Events:

Two special evenings have been scheduled at National Geographic headquarters with legendary oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, who will speak about the unfolding mystery at the center of one of the greatest discoveries of all time. It is a story straight out of the pages of a Cold War thriller that will leave audiences wondering what more we may discover about this legendary shipwreck. The first evening, on Wednesday, May 30, 2017, at 7:30 p.m. is sold out. The second evening, on Thursday May 31, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. – also sold out – will feature a panel discussion with Ballard; former Secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration John Lehman; and archaeologist James Delgado, former director of maritime history at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The exhibition will remain open until 7:15 p.m. both nights. More information is located here.

Media Note:

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