There are certain moments in history which need no introduction, most often due to their tragic nature.
The sinking of The Titanic is undoubtedly one of those points in time. Many people are familiar with what took place on that 1912 voyage from Southampton to New York, yet few can claim to be quite as knowledgeable on the topic as Maddiston man Sean Szmalc.
As the director of the Titanic Honour and Glory touring exhibition, the 46-year-old has dedicated large parts of his life to studying the disaster, gathering 8000 rare artefacts relating to the vessel in the process and even delivering a Stateside talk broadcast on Fox News.
His passion for history and in particular the RMS Titanic began at the age of five when he watched the film A Night To Remember. Since then the one-time joiner has been transfixed — to the extent he set up his own business 18 years ago, along with wife Sheila, to educate others on all things Titanic.
In that time, the Titanic Honour and Glory display has visited various places from Alabama and Aberdeen to Stirling and Shrewsbury. Bainsford-born Sean has also been fortunate enough to have met some of the estimated 700-odd survivors at conventions, where he’s learned in greater detail about the horrors that faced the 1517 people killed in the tragedy.
The scale of the exhibition is evidenced by the sheer range of artefacts it boasts, including a pocket watch that stopped when it went into the water at 2.20am and a trophy given to Captain Edward Smith for his length of service. Also found among the items on display are props from the 1997 blockbuster Titanic movie, like a dress worn by Kate Winslet and a Heart of the Ocean necklace.
As he recalled how he’s got to where he is, Sean said: “It started through a hobby that escalated into a business.
“I went from there to collecting information, researching and writing to some of the survivors.
“To come face to face with people who were on the ship was amazing. It was like meeting a movie star.
“It’s amazing to think this exhibition travelled over the Atlantic to Alabama in a container ship, right over the same spot where the original went down.”
Sean also regularly visits schools, the Scottish War Blinded and care homes to deliver “immersive” talks, complete with characters in full costume. Although he’s so far been unable to hold a display in Falkirk district, Sean admits he’s eager to do so.
He added: “If there’s a venue that’s interested, we’d love to bring it.”