In April of 1912 two events happened, unrelated and thousands of miles apart. One was the beginning of a wonderful journey that is still continuing and the other was a tragic ending to a journey that had a wonderful beginning. Both will be commemorating their 100th anniversary in Branson during 2012.
It’s no April Fool’s joke, Branson, Missouri, was incorporated on April 1, 1912 and less than five months later, on August 29 disaster struck. A fire started in the Commercial Hotel and, except for four buildings, the entire central business district of the newly incorporated city burned to the ground. One of those surviving buildings was “Sulleger’s Saloon,” located on the northwest corner of the junction of Sycamore and Main Street in Historic Downtown Branson, which is considered Branson’s oldest commercial building.
Even though its first commercial entertainment show was decades away, there was a hint of the role tourism was to play in the future of Branson. With the publishing of the book, “The Shepherd of the Hills” by Harold Bell Wright in 1907 and the coming of the railroad, Branson had become a popular tourist destination for those wanting to see the places described in the book. Even with that however, who could have guessed that on its 100th anniversary Branson would be called the “Live music show capital of the world,” hosting about eight million visitors a year and one of the most popular tourist destinations in America.
It’s almost ironic now, but even as Branson was being incorporated the eyes of the world were thousands of miles away watching the preparations for the maiden voyage of the “RMS Titanic,” built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland and owned by the “White Star Line.” The “Olympic class” luxury liner was over 882 feet in length, the ultimate in luxury and the world’s largest steam ship.
She set sail from Southampton, England amid a gala maiden voyage departure celebration on her way to New York City on April 10, 1912. On the night of April 14, in the dark north Atlantic, disaster struck when the mighty ship hit an iceberg at about 10:40 p.m. She sank less than three hours later at about 2:20 p.m. on April 15 with the loss of 1,513 of her 2,224 passengers and crew acquiring a special mystique and place in history.
The city of Branson and the Titanic came together in 2006 with the opening of the Titanic Museum Attraction in Branson. The Branson Titanic is an unusual building resembling the Titanic and built to one half scale of the original containing more than “400 artifacts directly from the ship and its passengers’ that provides a one-of-a-kind exciting way to let its “passengers” experience what it was like on that fateful voyage particularly the last hours before she sank.
Who could have known back in 1912 that a century later the two diverse events, one a beginning and the other an ending ,would be commemorated together in Branson. Tammy Johnson, the Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center said that the Titanic Museum Attraction will be starting its 100th year celebration early with a “Back to Titanic ‘100th Year Tour Ireland Sweepstakes,'” the “Rose Petal Memorial Tribute” and the “Royal Wedding Contest.” During 2012 there will be a special series of events honoring the memory of the Titanic, her crew and passengers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the her sinking.