As this was the 100th anniversary of Titanic sinking, it was standing room only in the Merseyside Maritime Museum.
At one point, I actually felt quite claustrophobic and needed to move out, but the sheer crowds turned the free-standing exhibits into a maze. I found myself trapped before a wide screen showing black and white film of an ice-field. It had been captured just days after Titanic sank. One large iceberg had a broad wedge knocked out of it.
I stood still, transfixed, while haunting music filled my ears. There was a live orchestral band in here, dotted around the vast room. They were playing an arrangement of the hymn, 'Nearer, My God, To Thee'. It was the music which so many survivors reported hearing Titanic's band playing, even as the ship listed dangerously in the frozen Atlantic.
Another section showed Pathe news reels from Titanic. So much footage survives. We saw its leaving; we walked on its decks, as it neared Cork for the final pick ups; we saw the anxious people awaiting news at the White Star offices; we saw the survivors returning to Liverpool. All of this seated in turn of the century theater chairs.
A circular theater screen told the stories of individual passengers. I'm partially deaf, but this was no barrier to immersion into this experience. I understand (from the lady sitting next to me) that actors spoke the words, but they were also mirrored as sub-titles on the screen. I followed everything.
Then, just when your senses are utterly overwhelmed with the enormity of it all, you step out into a room with the passenger lists on the wall. So easy to see, at a glance there, how class played a part in survival. The names are color coded to demonstrate who lived and died.
I found my own surname there. A first class valet named Charles Henry Harrington died on Titanic. Over in steerage, three brothers bearing my mother's maiden name equally met their deaths. Leonard, Lewis and Stanley Hickman are almost certainly related to me, if we go far enough back, as the name has a very limited etymology.
I left feeling quite stunned, but that needn't have been the end of the experience. Dotted around the city itself are more buildings and memorials to the disaster. If I'd have taken a map, I could have done a walking tour of Liverpool and seen them all.