Retrospective exhibit of ‘Blackbeard’ memorabilia

Published 3:48 pm Saturday, July 8, 2017

BATH — A special pop-up multimedia gallery exhibit featuring the outdoor drama “Blackbeard: Knight of the Black Flag” will be held in Bath.

The exhibit is timed to coincide with the fourth-annual Historic Bath “Pirates in the Port,” a signature event hosted by the state Historic Bath visitor center each July. The new one-day retrospective will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday. The community volunteer display will be held at Bath High School Preservation’s Grady-White Pirate Hall and staffed by past cast, crew and local volunteers in colonial period attire. The old Bath High School is located at 102 S. Harding St. Handicap ramp access for the public is available through adjacent BHM Regional Bath Community Library entrance.

This special retrospective gives a unique look at an array of production, promotional and souvenir elements from the outdoor drama “Blackbeard: Knight of the Black Flag.” The production premiere was in the summer of 1977. Stuart Aronson, the playwright, and Joe DiStefano, who composed the original score, are both former East Carolina University faculty. All ages will enjoy the display’s 1718-era costumes of pirates and colonial Bath townsfolk, including the well-known characters such as Edward Teach, “Blackbeard,” Mary Ormond and other historic people associated with early colonial Bath Creek’s “plantation row,” such as Gov. Charles Eden and Tobias Knight.

For the public and the 700-plus cast and crew who performed in or supported the productions, this is a rare chance to drop in to see samples of stage settings, costumes, props, cast photos and memorabilia such as the drama’s molded head of the captured pirate, Blackbeard.

Many items in the upcoming Pirate Hall display were saved from outdoor drama productions held at Catnip Point’s pecan grove and at the Ormond Outdoor Amphitheatre, during the periods of 1977-1986 and 2005-2006, respectively.  The majority of costume, print and souvenir items are on loan from Bath resident Marti Buchanan. Buchanan played the original Mrs. Ormond, was a former outdoor drama producer and is a key supporter of performing arts in eastern North Carolina. Of special interest to visitors will be seeing rare film footage of Act I and Act II from Bath’s tricentennial productions and the composer’s original score as recorded by the ECU orchestra. Some items were previously on display in 2015 at ECU’s Joyner Library in an exhibit called “Blackbeard in Outdoor Theatre,” featuring the 1955 pageant “Queen Anne’s Bell” written by Edmund Harding, as well as featuring two Blackbeard related plays written by Stuart Aronson.

“Blackbeard: Knight of the Black Flag” was performed for 10 years beginning in 1977, and revived in 2005-2006 for Bath’s tricentennial. The play sought to humanize Blackbeard over the last few months of his life, prior to his capture and death by decapitation.

Blackbeard was killed Nov. 22, 1718, during a sea battle near Ocracoke Island. Lt. Robert Maynard of the British Royal Navy brought Blackbeard’s captured sloop Adventure, pirate crew and wounded men, along with Blackbeard’s head, all to Bath where he completed a Bath-linked piracy investigation. Next year, the towns of Bath and Beaufort are planning “Blackbeard 300” celebrations.

The historic Bath site’s “Pirates in the Port” program kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. with a re-enactment of Lt. Maynard and warship crew from HMS Pearl and HMS Lyme coming ashore and reporting to Capt. Ellis Brand at Harding’s Landing State Dock off of Main Street.

All “Pirates in the Port” activities are free to the public. All cast and crew from the various years of the outdoor drama, along with all site staff and site volunteers participating in the annual “Pirates in the Port” event, are invited to meet up at a private after hours social from 5-9 p.m. at the Bath Ruritan on N.C. Highway 92 East. For both public and private events at “Pirates in the Port,” either period attire or costumes are encouraged.

For more information about Pirates in the Port, call the Historic Bath visitor center at 252-923-8549, or follow on Facebook @historicbath. For details on the private after hours social rendezvous at the Bath Ruritan Club for cast and crew, see the group Facebook @blackbeardkotbf.

Submitted by Gillian Hookway Jones