Pirates and shipwrecks make way to Detroit


Contributing Reporter

Sunken ships and golden treasures are not just adventures for the movies. At the Detroit Science Center’s new “SHIPWRECK!: Pirates & Treasure” exhibit, visitors can see artifacts brought up from the ocean floor and experience what it would be like to live the life of a pirate.

The main attraction is treasure from the wreck of the S.S. Republic, a 19th century paddle steamer that sank off the coast of Georgia in a massive hurricane, taking with it a treasure trove of precious coins valued at $17 million. 

“On the S.S. Republic we found hundreds of gold coins … and tens of thousands of silver coins,” said John Longley, Odyssey Marine Exploration’s director of business development.

Visitors can use a computer simulation to experience what it’s like to explore the ocean floor using Odyssey’s robot submersible, Zeus.  

Television screens provide different facts about the history of the S.S. Republic, and a full-size replica of the Republic’s paddle wheel hangs over the display area. The wheel measures 28 feet in diameter, according to Ellen Gerth, the curator of collections at the Detroit Science Center.

Some of the other recovered sunken treasures on display include bottles and spoons from the S.S. Regina, china from the 

Edmund Fitzgerald, and a gold bar from the 15th-century Tortuga.

However, the standout piece of the exhibit is the hurricane tube, which lets visitors experience what it’s like to be on a ship in the middle of a storm like the one that sank the Republic. The tube uses flashes of light to emulate lightning and creates simulated winds of up to 78.9 mph.

But that’s only half of the exhibit. 

The other half gives visitors insight into the lives of pirates. Visitors can learn about famous pirates like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and Mary Read and their infamous deeds. For example, one particular story centers around pirate Francois l’Olonnais, who reportedly punished a man by cutting open his chest and forcing another man to eat his beating heart.

Interactive parts of the exhibit let visitors create their own pirate through a computer program, raise a pirate flag, or try their hand at tying complicated rope knots like a Reef Knot or a Round Turn and Two Half-Hitches.

“SHIPWRECK!,” which opened March 22, runs until the beginning of September.