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Arrrr! Real Pirates Invade the Science Museum of Minnesota


I’m always curious to know about the latest big exhibit to come to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, because the museum has a reputation for drawing in great traveling exhibits. Seriously, the Science Museum is pretty amazing. It has its own exhibit construction company and helps curate some amazing exhibits. “We are the exhibit makers and designers to the rest of America’s science museums,” says Dr. Eric Jolly, president of the Science Museum of Minnesota. Between Body Worlds (2006), A Day in Pompeii (2007-2008), Star Wars (2008), Titanic (2009-2010), The Dead Sea Scrolls (2010) and Tutankhamun (2011), the Science Museum has had the opportunity to share some amazing finds and stories in the last few years.

Real Pirates exhibit, Science Museum of Minnesota

model replica of wydah ship
Photo by Matt Prefontaine

Last month, Real Pirates: The Untold Story of Whydah from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship opened (through Sept. 3) and I immediately went to check it out. If you ever mimicked a pirate by donning an eye patch or yelling “Arrrr” as a child (or an adult, you know who you are), this exhibit is for you. Real Pirates traces the fascinating history of the Whydah, a ship that began its voyage as a slave ship in 1715 before being seized by the pirate Sam Bellamy and his crew. Several years later, in 1717, the ship lost a battle with a storm and sank. In 1984, Barry Clifford discovered the wreckage and found the artifacts that you can see today in the Science Museum exhibit.

The artifacts on display range from the Wydah’s bell to dinnerware to real gold coins (yes, real pirate treasure!). But the most fascinating part of the exhibit is the chance to separate fact from fiction. Nope, pirates didn’t walk the plank or bury treasure. And actual pirate ships were more democratic and fair than most other ships at the time. Walk through the history of pirates and test your skills at knot tying or meet the “real pirates” who inhabit the exhibit—these trained actors are there to answer your questions and share information about what it was like to be a pirate. The exhibit also shares just how these artifacts have been preserved.

Come for the pirates, and stay for the chance to go underwater at the newest Omnitheater film. Under the Sea introduces some amazing creatures from the Great Barrier Reef and beyond, and shows you how their habitat is in danger—all with a bit of humor from Jim Carrey as narrator. Did you know? The Science Museum has produced more Omnitheater films that all other science museums in North America combined. The Science Museum Omnitheater was just the second in America and is the only moving dome Omni in America.

You can learn more about the Science Museum from Joel Carlson's recent Minnesota Monthly Twitterview with Mike Day, senior vice president, who shared this tip: "If you plan on visiting [the Pirates exhibit], take advantage of less crowding in the exhibition during the weekdays or Thurs/Fri p.m." Another tip: Reservations are recommended during spring break.

Real Pirates exhibit, Science Museum of Minnesota, Wydah's Bell Real Pirates exhibit, Science Museum of Minnesota, gold coins

Left, the Wydah’s bell was recovered from the wreckage.
Photo by Kenneth Garrett © 2008 National Geographic;
Right, view real pirate treasure: Gold and silver coins.
Photo by Bill Curtsinger © 2008 National Geographic

While at the Science Museum, make sure to enjoy views of the Mississippi River or take a stroll over to Rice Park, surrounded by Landmark Center, the Saint Paul Hotel, and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. There's always plenty to do in St. Paul.

Museum entry for nonmembers, with the Real Pirates exhibit, runs $22-$30, with Omni too $28-$36 (depending on age, day of the week). Hours Sun. 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tues. & Wed. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thurs.-Sun. 9:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (closed Mon.).

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