Tired of snow days and looking for a way to get the kids out of the house. Consider venturing to the Grand Rapids Public Museum to see what it was like to be a real life pirate. The museum hosts “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship”. The exhibit runs through April 19th and offers a detailed look at one of the most well known pirate ships and features more than 200 artifacts.
In 1717, the Whydah sank off the coast of Cape Cod in a violent storm. The Whydah looted more than 50 ships prior to its crash. After starting as a slave ship, the vessel was captured by legendary pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy. Despite the ship’s noted strong technology and strong defense system, Bellamy took the vessel over and used it to win the seas by taking treasure from a reported 53 ships. The majority of that treasure sank with Bellamy and a crew of more than 130 in the violent storm. Forbes magazine even declared Black Sam the highest earning pirate of all time, with a 2008 value of $120 million over his career.
In 1984 underwater explorer Barry Clifford found the remains of the Whydah. With the finding of the ship’s bell that verified the ship’s authenticity, the Whydah shipwreck became the first and only pirate ship to be discovered and authenticated. That’s a pretty cool deal to have this exhibit in Grand Rapids, since it is the only recovered official pirate ship. Clifford used the shipwreck using a 1717 map of the site and you could argue he found the ship using a real life pirate treasure map. Clifford is also the man behind finding Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria ship off the coast of Haiti several years ago. The Whydah site is still active and new remains are found each year.
The exhibit features more than 200 artifacts from the shipwreck, including gold and silver pieces, cannons, and guns. There is also a replica of the ship that visitors can board. Visitors also learn the history of some of the pirates on the ship, including an 11 year old who defied his mother’s wishes to become a pirate. More than 10,000 coins were found in the wreckage and many of them are part of the exhibit. That’s right, visitors can hold actual pirate treasure in their hands while at the museum.
National Geographic and Premier Exhibitions are behind the exhibit. Premier has been behind some of the biggest museum exhibits of recent history with coverage of Titanic, Bodies, and King Tut. The exhibit has already had stays in museums across the United States. Cities like San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, and Denver have already had a chance to experience the life of a pirate. Manitoba, Canada is also hosting some of the artifacts currently at its Manitoba Museum.
The exhibit costs $17 for adults and $12 for kids. This exhibit runs through April 19th, but now is a good time to visit and get kids out of the house. From what I have read, the exhibit is family friendly, but there is a caution that images may be scary to young children.