In mid-December, Bobby Tanzilo wrote a great preview piece about "Real Pirates," the current temporary exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I returned yesterday with three kids in tow – ages 10, 10 and 9 – to get their perspective.
The show focuses on the Whydah, a real pirate ship that sunk in 1717 and remains at the bottom of the sea. In 1984, explorer Barry Clifford fulfilled a childhood dream and found the wreckage. He excavated many artifacts which are on display in the exhibit and he continues to return to the site to search for more.
The most fascinating aspect of the show for the kids, as the name reminds, is that these pirates were real. Prior, they believed pirates were fictitious characters in movies or cartoon people that appeared on lunchboxes, stickers and T-shirts.
Learning that pirates actually existed paved the way for the debunking of myths and stereotypes, which is always a good thing. They learned that most pirates didn't match the patch-eyed, stripey-shirted chaps with a parrot on their shoulder that they were familiar with.
They also became aware that it wasn't customary for pirates to bury their treasure or have their captives walk the plank.
The interactiveness of the exhibit was particularly appealing to them. They enjoyed tying knots, boarding the rocking recreation of the Whydah and playing dice atop a barrel with a couple of pirate actors hired to add another dimension to the exhibit.
For obvious reasons, they were also fascinated by the story of John King, a 9-year-old boy who was part of the crew – led by Captain Samuel Bellamy – and the youngest pirate on record.
King demanded to sail with Bellamy and said if he wasn't allowed he would kill himself or harm his mother.
The exhibit opens with a four-minute movie, which could be too dark for younger kids. There's also realistic lighting flashes and thunder in the theater at the end of the short film.
A recreation of a man getting his leg cut off, complete with bloody rags on the floor, was fascinating to my almost tween-aged kids, but might be a little scary to some.
One aspect of the exhibit that was harder for my kids to grasp was how the Whydah was connected to the slave trade. Bellamy and the crew captured ships transporting slaves from Africa to Europe and often allowed the Africans "freedom" if they signed their articles and became a pirate.
The difficult and potentially morally challenging question of whether a life of piracy is better than a life of slavery was an interesting one to ponder – once we fully explained the situation in 10-year-old speak. They still want to categorize everything as "good" or "bad" and once again, with the legacy of the pirates, they were forced to acknowledge the complexity and gray areas of existence.
It was also a timely conversation to have on Martin Luther King Day.
Afterward, we went to AJ Bombers for burgers – I'll blog about this later this week – and the kids shared with me their thoughts and notes while throwing peanut shells on the floor. (One of the beauties of Bombers.)
I asked them whether or not they would have liked to have been a pirate, and they had three different answers.
Levi: "No. I would not like being almost killed every day."
Olivia: "Maybe just for one day."
Kai River: "Yes and no. Yes because I could have the most ultimate battle but no because I could get shot."
I then asked them what they liked the most about the exhibit.
"I liked learning how to fire a cannon," said Levi.
"I liked getting to go on the ship. I liked everything," said Olivia.
"I liked learning about what they ate on the ship," said Kai. "Salted pork sounds gross."
olderwiser | Jan. 23, 2013 at 11:04 a.m. (report)
Thank you for this. Much appreciated. We were considering whether we should take our grandsons to see this and now I am pretty sure that we will.
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