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Randy Nieves Ruiz
12 Jan 2005 00:00
An original pirate banner and a treasure chest that belonged to Thomas Tew are the crown jewels of Pirate Soul, a new museum that opened recently in Key West and is dedicated to those hated brigands or heroes, depending on which point of view one prefers.
“Welcome to Port Royal” are words that greet those who enter the museum located in an old British Caribbean-style building.
Located in southeastern Jamaica, Port Royal was the epicenter of golden-age pirate activity that fell on the second half of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century and was dominated by legendary captain Henry Morgan.
Other prominent pirates that belong to that era and have been immortalized in books and movies include captain Kidd, Black Beard, as well as Roberts and Thomas Tew.
The Caribbean pirates settled in Port Royal after fleeing the famed island of Tortuga, north of Haiti, in the face of a threatened Spanish invasion.
During those turbulent years, France, Britain and Holland disputed Spain’s control of the Caribbean and attacked its ships carrying fabulous treasures.
Pirate Soul was created by Pat Croce, a former millionaire owner of the Philadelphia Sixers, an NBA team, who has now become a motivational speaker and television celebrity.
“I probably started about 20 years ago, and as I started making more money and better money I started going into the biggest auctions houses and I just started buying from private collectors,” recalls Croce, who says he was fascinated by pirates and their adventures as a kid.
In his young days, he says, pirates were considered bandits and assassins. Now, he is certain he has managed to assemble the best collection of pirate artifacts in the world.
The passion was fed by a collection of books about pirates that Croce acquired about 30 years ago.
“There’s and old Time-Life series of books, I had the Time-Life series, maybe 30 years ago,” he points out. Seafarers, and it’s about the Vikings, the Tall Ships, but one of the books is called Pirates, and when you open that book the first page has this treasure chest on it.”
This chest is now the most precious part of his collection. It belonged to Thomas Tew, a North American pirate who operated out of Madagascar and died in 1695 in the Red Sea, a cannon ball in his stomach.
Another jewel of the collection is a real “Jolly Roger”, a classic pirate banner with a scull and crossed bones.
According to Croce, only two authentic banners of this kind exist in the world: one in his museum and one in a museum in Finland.
“I know because the representatives from Helsinki were here last week to see it,” Croce assures.
Albeit small, the pirate museum cost $10 million to create, an investment that has allowed the owner to equip it with the latest interactive technology.
A visit begins with a virtual tour of Port Royal and its shops that offered guns, sabres and surgical instruments for amputations at sea.
Then, there is a recreation of a tavern, a pirate ship with its deck and interior compartments where stolen treasures were kept.
The exhibit also contains original maps and documents, including a 1696 bounty offer for the head of Henry Every, a pirate who operated in the Indian Ocean.
A binnacle of the HMS Advice, which was used in 1699 to carry captain William Kidd to London for trial and subsequent execution, is also on display.
The first valuable item acquired by Croce for his collection was the book The Bucaneers of America, the first memoir about pirates written Dutchman Alexander Exquemelin, a surgeon who accompanied captain Morgan.
Morgan accused Exquemelin of libel, and the dispute resulted in a new and more “impartial” version of the book.
Are there artifacts that Croce still would like to acquire for his exhibit? “I’m funding an expedition off Haiti, for Captain Morgan’s ship,” he responds. “It’s off the island of Ile-la-Vache, in the southwestern portion of Haiti. So we’re working with the government to try to get an exclusive contract, because no one has Captain Morgan’s artifacts ... When you think of pirates you think of Captain Morgan”.—Sapa-AFP
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