Key West Pirate Museum

These days, pirates capture the imagination. In the early days of Key West, the open waters, close access to the US mainland, and the promise of untold riches made Key West and other islands the target for pirates. While history has marched on, the Pirate Soul Museum in Key West has stepped in to tell the story of the golden age of piracy. From 1690 to 1730, pirates including Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, Black Bart, and Blackbeard added to their fortunes while depleting those of others.

A family-friendly experience, the Pirate Soul Museum joined the list of Florida Keys attractions in 2005. The $10 million project was opened by Pat Croce, an author and television host. The informative and fun museum combines his love for the region with an amazing collection of authentic pirate artifacts. When planning the Key West pirate museum, Croce teamed with the expert team who designed the International Spy Museum and the exhibit designers who worked on Washington, D.C.'s Holocaust Museum.

When visitors step into the Key West pirate museum, they can join in the adventure of the high seas and step back 300 years in history. The exhibits and other experiences are designed to encourage a look behind the legends and that unique era when several factors converged to create the golden age of pirates. Through the audio-visual elements, please-touch exhibits, and other elements at the Key West pirate museum, visitors are swept into a story of another era.

The self-guided tour takes families and other visitors through eight pirate-themed environments and 48 exhibit areas. Everyone will travel through Port Royal, Jamaica, the haunt of pirates, ruffians, and other rogues escaping the control of the British, as well as Rogue's Tavern, Blackbird's Demise, and a treasure cave. Other eras at the Pirate Soul Museum in Key West simulate a ship, including its execution dock, the deck, the below-deck area, and the captain's cabin.

Throughout the exhibits of the Pirate Soul Museum, some 500 artifacts are woven through the story. Visitors will have the chance to see an authentic pirate chest, which belonged to Captain Thomas Tew, as well as the original blunderbuss belonging to Blackbeard. Wonder what a blunderbuss is? It's a gun with a flared nozzle that was favored by pirates.

Other treasures at the Pirate Soul Museum include pirate gold, cannonballs, weaponry, flags, and maps. Visitors also can see a wanted poster for the dreaded Henry Every, clothing, and pirate broadsides. Along with items from the collection, pirate-themed artifacts are on loan from the North Carolina Maritime Museum and the Delaware Art Museum.

At the conclusion of the journey, visitors can step into the Pirate Soul Shoppe and browse for pirate-themed apparel, gifts, and plenty of items with a skull and crossbones. The Rum Runner Restaurant next door also brings the golden era to life, with 200 rums available and an interesting menu.

The Pirate Soul Museum in Key West is open every day of the year with the exception of Christmas. It's located on Front Street, a stone's throw from the Gulf of Mexico. For those who want to dive deeper into the story of pirates, they have many options. Local tour companies offer walking tours with a pirate theme as well as boat tours on the same waters once trolled by pirates. For those who want to take the diving deep literally, they can plan a trip below the surface to do some diving among the shipwrecks. Museums such the Shipwreck Historeum and Mel Fisher Maritime Museum also share the story of this era in Key West history.

Image: Wyatt Gallery/Pirate Soul Museum

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