A treasure-trove of nearly 500 artifacts will fill Pirate Soul, a museum about the oft-romanticized robbers who terrorized commerce on the high seas.
Aided by an animatronic Blackbeard, simulated ship battles and interactive displays, entrepreneur Pat Croce hopes to offer "the most outrageous pirate museum in the world" when it opens Jan. 5 in Key West, Fla. Think Smithsonian wed to Disney.
Croce, formerly owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and a self-help guru who hosts a syndicated TV show, "Pat Croce: Moving In," enlisted designers who have worked with the International Spy Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, both in Washington, D.C., to work on his $10-million project.
The artifacts, most from Croce's private collection, include a British officer's journal relating Capt. William Kidd's last voyage and a 17th century treasure chest owned by Rhode Island privateer Capt. Thomas Tew. These items highlight the 1690-to-1730 "golden age of piracy," as Croce called it.
"I've always been intrigued by pirates," said Croce, who has a skull-and-crossbones tattooed on his left hand and a pirate ship on his forearm.
"I love the whole M.O. of the attack life. The boldness. The adventure. Not answering to any authority." But, he added, "I'm not idolizing them. I'm just fascinated by them." His museum will graphically illustrate pirates' violent demises.
Visitors will enter a re-creation of 17th century Port Royal, Jamaica, a pirate haven. There they can peer through a peephole into a "brothel" and learn to load a flintlock.
In other areas of the museum, they can prowl a sloop under siege by pirates and, using headsets, experience the naval battle in which Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, died at the hands of the British in 1718 off the North Carolina coast.
"When the cannons blow, you can feel the ship shake," Croce said. "I want to leave people with a tingle."
He said he also wanted to set the record straight for those who think "Long John Silver was real and Blackbeard was fake."
The Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington has reproduced several Howard Pyle paintings for Pirate Soul, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum has loaned Blackbeard artifacts.
Admission will be $12.95 for adults and $6.95 for children 10 and younger. Hours will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. (305) 292-1113 or visit http://www.piratesoul.com .
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