Our Real Pirates exhibition opens Friday! It’s the first exhibition of an authentic pirate shipwreck – ever. I got a chance to check it out this morning, and it’s pretty amazing – everything from real pirates’ booty to a walk-through recreation of The Whydah, a slave ship that was captured by pirates before sinking in 1717.
There’s a ton to explore in the exhibit, and so I’m super-excited to introduce you to our newest blogger! Ben, Assistant Director of the Houston Maritime Museum, is going to be sharing his knowledge of ships – a fairly essential piece of the pirate lifestyle - with us throughout the run of the xhibition here on the blog. We asked him to tell us a little about himself – check back Friday for his first post!
Tell us a little bit about your background. Since you work at the Houston Maritime Museum, I’m assuming you like ships.
Well , it all started with a summer internship that I did on board the Battleship Texas. I worked alongside their then curator Susan Smyer and loved every minute of it. At that point, I decided that if I wanted to work in museums, I would need to further my education. My wife and I then traveled all the way up to windswept Lubbock, Texas where I attended Texas Tech University for two years to get a Master’s degree in History with a minor in Museum Science.
After that, I worked as an Educational and Maintenance Assistant at Varner Hogg Plantation and as the Educational Assistant and Bookstore Manager at the Brazoria County Historical Museum. I loved both jobs immensely. For me, the most rewarding aspect of working in the museum field is bringing science, and history to life for kids of all ages and letting them experience the past, as well as learning in general in fun, hands-on ways.
This year, I landed my dream job at the Houston Maritime Museum and I have been enjoying it ever since. Honestly, I enjoy learning about maritime history in general, but pirates just happen to be the icing on the cake. I think the reason I like maritime history so much is because I grew up in Baytown near the Ship Channel, so I was never far from the water and large boats. That combined with my many visits to maritime museums like the Battleship Texas and the Nimitz Museum just made me feel right at home in the field.
What is the most fascinating thing on display at the Maritime Museum?
Everyone has their favorites, but I would have to say that the model we have of the Chinese Junk is my personal favorite at the moment. Although it is a fairly unassuming model, once you get into the history of some of the people that sailed the Junks, their stories are pretty amazing. I actually wrote a blog about a Mrs. Cheng (coming soon!) who was arguably one of the most successful pirates east or west to ever live. The story has everything from awkward family drama to murder and mayhem on the high seas. I don’t want to give away too much here, so you will have to read my blogs to get the whole scoop.
What do you hope people will learn from your upcoming posts on the HMNS blog?
I hope that everyone who reads our blogs will become interested enough in maritime history that they will want to visit our museum and learn more about both the maritime industry and the history that surrounds it.
People tend to think of pirates from a very specific time period. Is there a broader context?
Absolutely! There have been pirates as long as there have been boats. Really, when you boil it all down, piracy is just robbery on water. Piracy can be something as mundane as a fisherman stealing another fisherman’s catch for the day or something as extreme as the raids of Blackbeard and others like him. In reality piracy was not limited to just the Caribbean (which movies such as the one Johnny Depp stars in might lead you to believe). The Far East sometimes had incredibly powerful pirate navies that defeated the national navies that were sent to kill or capture them.
Who is your favorite pirate?
Don’t tell my wife, but I still have a crush on Mrs. Cheng even though she’s some 200 years older than me. I think we could make it work. She has one of the most exciting and well-documented female pirate stories on record, but again, I don’t want to give too much away.