You’ve got to hand it to the pirates for having the most expressive lingo. Scallywag and hornswaggle were just a few of the words tossed about by the hook-handed at this weekend’s first ever event at Philipsburg Manor.
While nearby and Van Cortlandt celebrate the holiday historically, usually the Manor lies dormant during the Fourth of July – true to its times, circa 1750 (just shy of 1776). But, pirates have been in the back of the organizers' minds for some time now.
“We’ve expanded on a kernel of truth,” said Waddell Stillman, President of the Historic Hudson Valley umbrella organization that owns and operates these and other area sites.
Legend has it that the Philipsburg family were victims of piracy, and that they traded with some folks who turned out to be pirates, Stillman said, adding that our beloved Washington Irving wrote some pirate stories to boot. So yes, there were pirates in the region and in the public imagination, but unlike most thematic events at HHV sites where educational opportunities abound, the Siege was more interested in giving the sold-out crowd of landlubbers a salty good time.
Upon entrance – after resisting the outdoor gift shop of pirate-inspired booty first – patrons get a scavenger map from the facially scarred gypsy holding court on the end of her covered wagon. There were eight stations throughout the farm where my toddler collected a gold sticker, working towards the coveted skull bandana she would receive at last – a nice incentive to keep a little one moving along.
Older kids were more versed in piratology than she, with their foam swords and experience watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Plenty of adults also took the opportunity to get decked out buccaneer-style. One tattooed lady, corsetted for the occasion, said guests kept asking her for directions. The mother of two kids in full pirate regalia said she bought them their get-ups special for the event, hoping to recycle them on Halloween. There was even an old lady with a walker in a full-length gown.
Besides a momentary technical difficulty with the dunking tank, there seemed no sign that this was a first-time performance for this farm. The amusements were myriad and elaborate: free temporary tattoos, a museum of oddities with soul-catching contraptions and a fish boy in a tank, fiddlers and skits, a special effects artist modeling monstrous heads with clay, games like cannon bowl (50 points gets you a bag of Pirate Booty), a photo-op with a turquoise parrot, and a ship flooded with “sea foam” soap bubbles (and the kind man who will spray you off when you’re out).
Some timed events throughout the day, like the captured mermaid show, had a line and filled up too fast for us to catch, while the rocking room of Davy's Locker made noises too scary for our kid to go near. But there was more than enough to keep us all entertained for hours, and when we needed a break there was Captain Lawrence beer ($6) and treats under a big tent with live shanty-song sort of music.
My newbie daughter could get up to speed pirate life at the Pirate Training Camp, where you could learn about how to cut a competitor’s head off with your cutlass and other necessary skills...like saying cutlass.
And then there was Calypso, summoning "the spirit of the Hudson" to read our futures from a handful of scattered shells and bones. She told me I have to have to make peace with two people who don’t know each other but are both mad at me; she told my husband to keep faith in and pursue his big creative idea; and she told our daughter she had a lot of support and a good heart. Nice, though not very pirate-like. Our pre-verbal infant insisted on remaining thematic, responding aarrgghh.