Pirate Museum Moved Booty

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Ho, Ho , Ho, a pirate's life for me". Whether you're charmed by the mischevious, but ruggedly handsome Johnny Dep in Pirates of the Caribbean, or fantasize of an adventure at sea as rogue pirate, the next best experience is the Pirate Museum in St. Augustine.

Now if you're scratching your head or wondering if someone poured some whiskey in your coffee as you ponder "wasn't the pirate museum in Key West?", no worries mate, you were right.

Indeed the original Pirate Museum was anchored in Key West, thought to be the ideal location for its long-standing affection for rogues of the seas.  But alas, like the pirates, visitors to Key West  primarily enjoy boozing it up as a way to pass the time.  Art and culture may have walked the plank or be hidden in some dusty cupboard, brought out on occasion for the refined teetotaler. Hence the museum, as a business was a  sinking ship in the laid-back Keys.

Owner and founder, Pat Croce, packed up Blackbeard's severed head and the rest of his blackguard booty and headed to St. Augustine in the summer of 2010. Why St. Augustine? "Pirates sacked St. Augustine and burned it to the ground," said Croce, who has pirate-themed tatoos all over his body. St. Augustine is rich in history, as well as art and culture.

In January of 2010, Croce purchased a building across the street from a 17th century Spanish fort in St. Augustine and began demolition.  The nation's oldest city has been attacked twice by pirates; in 1586 by Sir Francis Drake, and in 1668 by privateer Robert Searles. Part of the early American experience includes the colorful pirates who were real people.

Croce's obsession with pirates began at about age 8.  His most treasured pirate "artifact" is not on display, but in a safe at his home outside Philadelphia, a ruler from fourth grade with a skull and cross bones carved on the back.

His authentic collection began 25 years ago with the purchase of Alexandre Exquemelin's 1684 version of Bucaniers of America which he bought for about $7,500.

Croce's favorite pirate is Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, who was killed by the British in 1718. Croce is trying to make a movie about Blackbeard's life. But Paramount executives want more plot than the doldrum lifestyle of a pirate. 

Croce's collection also includes Captain Kidd's 1699 journal from his last voyage and the first wanted poster for a pirate: 500 pounds silver for the head of Henry Every. He was never caught. A feat admired by fellow pirates. Eluding authorities in today's world of instant communication and connection via technology is almost impossible.

In St. Augustine, the museum is designed to be more interactive, like a treasure hunt. In Key West, visitors used to sit in the pitch black "bilge" of the ship with headphones.  Three dimensional audio brought to life a pirate's existence of rats, paranoia and the takeover of a ship. In St. Augustine the interactive experience will include the loading and firing of a cannon, with the ship's deck rocking with movement of the captain's wheel.  Candles go out below deck.

"Everybody has a pirate's soul," Croce said. "Everybody wants to get out of their cubicle of life and wants to dream, go on adventures, be bold and daring."

So does the eclectic entrepreneur still dress as a swashbuckler and wield a sword? You'll just have to muster the courage and dare to visit the St. Augustine & Pirate Museum!

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  1. Hi from Vegas, Christine! This was really informative. I did not know that pirates had been active in Florida. I feel like I got a good (and fun) history lesson!

  2. Thanks for the great article, Christine! Xo. @PirateKat, Comm Director at The Pirate Museum


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