Titanic violin to go on display next year at 2 US museums

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2013 file photo, Sean Madden, of Fine Art Conservation, works to show the violin played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley during Titanic's tragic maiden voyage, during a photocall to the media in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. The sea-corroded violin believed to have been played by the bandmaster of the Titanic as the ocean liner sank will be displayed next year at a pair of U.S. museums; from March 7 to May 29 in Branson, Missouri, and from June 5 to Aug. 14 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A sea-corroded violin believed to have been played by the bandmaster of the Titanic as the ocean liner sank is headed to two U.S. museums next year where it will be displayed publicly for the first time since its sale set a record.

An anonymous buyer paid more than $1.6 million in U.S. dollars (1 million pounds) for the violin during a 2013 British auction, setting a world record for a Titanic artifact. Auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son said the instrument, now unplayable, has undergone rigorous testing that proved it belonged to bandmaster Wallace Hartley, who was among the 1912 disaster's more than 1,500 victims.

Through an arrangement with the Wiltshire, England, auction house and the owner whom they represent, the violin is coming to the southwest Missouri town of Branson from March 7 to May 29 and Tennessee's Smoky Mountains town of Pigeon Forge from June 5 to Aug. 14.

The engraved instrument, a gift from Hartley's fiancee Maria Robinson, is believed to have been found at sea with the musician's body more than a week after the ship hit an iceberg and sank south of Newfoundland during its maiden voyage. The violin apparently was returned to Robinson, the auction house said, and later ended up in the hands of the Salvation Army before being given to a violin teacher and ultimately auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son.

Auctioneer Andrew Aldridge said in an email that the violin hasn't been on public display since it was sold.

The U.S. museums, which combined have had 10.6 million visitors, claim to house some of the largest permanent collections anywhere of Titanic artifacts and memorabilia. They're co-owned by John Joslyn, who helped lead the first private expedition to visit the ship's resting place on the ocean floor.

Survivors of the Titanic have said they remember the band, led by Hartley, playing on deck even as passengers boarded lifeboats. The story is immortalized in James Cameron's "Titanic," when Hartley and his colleagues are seen playing "Nearer, My God, To Thee" as the passengers around them scream.

"The Titanic violin may never be played again," said Mary Kellogg, Joslyn's wife and co-owner of the Titanic Museum Attractions in Missouri and Tennessee, in a news release. "But one of the final songs Wallace Hartley was said to have been playing during the ship's final moments can still be heard in our imaginations."