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Buckle your Swashes and Head for the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum

By S. Mathur

A whole museum devoted to pirates sounds like a child's wish come true. And it's not just kids, many adults too are fascinated by pirates and the connection with the idea of buried treasure.

Cindy Stavely, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum says "We believe people are interested in the idea and history of pirates because it allows a look back in time to the explorers whom set out for adventure to discover the lands that we roam today. Also, everyone loves the idea of finding treasure, be it earned or discovered. The idea of "easy riches" appeals to most everyone, although we tell the true facts in the museum, that these discoveries were indeed hard to come by, through work, blood, sweat, and tears."

The history of St. Augustine is tied to the grim reality of piracy in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the global rivalry between England and Spain led to attacks on each other's shipping and settlements. At that time, St. Augustine was a Spanish colony. The area was first explored in the early 16th century by Ponce De Leon and the city was established by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565. It became an important stop on the trade route used by travelers sailing the Gulf Stream along the East Coast, and that made it a target English privateers and pirates.

Stavely explains that "In 1586, the town was attacked and burnt to the ground by notorious Privateer turned Pirate, Sir Francis Drake. In 1668, the town was once again besieged by pirates, led by Captain Robert Searles, who also burnt the town and its main defense - the Castillo de San Marcos. It was after the Searles attack that the town abandoned the idea of a wooden fortress, and rebuilt the fort out of coquina. That structure remains to this very day."

Among the artifacts in display, she adds, are "a piece of Drake's ship - as well as items from other notorious pirates, such as Captain Kidd's family Bible and Thomas Tew's original treasure chest." Other prized exhibits at the museum include one of the three original Jolly Roger flags still existing; the original of the first "Wanted" poster in the world, dating back to 1605; and the sword used by Johnny Depp in the 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' film. There are over 800 artifacts on display and around two dozen interactive exhibits, as well as detailed written notations on the history of piracy.

The museum hosts International Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19th every year. It also offers pirate-themed birthday parties for children. Guests are entertained by Captain Mayhem, who despite his name and appearance, has a way of connecting with children and is a great source of knowledge and stories about pirates. He also does magic tricks. The museum participates in the life of the local community with blood drives and toy donations. "Unlike many historical pirates," says Stavely, "we try to give back as opposed to taking."

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