Despite the reason for the gala -- the Los Angeles debut of "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit," featuring replica rooms of the doomed luxury liner and hundreds of personal effects of long-dead passengers -- women in ball gowns gaily toasted the 1912 disaster victims, lifting their Kir Royals.
"It's a little morbid," one guest said. "Whole families were lost. Generations were lost." Then, taking in the chandeliers, the rose-topped tables and the waiters in white tails, she tipped her sweet aperitif and said, "Drink up!"
This "let them eat cake" scene took place Feb. 8 at the California Science Center in Exposition Park, where about 1,000 guests -- among them state Assembly Speaker Herb J. Wesson Jr., actress Rebecca De Mornay and Nobel laureates Louis J. Ignarro and Kary B. Mullis -- had gathered for the Discovery Ball, a fund-raiser for the museum held to celebrate the exhibition's opening.
The evening paid homage to the ship originally touted as "unsinkable," but which sank after colliding with an iceberg on its maiden voyage, killing more than 1,500 of its 2,228 passengers. Guests were issued "boarding passes" with the names of actual Titanic passengers as they headed into the 12,000-square-foot exhibition. After viewing a piece of the ship's hull, they searched a memorial wall for the names to determine whether they survived. The intent was for guests to connect emotionally with the disaster, but the festive decor and ubiquitous cocktails created an experience more surreal than moving.