Kansas City, Mo. - They don't seem to mind being commandeered by pirates at Union Station. In fact, they welcome it.
"We're very pleased that National Geographic's Premiere Exhibitions has chosen Kansas City for this world class exhibition," Union Station President and CEO George M. Guastello II said.
The exhibit is called "Real Pirates." It tells the story of the "Whydah Gally," which began life as a slave ship, was captured by pirates and converted to a pirate ship and eventually sank in a storm. The shipwreck was recovered beginning in the 1980s.
There are nearly 200 artifacts in the exhibit including weapons, tools and treasure. It covers almost 20,000 square feet of Union Station.
The slave trade is unflinchingly portrayed, as are the grimmer aspects of piracy. One of the sadder tales is that of John King, a boy who may have been as young as eight when he joined the crew and who died when the ship sank. A leg bone, sock and shoe recovered from the wreck are thought to have belonged to him.
The exhibit is meant to give people an idea of what life was like for those who sailed on the "Whydah," and there are several hands on features, including the chance to touch silver coins from the wreck. Most impressive is the recreation of two decks of the ship, which visitors can walk through.
A group of local actors was hired to portray pirates and roam the exhibit interacting with each other and the public.
Paul Craig plays Sam Bellamy, the captain of the "Whydah". He says Bellamy was known as the "Prince of Pirates" for his fair treatment of his crew and reluctance to mistreat prisoners. He points out that in the last year of his life, Bellamy took more than 50 ships. He attributes this success to Bellamy's reputation for fair play.
"The folks would say 'Well, it's Bellamy. He's not going to kill us. Let's not put up a fight, and we'll just turn everything over.' And some of the crew, if not most, of the crew would end up joining Bellamy in his future voyages," he said.
Union Station management hopes the show will prove to be another hit.
"We have been fortunate to land for Kansas City major exhibits such as Diana, Titanic, Dinosaurs and now this international exhibition," Guastello said.
The exhibit runs through January 2014.