Published: November 28, 2000
Pirates and Heroes at The Mariners’ Museum
NEWPORT NEWS, VA. – Hidden within thousands of artifacts at The Mariners’ Museum are legendary stories of infamous pirates and the heroic exploits of those who dared conquer the sea. Strange, romantic, daring and tragic, each one of these legends has burrowed its way into the history of these maritime artifacts, which the Museum will exhibit from December 2 to April 14, 2002.
Displayed in the Collections gallery, “” features 100 unusual nautical pieces not often seen by the public. With artifacts from notorious maritime figures like Bluebeard, Captain William Bligh, and King George III, as well as nautical greats like Samuel Clemens and Edwin Tappan Adney, the assemblage brings to light just a small portion of the legendary stories from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First centuries.
“This exhibition, so different from other exhibits that center on a particular subject or theme, focuses on diverse objects and their exciting, yet often unknown, histories and provenances,” said chief curator Dr. William Cogar.
“The museum turned the tables and took a somewhat unusual approach with this exhibit,” said assistant curator Randy Wyatt. “Staff and volunteers were asked to submit objects with ‘legendary’ stories. So instead of identifying artifacts because of how they visually display maritime history, we searched for rare and historic stories that normally wouldn’t be a featured topic when that object appeared in an exhibit.”
As visitors enter the Collections gallery, they are welcomed by a thirty-five-foot, eight-inch-long gondola from Venice, Italy. that this gondola carried poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning through the canals of Venice in 1851. This unique vessel was donated to the museum in 1950 by the East Hampton Free Library after American artist Thomas Moran purchased it in 1890 while in Venice with his family. Moran had the gondola delivered to his home in East Hampton, New York, where it continued to inspire many of his Venetian paintings. As visitors read this legendary story, they’ll marvel at the vessel’s elaborate carvings and coat of arms, as well as the history it carries within its wood.
Many other stories will also be discussed. In 1804, for example, King George III had a model of Royal Sovereign built to acquaint him with the yacht’s fine features and lavish carvings. Because of advancing age and mental illness, he had little chance to use it. The detailed replica of the ornate yacht is complete with a deck that lifts to reveal tiny furnishings, carpeting, paintings, bedrooms, a bathtub, and even tableware. The original Royal Sovereign served the crown for nearly 30 years, carrying King Louis XVIII back to France from exile in England. She was broken up in 1850. This three-century-old ship model is on display.
At 11:40 pm on Sunday, April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg in the frigid waters off Newfoundland Banks. Within two and a half hours, the liner once billed as “unsinkable” went down. Only 705 of her 2,224 passengers and crew were saved. As undertakers from across Nova Scotia gathered the bodies and prepared them for identification and burial, Edwin Clay McLellan of Tatamagouche removed a life vest from one of the passengers and saved it as a memento. Also on display in is a scarf that Mrs. John Jacob Astor IV lent to baby Frank Aks. He and his mother survived the tragic night.
Bluebeard lived in a tower high on the isle of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, once the haunt of pirates. Still visible today, Bluebeard’s tower was actually built by the Danish and used by colonists as a lookout. In 1885, the treasure chest exhibited in was dug up in the garden of Bluebeard’s castle. Made of cast iron, it weighs about 200 pounds when empty. The chest was said to be filled with jewels, pieces of eight, and Spanish doubloons when discovered. A note with the donated chest read: “No clue was ever discovered as to the identity of the person who buried the treasure. But it is quite certain that it was pirate gold, as St. Thomas was a notorious resort of corsairs. Records state that Bluebeard’s Castle was at one time the headquarters of pirates.”
There’s more behind the name Mark Twain than just a talented pen. Noted author Samuel Clemens grew up along the Mississippi and left his career in 1857 as a printer and fledgling writer to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a riverboat pilot. After eighteen months as an apprentice, he earned his pilot’s license, which is on display in . Even though he spent only three years working the Mississippi waters, his experience stuck with him. As riverboat crews piloted tricky waters, they used long ropes to mark the fathoms. They called “mark one” when the water measured one fathom. The reassuring “mark twain” meant two fathoms – safe clearance for most riverboats.
Artifacts in will revolve so that visitors may view the museum’s extensive collection.
The museum, 100 Museum Drive, is open from 10 am until 5 pm daily. For information, 757/596-2222.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
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