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Tours explore haunting of Titanic exhibit at Luxor

Creepy things happen when you work in a museum.

It doesn't matter if it's the Smithsonian or "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" at Luxor. Unexplained - you might even say "supernatural" - events sometimes occur.

This is how Joe Zimmer, an artifacts specialist at the Titanic attraction, explains the inexplicable things that have happened to him, his co-workers and even a few guests while they were in the exhibit.

"Let me tell you, when you're closing this place up at 11 p.m., midnight, you hear stuff," Zimmer says.

And apparently see stuff and feel things, too. Among the weird experiences Zimmer has had on the job: At night, after the overhead music track has been turned off, he sometimes hears the sound of an orchestra playing. He's heard his name called, followed by spooky giggles. Some invisible force has tousled his hair and grabbed the back of his jacket.

In every instance, Zimmer was alone. And sober. And, it must be said, sane.

"Isn't it wild? I think these things are there for everybody to find, eventually. It's just some people seem to be more in tune to it," Zimmer says, explaining his strange encounters.

Wild? Yes. Also, hard to accept that a modern-day attraction in a city that barely existed when the Titanic sank in 1912 has become a portal for the Other Side. If such a thing even exists.

"I'll say this a million times and on my deathbed, and maybe come back and say it after my death: I would not lie to you," Zimmer says. "What I'm asking you is to keep an open mind. Some of the docents and even guests have had some serious experiences here. Now, is it a trick of the mind or something else?"

Good question. You may not believe in ghosts but Zimmer, a fine storyteller, speaks with such conviction that he makes you want to check it out for yourself. So we do. On a recent Tuesday night, a Las Vegas Review-Journal photographer and I were locked in the exhibit after hours, as many of the unexplained events happen after closing, when the music is off and guests are gone. The exhibit's publicist, Sheena Martin, was there. Two ghost hunters accompanied us: Tina Carlson, director of the Las Vegas Society of Supernatural Investigations, and her co-director, Nancy Riggs.

"Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" opened at Luxor in 2008. It's operated by Premier Exhibitions, a Georgia-based company that runs several Titanic traveling exhibits, among others. The Luxor location is 25,000 square feet filled with dozens of items taken from the wreckage of the Titanic. There are pieces of the ship, passengers' luggage, clothing, dishes, letters, eyeglasses, purses and even shoes.

Shortly after the exhibit opened, weird things happened. Spooky things. Things that made people go, "Hmm. Is there some supernatural force trying to make its presence known through ghostly shenanigans?"

It's possible, according to Carlson. After people die, they may maintain a connection to their worldly belongings.

This is the explanation that some staffers, including Marc Lester, have come to believe. Before shutting us inside for a couple of hours, Lester takes our group on a tour through the exhibit. He focuses on the areas where people have experienced the unexplained.

The attraction is laid out so that visitors can take in the artifacts and exhibits in one room without being distracted by what lies in the room ahead. Some rooms are designed to look like areas of the Titanic. Passageways from room to room blend into the wall seamlessly.

In the room that features a replica of the Titanic's grand staircase, he and others have seen a mysterious figure dressed in black. People have called out to her but she never responds before vanishing.

Often, while standing in the hall modeled after the ship's third-class passenger bunks, Lester hears footsteps coming from behind when no one is there. He sometimes feels like he's being watched in the iceberg room and the promenade deck.

Carlson and Riggs listen intently. They will pay special attention to these spots when we are locked in.

"If you need anything, just walk in either direction and you'll come to an exit," Lester says after leading us to the entrance of the attraction, the engine room.

This is where a picture of Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of White Star Line, the company that built Titanic, hangs on the wall. Ismay was onboard during the Titanic's maiden voyage. He survived the sinking, something that irked victims' family members.

Once, that 3-by-2-foot picture was found on the floor when the attraction opened for the day. Thinking it fell or was put there by a prankster, staff reviewed the security video. It showed a clear view of the room and no one in it when the picture slowly slid down the wall. Just before hitting the floor, it turned on its side, then slid a few inches, according to people who saw the video.

Lester leaves, shutting us in the room with the haunted picture.

Carlson and Riggs don their ghost-hunting vests. Their pockets are filled with various tools, including several electromagnetic field detectors, aka ghost meters. If there are any ghosts present, they will be able to detect them.

We follow behind as the ghost hunters lead the way into the next room. Suddenly, an alarm screeches and lights flash. The alarm on one of the glass display cases near the Ismay picture has been tripped. The displays are fitted with motion detector alarms that sound when the case is touched or disturbed. In this instance, the case had not been touched or disturbed.

This disturbs Martin, one of the group's biggest skeptics. She looks at me, the group's other big skeptic. Her eyes are wide. I have goose bumps. Carlson and Riggs laugh as one of the docents enters the room and resets the alarm.

"Maybe the battery is going bad," he says with a slight smile.

And thus begins our haunted tour through the Titanic exhibit. Only moments later, we have our second potentially ghostly encounter. Carlson and Riggs are ahead of us, with the photographer. We're in the hallway of the third-class passenger bunks. Footsteps - loud, creaky footsteps - are coming toward us. Martin and I run back to the other room to see who it is. The room is empty.

We laugh that nervous laugh you get when you've been startled. If this is how our night will go, we are in for some scary stuff.

Unfortunately, that was it for our tangible "ghostly" encounters. The EMF detector went off only once, but it was a false reading triggered by electronics in the wall. It is possible that the spirits didn't want to make themselves known, Carlson says.

It is also possible that ghosts don't exist.

Through October, the attraction will offer "haunted tours" to those who would like to investigate for themselves.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at
spadgett@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.
Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.

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