Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ahoy there, Real Pirates!

We visited the Real Pirate exhibit today at The Franklin (Institute...I know they changed the name, but I can't just say "The Franklin" - the Franklin what??)

I find the pirate thing to be sort of entertaining. The eye patch, the flag, the parrot, the funny way of talking. However, the reality of the situation is that pirates were hard-core criminals. "Plundering the booty" sounds silly, but honestly, they were killing a bunch of people for the booty, which isn't so fun.

The display is centered around the story of Captain Sam Bellamy, who left New England to find a way to convince his girlfriend's Dad that he wasn't a penniless, deadbeat sailor. He decided that the best way to do this was the hijack 50 ships and steal all of their valuables. Quite the role model.

The ship that he used was called the Whydah (Wih-dah) and was a slave ship until he and his "mateys" took it over. So the first few exhibits have a lot of information about slavery, including manacles and a branding iron that was used on the slaves. All very interesting and compelling to a grown-up, but somewhat difficult to explain to a 6-year-old (or a almost 9-year-old, really). This is surely information that they should understand, the horrors of slavery, the progress that has been made - but I wasn't quite prepared to have that conversation today.

The coolest thing was the BIG OLD trunk of pirate treasure. Many many coins. There was a table with little holes in it, where you could touch some of the coins - although I don't think it was all that satisfying...just poking the coins through a little hole...not as fun as it could be.

The second coolest thing was the bell from the ship in a water tank that is backlit...very dramatic.

The third coolest thing was more water tanks with pieces of ship wreckage in them - although it was very hard to tell what you were looking at.

We passed on the audio tour, which was actually free for kids under 11, which might have helped fill in the blanks. But there was sufficient signage to figure out what was what for the most part.

The sort of horrifying, and yet sort of cool things were:

1) The leg bone and shoe of a 9-year-old pirate who went down with the ship (because, yuck, but a kid pirate, kind of cool).

2) The "gibbet" - a cage in which the townspeople would display the dead body of a tarred, feathered, and hung pirate's dead body to discourage others from entering the pirating profession. This was another one of those conversations I wasn't ready for - "What does it mean, hung?"

The exhibits weren't as interactive as I generally expect at The Franklin (Institute). There was a knot-tying station, and a place where the kids could raise a pirate flag. Besides that, there weren't a lot of "doing" things for the kids. The opening film was well done, the displays were set up nicely, but I think the kids expected to be able to get more involved in things.

However, this, along with my lack of preparation for serious conversations doesn't negate the overall coolness and interestingness (is that a word?) of the exhibit. The kids said that they thought it was great. And I guess that is what matters most!

The gift shop was less painful than most. Both kids settled right away on a replica of a pirate coin and a small bag of polished rocks. In and out in under 10 minutes. Whew.

So, if you like pirates, and are ready for a heavy dose of reality about them, you would enjoy this exhibit. It is at The Franklin (Institute) until early November. Check into getting tickets ahead of time, makes it all a lot easier!

Your admission to the Real Pirates also includes a full admission ticket to The Franklin (Institute). We also visited the Sports Challenge, which the kids really like, especially doing a simulated wheelchair race. We made a quick stop to look at the big pendulum. The kids wanted to tour the huge heart, but we didn't have time. Traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway ate into our visiting plan for extra travel time!

Have fun!!

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