Shiver your timbers

Real Pirates
•Through Oct. 25
•The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
•Tickets are $22, $19 seniors and students with ID and $12 kids 4-11
•Call (312) 922-9410 or visit

Ahoy, me mateys! (That’s pirate speak for‘hey there, folks.’) Your kids have always wanted to be a pirate, or at least they did for a whole week after the last pirate movie. Harness their love for swashbuckling adventures while your land-lubbing family sails into The Field Museum for the Real Pirates exhibition. Learn the pirate code as you step into a Caribbean tavern and board a life-sized replica of a pirate ship.

The exhibit features relics from America’s only discovered pirate shipwreck, The Whydah. The slave-turned-pirate ship, under the direction of Captain Sam Bellamy, sank during a storm in 1717 and was discovered off Cape Cod, Mass., in 1984 by a team of archeologists. Discovered among the wreckage were cannons, personal items and the ship’s bell.

While exploring unburied treasure, you’ll meet four of the ship’s crew, including Captain Bellamy; Hendrick Quintor; John Julian, a 16-year-old Miskito Indian; and 11-year-old John King, the ship’s youngest pirate.

The exhibit separates pirate myth from reality."Much of what we think we know about pirates comes through Robert Louis Stevenson and Johnny Depp,” says Tom Skwerski, project manager for exhibitions at The Field Museum."Pirate society, as we know it, was really egalitarian.… To be a pirate was something that gave you an equal chance at things.”

Even those considered outcasts and second-class citizens were equal members of the crew. To portray that equality, Hendrick Quintor who is of African and Dutch descent, is highlighted.

When the Whydah sank, it was carrying booty from more than 50 ships. The Whydah’s weaponry was technically advanced and included cannons, pistols, grenades and swords. A 10-step explanation on firing a cannon is provided.

Although the pirate’s life may not have been kid-friendly, the exhibit is."There’s nothing really grisly and gruesome,” says Skwerski."So much of the exhibit is devoted to cases of actual objects.” Kids can also attempt to tie a pirate knot, hoist the Jolly Roger, discover smells pirates would have encountered and get their hands on treasure—real coins found in the shipwreck.

Boarding the Whydah may well be the exhibit’s highlight. Explore the captain’s quarters before proceeding below deck to discover a less-than-roomy living arrangement for the ship’s crew.

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