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Titanic Researcher James Penca Previews ‘Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’: ‘Still the Greatest Story of All Time’ (Exclusive)

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Marking the 112th anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden voyage, Us Weekly sat down with researcher James Penca to get a glimpse into the life of passenger John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man aboard the most infamous ship in history.

It’s been over a hundred years and people are still so fascinated by the Titanic. Why do you think this is so?
The Titanic is still the greatest story of all time. It has drama, it has romance, it has heroes and villains. It is in this wonderful time in history that people find so fascinating. It has a little bit of everything. And so I just think the interest will never go away.

There were so many different classes of people that were on board the Titanic, including some very wealthy people, including John Jacob Astor. So how did he fit in among the high rollers that were on board?
He was with his new wife, Madeline, on a 10-week tour of the Mediterranean because of the scandal going on in the U.S. surrounding their marriage. He was 47, she was 18, so many first-class passengers gave them the cold shoulder.

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Related: ‘Titanic’ Cast: Where Are They Now?

What detail about his time on Titanic called out that John Jacob Astor was rich and famous?
He boarded the Titanic with a little entourage — his wife, Madeline, his dog, Kitty, a valet, a lady’s maid and a nurse. Really quite a group to be boarding with them.

What was John Jacob Astor’s net worth at the time of his death in 1912? What’s that equivalent to today?
John Jacob Astor’s net worth at the time of his death was around $87 million. That would be more like $18 billion today.

How does his legacy fit into our fascination with the ship and celebrities today?
John Jacob Astor is a very important part of the Titanic story. He represents the first class as a whole. He’s from one of the most iconic families in American history. It adds to the drama, it adds to the fascination of Titanic.

Experience the wonder and tragedy of the world’s most famous ocean liner by planning your own adventure to Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, which includes hundreds of authentic artifacts, costumed actors, and tour full-scale room recreations. Visit locations in Las Vegas, Orlando, Florida and Columbus, Ohio. Purchase tickets today at DISCOVERTITANIC.COM.

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