In just four short years, the Pirate Soul Museum has joined the ranks of "must see" attractions in the Conch Republic capital of Key West.
You hit Key West, you must go pet one of the descendants of Ernest Hemingway's cats at the Hemingway house, get your picture taken by the "Southernmost Point" marker, have a drink at the legendary Captain Tony's and celebrate the sunset on Mallory Square.
And then you get your "argh's" out with the pirates at Pat Croce's interactive museum of piracy at 524 Front St.
Croce, a onetime physical therapist turned sports executive (he was president of the Philadelphia 76ers), entrepreneur, motivational speaker and pirate buff, brings showmanship and computer interactivity to his collection of genuine pirate gear for a bang-up appreciation of the men and women who sailed under the Jolly Roger.
Cutlasses, flintlocks and a real pirate treasure chest (complete with hidden compartments, it belonged to Thomas Tew), pirate dinnerware, bottles and the sorts of things that constituted pirate booty (real "pieces of eight") and items salvaged from the wreck of Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, some 500 artifacts in all, give the exhibition authenticity. Cannon, a mock-up of a ship's deck, and collected pirate paperwork (treasure maps) in a re-creation of a pirate's tavern further explain the world of the real Captain Jack Sparrows of the Caribbean.
Blackbeard's talking disembodied head greets you, and graphic representations of pirate punishment (the cages their bodies were hung from in England) flesh out your experience. Anne Bonny, Black Caesar, Captain Kidd, Henry Morgan, Calico Jack, they all be here, though the infamous Blackbeard takes center stage, as he should.
Put on headphones and sit in the dark of "the bilge" as an audio version of a pirate's life of rats, dank darkness, paranoia and battle plays out. If they would add scents and light effects (maybe some reddish cannon flashes), the impact would be even greater.
It might all be in fun, but if you take the time to read through the interactive histories, study the maps and learn the pirates' fates, you and your kids will gain a whole new appreciation of what it meant to "take the oath," live by "the code" and yo-ho-ho your way to fame, fortune and most likely an early grave.
They don't keep pirate's hours, either. The museum ($13.95 for adults, $7.95 for children) is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., every day of the year.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun