Adults-only tour shares unpublished history at NC Maritime Museum at Beaufort
An after hours, adults-only tour of the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort is sharing the history that curators and tour guides usually leave out.
Lee Hinson and Dean Vick were in the first Adults Only Tour at the Maritime Museum in Beaufort. Hinson sits on the museum's board and Vick volunteers at the front desk. Going in, Vick expected a bunch of stories about pirates.
“Mostly, I was expecting to hear pirates stories and things we don’t share here in the museum,” Vick said.
Leaving the tour, Hinson share one thing he learned from the tour.
“I learned there’s a difference between manatees and mermaids," he said. "At least as far as pirates are concerned.”
For Hinson, who visits the museum often, the tour has changed the way he sees some of the exhibits.
“It shed a whole new light on a lot of the displays and things you’ve heard in the past.”
Christine Brin is the mad scientist — or mad historian — who put the whole tour together. As a curator for 13 years at the museum, she’s learned things about life at sea that are not suitable for all audiences.
“These are stories that historians and museum educators, we kind of like whispered behind our hands to each other because we could never dare to share them with the public,” she said.
Like a lot of historians and curators, Brin said she often sanitizes some of the history she works with. For example, at the museum’s entrance is a carved, wooden figurehead of a woman that would go at the bow of a ship. If visiting the museum during daylight hours, Brin would talk about her sparingly.
“In most guided tours and when she is mentioned, it’s like ‘oh isn’t she beautiful? It’s a work of art,’” Brin said.
But after hours, she gets to share the evolution of figureheads for ships and why they often included nudity.
“I can take that conversation from more than ‘it’s just a work of art’ to what inspired that work of art," she said. "The mindset of the artist was simply, they wanted to see boobs.”
Brin enjoys the opportunity to share a fuller story with her audience. During the day visitors can view the Menhaden exhibit, covering its importance to Beaufort’s economy and its fall due to overfishing. During normal hours, Brin shares that history alongside examples of menhaden products: cat food, fertilizer, fish oil, lipstick. But after hours, she shares how menhaden became viewed as an aphrodisiac.
The tour opens with moonshine. Attendees can grab a sample supplied by Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville and learn about North Carolina’s love-hate relationship with the liquor. That’s how the night kicks off, but it quickly moves on to more scandalous stories — like Queen Caroline, the figurehead on display
“The subject of the figure had a very colorful story herself with an interesting relationship with her king," Brin said. "At one point, he calls her smelly and says she never changes her clothes, and she has the audacity to speak her mind.”
The group moves to the next room, which has a whale skeleton hanging overhead. They take the moment to talk about whale poop.
“At one point, I even break some out for people to smell,” Brin said.
And Whale penises . . .
“So, the biggest penis in the world comes out of the ocean. It’s a blue whale. They have 6- to 8-foot-long penises," she said. "My husband was nice enough to cut a rope so I could have a volunteer hold one end and then pull out this 30-foot rope and really give you the visual impact of it.”
The tour is an opportunity to learn more about the history of the sea — like the origins of Polari, an early 18th century British slang used by gay men to secretly communicate while homosexuality was illegal. A popular stop on the tour is about superstitions. Having women on board was considered bad luck, and so were cats.
“They were considered bad luck, but then later they became good luck, and we have some great images during WWII of these sailors, Navy men out on their battleships and they’ve got these cute little cats that have become king of their class pet and they’ve made them these hammocks. It is adorable.”
It serves as a bit of a break from explicit content.
The night is punctuated by Dad jokes.
And witty limericks . . .
The tour began in August of last year and has regularly sold out.
“Sex sells,” Brin said.
The tour takes 20 people around the museum and lasts for almost two hours. Christine has weighed cutting the tour down to just an hour.
“Every time I’ve asked about cutting it down, they’re like ‘No, no, no, there’s nothing to cut. Keep going!’” she said.
Tours take place on the third Friday of each month.