TITANIC: THE ARTIFACT EXHIBITION FEATURED AT THE "ALL NEW" FRANKLIN INSTITUTE
LAROCHE'S - HAITIAN FAMILY'S DRAMATIC STORY ON BOARD THE TITANIC
Philadelphia, June 30, 2004 - On a calm, April night in 1912, Titanic, the ship of dreams, struck an iceberg and slowly sank in the freezing water of the North Atlantic. Of the 2,228 passengers, including titans of commerce, artists, leaders of countries, immigrant dreamers, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, only one black family was on board.
These stories are revealed in "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," on view at The Franklin Institute July 10 through January 2, 2005, with hundreds of artifacts recovered from the wreck site that tell Titanic's tragic tale. A suitcase, a felt bowler hat, the ship's whistles, glassware etched with the logo of the elite White Star Line—these and many other objects offer haunting, emotional connections to lives abruptly ended or forever altered.
The presence of a black family on board was never mentioned in the extensive 1912 press descriptions of the ship and interviews with the survivors. This information surfaced recently due to the efforts of French researcher Olivier Mendez. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Laroche and their daughters, Simonne and Louise boarded the Titanic to travel from France to Haiti, Joseph's birthplace. At the age of 15, Joseph left Haiti to study engineering in France. Several years later, he met Juliette Lafargue, daughter of a local wine seller, whom he married in 1908.
Joseph's privileged lifestyle in Haiti was not sustained in France. He encountered a bleak and oppressive environment where he was unable to gain employment due to his skin color.
In 1912, with Juliette expecting her third child, Joseph Jr., the Laroches decided to return to Haiti to improve their economic condition and job security. Joseph's mother booked the family on second-class passage on the French liner La Franc, as a welcome gift to the family. Prior to their scheduled departure, the Laroches learned that children were not permitted to dine with their parents on La Franc. The family then exchanged their tickets for second-class reservations on the Titanic. When disaster struck, Joseph loaded his wife and children into a lifeboat that saved their lives. Joseph Laroche perished.
Although the Laroches did not travel in first-class, the family shared many of the advantages of the first-class passengers, such as dining in the same saloon as first class-passengers. Yet Joseph's black skin and his interracial marriage to the olive-skinned Juliette subjected the family to stares and insults.
Racism was rampant aboard the ship, especially among the crewmembers, who focused their attacks on the "Italians" (a generic term for all of the darker-skinned passengers on board). The White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic, was required to issue a public apology for the crew's derogatory statements and behavior.
The Titanic disaster had a lasting impression on Juliette. She and her children returned to France where she limited their opportunities and was seemingly over-protective. Juliette and her three children lived in poverty through World War I until 1918, when she received 150,000 francs from Alexandre Millerand, the White Star advocate, who later became President of France in 1920. Six years after the death of her husband, Juliette was finally able to provide for her family and opened a fabric-dyeing business in her home. Juliette's son, Joseph Jr., married, remained in France, and led a very rewarding life. The Laroche grandchildren also remained in France and currently uphold the family tradition of not discussing the Titanic disaster.
In the past 10 years, more than 14 million people have seen this powerful exhibit in major science museums worldwide, from Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles to Paris and London.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is proudly presented by The Philadelphia Inquirer and sponsored by PECO, An Exelon Company, AT&T, and NBC 10.
Currently undergoing a major renaissance, The "All New" Franklin Institute initiated a Capital Campaign in 1998 and successfully raised $62 million to launch eight new, interactive, theme-based, state-of-the-art exhibits through 2006, as well as to renovate its museum theaters, retail store, and public areas. New and renovated exhibits completed include The Franklin Air Show, Sports Challenge, Space Command, The Train Factory and the Fels Planetarium. In October 2004, a new Bioscience exhibit, The Giant Heart, featuring the famous, walk-through Heart, will open.
For more information on Titanic, see: www.fi.edu/titanic