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Pirate slumber.
Peg-legged pirate takes a snooze with his favorite blunderbuss.

Pirate and Treasure Museum

Field review by the editors.

St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine is the USA's Ground Zero for pirates. The city has been plundered, twice, by cutlass-swinging buccaneers (in 1586 and 1668), a unique past that's celebrated nowadays with the city's annual Sack of St. Augustine in March, Drake's Raid in June, and Pirate Gathering (an all-swashbucklers-invited party) in November.

Interactive cannon.
Modern-day buccaneer fires the electronic cannon.

Pat Croce, a millionaire businessman, knew of St. Augustine's pirate past and moved his Pirate Museum to the city in late 2010 (It had been in Key West). Pat became obsessed with pirates as a kid when he saw the Errol Flynn film Captain Blood on TV. He has a pirate parrot tattooed on his shoulder, and a skull and crossbones tattooed on one of his teeth. "I took action on my passion," he told us, referring to his museum and not his tattoos. "I want people to know pirates, feel pirates, smell pirates."

We'll get to the smell part in a minute.

The museum is easy to spot from the street: its flagpole flies not the Stars and Stripes, but the Jolly Roger. Visitors are given a "treasure map" and told that a dozen artifacts lie hidden in the museum's various galleries. If you can find and identify all twelve (Tip: there's a Cat O' Nine Tails in the torture display), you get a "pirate stamp" on your map and, conceptually at least, become a pirate. We saw visitors -- childless adults as well as children -- examining every nook and cranny in the museum just so they could get that stamp.

Pirate ship.
All hands on deck. Pirate smell display to the right, interactive knot station to the left.

Eye surgery.
Eye surgery in pirate town.

Pat has amassed what may be the largest private collection of pirate booty in the world. Over 800 artifacts are displayed in the museum: flintlock pistols, cutlasses and swords, cannonballs, telescopes, pearls, jewels, gold doubloons. The museum has one of only two surviving skull and crossbones flags, and the world's only verified pirate treasure chest.

But Pat wanted more. So he designed the museum as if it existed 400 years ago, back in "The Golden Age of Piracy" as he calls it, and filled it with interactive exhibits.

Stops along the way include a doctor's office in Port Royal, Jamaica, where a soon-to-be-eyepatch-wearing pirate is having his eye removed without anesthesia. The Rouges Tavern displays framed portraits of all the pirates that attacked St. Augustine over the years, and the Captain's Cabin has a peg-legged pirate sleeping in a stocking cap, visibly breathing, as he cradles a blunderbuss.

On the deck of a pirate ship visitors can electronically "fire" a Dutch East India Company cannon from 1753, or sit in the pitch-black bilge and listen to a pirate battle raging overhead. An unmarked door reveals the "Shot in the Gut" exhibit, a quivering skeleton of pirate Thomas Tew, who was disemboweled by a cannon. Also here is the smell display: visitors are encouraged to stick their heads into crates on deck to identify pirate cargo. Some, like leather, are agreeable; others, not so much.

Riches of Port Royal.
Pirate booty behind glass in the treasure gallery.

The Execution Dock of London gallery has information on blood-and-guts pirate tortures, a twitching corpse in a gibbet, and the head of Blackbeard the pirate, which comes to life whenever you approach. "If it weren't for that lily-livered Lieutenant Maynard lopping off me blasted head and hanging it out on this bowsprit," Blackbeard complains, "I'd still be sailing the main today."

Shipwreck Island is the gallery where the museum exhibits its treasure and treasure chests, and allows visitors to lift a Spanish galleon gold bar (which is sealed inside a glass case). The Hollywood Pirates gallery acts as an airlock between the past (the rest of the museum) and the present (the gift shop), displaying Johnny Depp's sword from Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Hook's hook from Hook, the skeletal One-Eyed Willie from The Goonies, and, of course, the jacket worn by Errol Flynn in Captain Blood.

Pat told us that one of the reasons he likes pirates is that they "practiced democracy" on board and were better employers than the merchant ships or navies of their day. But mostly he likes them because they're pirates. "You either surrendered or you died," said Pat of the luckless pirate victims, and he admits to piratical tyranny when it comes to his museum. "Experts and artisans help me," he said, "but I'm the one who gives the orders."

Pirate and Treasure Museum

12 S. Castillo Drive, St. Augustine, FL
On the west side of S. Castillo Drive across from the large Castillo de San Marcos fort. Parking free after 5 PM.
Daily 10-7 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $13.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Oldest School House, Grove of EducatorsOldest School House, Grove of Educators, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
Micro Masterpieces GalleryMicro Masterpieces Gallery, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
Potter's Wax MuseumPotter's Wax Museum, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Statue of Pegasus, Jacksonville Beach, FL - 28 mi.

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