Last Wednesday a bunch of friends and I went to the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Social Science event, Buccaneer’s Ball. Social Science is a quarterly event that SMM holds on a weeknight after normal business hours. The event is restricted to people who are at least 21 years old. The museum brings in cash bars, appetizers, dancers and actors, DJs and special exhibits. The coolest thing for me about Social Science is seeing adults enjoying the regular exhibits (the ones that are usually filled with little kids) – and watching that sense of wonder and curiosity that is usually reserved for a younger set play across their faces.
The featured exhibit this time around was Real Pirates – Arrrr! The friends that I went with are geeks, cosplayers, Ren Fest participants and con-goers, so naturally this happened:
Our pirate crew
La capitaine of our rowdy band
Actually, quite a number of visitors showed up in pirate gear, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of that. I was dressed up too, but I forgot to have someone take a photo of me! There might be a few photos of me being all piratey floating around on Facebook…maybe.
Now on to the main event!
We hit up the Real Pirates exhibit right away. I liked this exhibit because it wasn’t a general collection of pirate “stuff”, but rather a very specific collection that was found in 1984, and according to discoverer Barry Clifford’s biography, it is the only positively-identified pirate shipwreck that’s ever discovered.
I’m not going to do this justice, but the opening of the exhibit took my breath away, so I’m going to try. When the doors opened we all filed in to this boring room and sat down on some boring square benches that faced a movie screen. A short, mildly entertaining film about the history of the Whydah (sounds like “Wee-duh”) started to play. But sometime during the film the mood changed – it became dark and somber and I was drawn in to the story of the doomed pirate ship. And at the very end, the narrator was recounting how the bell clanged out a final desperate cry for help, only to be lost to the depths of the ocean for centuries…until now. And then the film screen rose up and behind it was the bell. Just the bell, suspended in its preservative water-filled case in an empty room. It was…haunting.
This is my photo of the Whydah’s bell. I recommend this shot for a better understanding of how the bell looked to us, displayed on its own in the big entry room after the screen rose.
We moved past the bell into a winding series of rooms that recounted the history of the Whydah. First we learned about her time as a slave ship.
Iron shackles used to secure human captives below decks.
A map of how captives were to be “most efficiently” arranged on the ship.
This is a shot of a nearly floor-to-ceiling artist’s rendition of captives being herded onto a rowboat which would take them to the larger ship for the transatlantic journey to the Carribean. This journey must have been among one of the most hellacious experiences ever seen on this on earth.
The next part of the exhibit was about the Carribean. Here we ran into the first of the dioramas that had life-size, life-like people portrayed within.
Two men discussing business in a bar.
A gunsmith checks his work.
But they weren’t all replicas!
A dirty sailor – or pirate! – teaches passersby how to play a dice game.
Mary Read, a fearsome female pirate, regaled us with stories of drinking and fighting.
We passed into a long open room that provided information about the Whydah herself and the history of the some of the individual pirates that served on the ship. There were several interactive exhibits and informational posters here. One exhibit gave visitors a chance to practice knot tying. There was a billboard on how to fire a cannon (not interactive, sadly), an exhibit of various pirate flags and markings, and there was a series of posters on the different types of ships that crossed the Atlantic (and how a pirate could decide if it was a good one to plunder!).
One of the nearly 60 cannons recovered from the Whydah shipwreck.
A wooden replica of the Wydah
One thing that brought the exhibit to life was a focus on the personal stories of some of the pirates who were on the Whydah. This painting bears a brief introduction of John Julian, a Miskito Indian and the pilot of the Whydah.
At this point we thought that we had reached the end of the exhibit. We were looking around the room for the exit when we stumbled across an unobtrusive, dimly light doorway that opened up into a large room that contained a floor-to-ceiling replica of the Whydah’s stern!
There was a “gangplank” leading up to an entrance into the ship. We passed through some of the top deck and then entered the captain’s cabin to meet the man of the hour, Capt. Sam Bellamy.
On we went through more of the ship. We passed through a small, dim, claustrophobia-inducing room that was meant to feel like being below deck. Here we learned about various crew positions aboard the Whydah – carpenters, surgeons (sometimes the carpenter was also the surgeon, what with him being handy with a saw and other tools!) and the Quarter Master. And then there was the treasure chest. A literal chest with a literal recovered treasure.
After learning about this and getting completely caught up in the crewmans’ lives we walked into a new series of rooms that described the sinking of the Whydah and the subsequent capture and execution of the surviving pirates. I was surprised to recognize a name on one of the display boards in this room. I knew about Cotton Mather from his role in the Salem Witch Trials, but I was fascinated to learn he had a part in the Whydah’s story as well.
And then the science behind the artifacts!
A poster tells visitors about the various challenges to finding, verifiying, extracting and preserving an ocean shipwreck.
This concretion is being kept wet to prevent it from crumbling. It is a complex, tedious, many-stepped process to remove artifacts intact from concretions.
And then we were done. We left the Real Pirates exhibit and went to enjoy some tasty adult beverages (which were very expensive – where was my pirate flask when I needed it? Arrrr!) and hang out in the area between the physics and environmental science sections, right across from the paleontology hall. Then MOAR SCIENCE! The Hubby and I made “gold dubloons”.
I’ve seen this experiment before, and it’s usually a little more hands on. However, the museum probably understood that drunkards who are running around shouting “SCIENCE!” probably shouldn’t be allowed around sodium hydroxide and hot plates, so we handed over some pennies and watched the nice chemist work.
Before and after shots of doubloon-ized pennies.
Then I went upstairs and played in the health sciences wet lab because lab work is awesome. I prepped sheep blood smears and hunted for white blood cells. I extracted DNA from wheat germ with a friend (being adults didn’t keep us from making dirty jokes about slimy white wads of DNA).
And then I crashed. Because it was 10:30pm and a school night. And wine. Hooray for another successful trip to the museum – Arrrr! And because I mentioned pirates, here’s my favorite naughty pirate song (sorry to those who’ve seen me post this many times before. But not really.).