You all probably know by now how much I love the exhibits at the National Geographic Museum. They are always a perfect mix of entertaining and educational, with intriguing displays, fun interactives, engaging multimedia, and, of course, stunning photography that is practically their signature.
This is much of the reason why I am so excited about the new exhibit coming to Nat Geo in a couple of weeks. Real Pirates: The Untold Story of the Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship will be on display from March 8 through September 2. I have a feeling it’s going to a popular one — with kids and adults alike.
The exhibit tells the story of a slave ship turned pirate ship and the diverse people whose lives converged on the vessel. Sunk in a fierce storm off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts in April 1717, the Whydah wreckage was found by underwater explorer Barry Clifford in 1984, becoming the first pirate ship discovered in North American waters to be authenticated and fully excavated. Here’s more background on the ship:
The three-masted, 300-ton galley was built as a slave ship in London in 1715 and represented the most advanced technology at that time. She was easy to maneuver, unusually fast and — to protect her human cargo — heavily armed. The Whydah’s purpose was to transport human captives from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean, but it was fated to make only one such voyage. In February 1717, after the slaves were sold in the Caribbean, the Whydah was captured off the Bahamas by Sam Bellamy, one of the most successful pirates of his day. Bellamy and his crew hoisted the Jolly Roger, and the slave ship became a pirate ship.
Just two months later, on April 26, 1717, in one of the worst nor’easters ever recorded, the Whydah, packed with plunder from more than 50 captured ships, sank off the Massachusetts coast. All but two of the 146 people on board drowned. Some 270 years later, Clifford found the first remains of the ship. In a recovery operation that has spanned more than two decades, Clifford and his team have brought up hundreds of artifacts, not only gold and silver, but everyday objects that shed light on this tumultuous period of American and world history.
Many of the artifacts will be on display in the exhibit, including weapons such as swords, cannons, muskets and pistols as well as daily necessities such as tools, kitchen utensils, buttons, coins and personal belongings from the captain’s quarters. In addition, visitors can climb aboard a replica of the ship and experience what it was like in the captain’s quarters and below deck.
If you want to mark your calendar way ahead, there will be a free Pirates Family Festival featuring re-enactors, a treasure hunt, and more on June 22. Plus, the Museum will be offering Pirate Birthday Parties starting in March for kids ages 5-12.
The National Geographic Museum is located at 1145 17th Street NW. It’s open daily from 10am – 6pm. Photography exhibitions in the museum’s M Street gallery and outdoors are free, but exhibitions in the 17th Street galleries are ticketed. Admission is $11/adults, $9/members, military, students, seniors, $7/ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under and for local school, student, and youth groups (18 and under; advance reservation required). Tickets can be purchased online or at the National Geographic ticket booth.
Street parking can be tough in that area. If you drive, your best bet is one of the nearby garages. Metro’s Farragut North (red line) and Farragut West (blue/orange lines) stops are fairly convenient.