PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — A 26-foot-long, 5-foot-high, 4-foot-wide Titanic model — built out of 56,000 Legos by an autistic boy from Iceland — is on exhibit at the Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge.
Obsessed with the ill-fated ocean liner, Brynjar Karl Birgisson built his replica when he was 10. Using a blueprint he created with his grandfather, he worked 11 months in a borrowed storage room.
His massive model, and his determination and construction skill, grabbed international attention. Brynjar, now 15, become known as "the Lego boy" as his model toured Norway, Sweden, Germany and Iceland. Now the Lego liner's anchored in the Pigeon Forge attraction through 2020.
With interior lights and 200 tiny Lego passengers on its decks, the model seems to float on water. The floor is painted a deep black, making the model's platform nearly invisible. A five-minute video created by the museum for the exhibit showing the iceberg the ship struck and black-and-white photos of passengers plays on walls behind the model.
On Monday, Brynjar, his mother Bjarney Ludviksdottir and grandfather Ludvik Ogmundsson visited the museum to see the display. "It was born to be here," Brynjar said. "I was really happy (to see it). I love it."
A big model needing a home
The museum says the replica is the world's largest Lego model of the ship that sank in the early morning of April 15, 1912. Some 1,517 people died after the Titanic hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank on its maiden voyage from Great Britain to New York.
Titanic Museum co-owner Mary Kellogg learned of the Lego replica when Ludviksdottir wrote her a letter. "There was no place to keep it," Kellogg said. "It was going to be destroyed unless they found it a home."
The construction interested Kellogg but the real story, she said, was that a young boy with autism created it.
Brynjar wanted to build a Titanic model after becoming fascinated with the ship. He'd seen large models of objects during an earlier trip to Legoland in Denmark.
He asked his grandfather, an electrical engineer, how big would a Titanic Lego scale model be? "I thought when I told him it had to be so big, he would stop. But he didn't," Ogmundsson said.
Ogmundsson helped his grandson, scaling original ship blueprints to Lego size and helping determine how many tens of thousands of Legos the work required.
700 hours, 56,000 Legos required
Family, friends and interested strangers donated money to purchase Legos. Ludviksdottir set up online crowdfunding so supporters could donate for the work. Total cost was 800,000 Icelandic kronur, about $8,105 in U.S. currency.
Brynjar spent 700 hours, often working hours after school, stacking Legos and gluing pieces together. He got discouraged when the model's stern collapsed twice. But he refused to stop.
"As the bricks went up and up and it began to rise, it became an obsession," he said. "It was, I need to finish, I had to finish. So many people stop at a project ... But anything is possible if you believe."
Moving from an 'autistic fog'
Building his Titanic changed his life, helping him move out of an "autistic fog." When he began, he was extremely shy and spoke little. But Ludviksdottir encouraged her son to plan and speak about his idea. She helped him write letters, create a YouTube video and talk to strangers.
"It would have been easy to say this was not possible, that we did not have the money," she said. "But something in the back of my head said ... go for it, don't kill the dream. And he was able to figure it out."
The Pigeon Forge visit is Brynjar's third trip to America since he became "the Lego boy." In 2013 he spoke at the nonprofit TED's TEDx kids meeting in San Diego. A year later, he talked to 1,200 teachers in San Diego about the project. On Saturday, April 21, he'll meet and talk with Titanic museum visitors.
No 'Star Wars' here
The museum paid to have the model shipped in three sections from Europe. Members of the Tennessee Valley Lego Club reassembled the ship, rewired its LED lighting, fixed some Lego funnels and rebuilt the bow's Lego bridge.
"This is a big deal in the world of Legos," club president Peter Campbell said. "You do see things this large but not very many of them. And he was 10 at the time, so it's definitely unique in that regard."
The model's passengers look different than those Brynjar first placed on his ship. His figures included "Star Wars" and comic book characters. The museum needed its tiny Lego people to be more authentic. Campbell created 200 such figures from photos Kellogg sent of actual passengers.
If you go
The Titanic Museum Attraction in Pigeon Forge opens daily at 9 a.m.
Reservations are recommended and can be made online at titanicpigeonforge.com or by phone at 800-381-7670.