Tales of the High Seas at Maritime Museums
Pirates. Sea battles. Shipwrecks. North Carolina’s maritime history is rich with all these tales and more, and you can discover it all at three North Carolina Maritime Museums located in Beaufort, Hatteras and Southport.
“The history of wars, storms, pirating and island culture tells a mysterious and romantic tale which seems to pique the interest of young and old,” says David Cartier, public relations coordinator for the North Carolina Maritime Museums. “It really captivates the imagination.”
More than 325,000 people visited the three Maritime Museums in 2013 alone, and that number continues to rise. Part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, the Maritime Museums remain open year-round and do not charge an admission fee.
North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort
The North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is the oldest of the three and the only place in the world to view artifacts from notorious pirate Blackbeard’s flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, in a permanent exhibit.
In 1718, Blackbeard’s ship ran aground in Beaufort Inlet and remained hidden by water and sand for more than 270 years. A search team from the private research firm Intersal, Inc. discovered the mysterious shipwreck in 1996, and since then more than 250,000 artifacts have been recovered from the site.
“Now, through a permanent exhibit that opened in 2011, Blackbeard and his crew sail again in history, artifacts, interactive features and legends,” Cartier says.
The Beaufort museum is the official repository for artifacts from Queen Anne’s Revenge. Visitors can learn how Blackbeard became a legend and discover how North Carolina’s geography, politics and economy created a “perfect storm” for piracy.
North Carolina’s boatbuilding heritage is also on display at the Beaufort museum’s Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, a working boatbuilding facility. Spectators can observe boats taking shape from a viewing platform or take a boatbuilding class (available for all skill levels), including the popular Build a Boat in a Day class.
A 34-foot whale’s 900-pound rearticulated skeleton hangs in the Beaufort museum gallery, paying tribute to the state’s whaling heritage. The skeleton is that of a sperm whale that washed ashore near Cape Lookout in 2004.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Hatteras, also called the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, tells the stories of shipwrecks, heroic rescues, pirates, the Civil War, lighthouses, the U.S. Life Saving Service and other mysteries of the deep. One popular attraction is the original fresnel lens from the 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
“Many visitors come to the Hatteras museum with that on their agenda,” Cartier says.
The Hatteras museum also explores the 1942 encounter of the USS Roper and the German U-85, which became the first U-boat sunk by the United States during World War II.
Mystery lovers are fascinated by the museum’s artifacts from the Carroll A. Deering, a commercial schooner that was found run aground off Cape Hatteras in 1921. Its crew was missing, and they were never found. The ship’s bell is among the items on display.
North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport
The North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport focuses on the people of the Cape Fear region and their relationship to the water. An exhibit called “We Fished for a Living” depicts the region’s fishing industry. Many men and women made their living in the menhaden and shrimping fisheries during the first half of the 20th century.
“There is romanticism in maritime history that continues to revolve throughout the ages. Visitors are interested in piracy, boat and ship building, life-saving, river pilots, naval stores, navigation, commercial fishing and the many wars in which the men and women of the Cape Fear were involved,” Cartier says. “The history of the Lower Cape Fear is varied and exciting, and the museum interprets these events in an interesting progression of time.”
Another exhibit called “Blockade Running: A Necessary Evil” is filled with unusual weapons of war. Visitors are often surprised to learn that domestic items including spoons, buttons and sad irons were used to support the Confederate home front.
“The Southport museum is particularly known for its periscope from the Naval research submarine USS Dolphin,” Cartier says. “Visitors have the unique opportunity to see and use the only complete working periscope in North Carolina. They can view the waters of the Lower Cape Fear and discover her history and geography.”
Visit the N.C. Maritime Museums
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
9200 Museum Drive, Hatteras
Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
North Carolina Maritime Museum at Beaufort
315 Front Street, Beaufort
Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport
204 East Moore Street in Southport
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Learn more about all three museums online at ncmaritimemuseums.com.
– Jessica Mozo