When it comes to gauging the power of the past and its ability to spur the imagination, it's hard to argue with the box-office clout of pirates.
Only the Civil War can compete with the lure of buccaneers, historian John V. Quarstein says, noting the seemingly insatiable popular appetite for the books, films and live events that have explored and celebrated the piratical world since well before the 1883 publication of the landmark adventure tale, "Treasure Island."
Such wide and often impassioned interest is one reason why the first
It's also why Quarstein and several other history-minded entrepreneurs are convinced that a museum celebrating Hampton's unmatched legacy as a historic harbor for pirates, privateers and pirate hunters during the golden age of buccaneers could — and should — be an important part of the downtown waterfront's future.
"When you really look at all of
"That gives us the potential to not only put together a museum with local connections and national significance but also tell a story that would be very compelling to a lot of people."
Just how compelling can be estimated in part from the persistent popularity of the Blackbeard Festival, which draws an estimated 50,000 visitors to the downtown waterfront each June.
But no one back when the concept was hatched guessed that the attempt to make Hampton part of the OpSail 2000 extravaganza would so quickly take on a life of its own.
"We had to figure out how Hampton could be included — and if that would make Hampton stand out as someplace special. And the thing that did it was Hampton's connections to Blackbeard," Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sallie Grant-DiVenuti recalls.
"No place else has a pirate story like ours to tell."
Ohio consultant Yaromir Steiner liked the city's landmark pirate legacy, too, when his firm presented a 2011 report exploring various ways to revive the economic fortunes of downtown and the adjacent waterfront.
Even stronger is the support of Hampton native and veteran museum consultant Conover Hunt, whose resume includes such once seemingly unlikely success stories as "The Sixth Floor Museum," which now attracts some 245,000 visitors each year to the scene ofPresidentJohn F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas.
"I've been involved with heritage tourism for more than 40 years, and I can tell you — this is a great idea," says Hunt, who has worked with Quarstein on the preliminary groundwork for a museum.
"We've got a national story here in Hampton — and we can put people right in the place where it happened. We just need the money to pay for the planning that will get us from here to there."
With the support of the Colonial Seaport Foundation and the living history group Blackbeard's Crew, the proposed museum could start modestly, its supporters say, enabling it to be up and running in a borrowed waterfront location within 18 months with an interpretive vessel, costumed interpreters and a small suite of exhibits.
It would then expand over time, depending on its success in attracting visitors as well as funding from regional and national sources in addition to local donors.
Hampton and its downtown waterfront is the preferred location by far because of the deep historic resonance of a location that saw numerous pirates tried, hanged and buried — not to mention the 1719 return of a Royal Navy expedition with Blackbeard's head.
But the city has no current plans to support the fledgling concept.
"The pirate museum is one possibility mentioned in the Steiner report — and Hampton does want to create more destinations that will bring people downtown," city spokeswoman Robin McCormick says.