The Tale of San Francisco’s Infamous Pirate Statue…Aaargh!
I remember well that chilly sunshiny Sunday in San Francisco years ago, when at first we met. (I had just completed my normal Sunday morning routine – Hop on Bart in Berkeley. Hop off at Powell. Hop on the 5 Fulton. Hop off at 8th next to Golden Gate Park). I was rushing into the de Young Museum to use their lavish restroom before swing dancing on JFK Drive at “Lindy in the Park” when I had a strange feeling that I was being watched.
I stopped my rushing, and turned slowly around. A shimmering light caught my eye. It was reflecting off an object across the lily-padded “Pool of Enchantment” in the “Garden of Enchantment”. I was semi-blinded by the light and was immediately drawn toward the shiny object. And there, I saw him, beneath the two Palms, my tall, sunshiny, shimmering, silvery Pirate. We have been together ever since that fated day.
He has two hand hooks, two swords, two parrots on either shoulder, and two peg-legs. He wears two eye patches but I know he can see me, and his two ears can hear my soft whispers, and the swinging jazz music across the way on JFK Drive. I’m still waiting for the Sunday when he stretches out those two long, strong, silvery peg-legs of his, and dashes across “The Garden of Enchantment”, grabs me tightly with his two giant hooks and we dance the Pirate jig beneath the sunshine at ‘Lindy in the Park’.
Originally from Berkeley, and now living in New York, Artist Peter Coffin is responsible for creating “Untitled” (Pirate), donated to the de Young Museum by William and Maria Bell. Thank-you.
I don’t know Mr. Coffin, but I like what he wrote about “Untitled” Pirate in 2017,(as emailed to journalist Leah Garchik) – “I believe the spirit of San Francisco still embodies the ideas of the West, where dreams come from, where the frontier expands to the ocean, That sense … is closely tied to its unwillingness to be restricted, its history of resistance and its fight for freedom against authoritarianism. The pirate should stand strong as a timeless hero or anti-hero here to defy authority and the status quo. He lives apart from the conventions of bourgeois society and breaks the rules to make new ones” – Peter Coffin
I realized just how attached I had become to “Untitled” Pirate when in June 2020, protestors toppled three statues near the de Young Museum as these statues represented symbols of oppression. I was worried “Untitled” Pirate may mistakenly be toppled or injured.
The next morning I skipped my normal mode of public transport and drove my car to the Park early. I ventured somberly towards the Garden of Enchantment. I tried to remain positive. At least he had his two swords to defend himself.
From faraway I saw the two towering Palm Trees. The Palms that gave a bit of shady sun to my Pirate. I started running toward those Palms…and I could see, as I came closer… a shimmering light, and I knew then that “Untitled” Pirate was still standing.
The Protestors had surrounded “Untitled” Pirate that cold dark Friday night years ago. Not sure what words were exchanged between the two, but respect was the outcome, and they let him be.
So don’t be too quick to judge and pigeon-hole or parrot-hole any Pirate you may meet. I was in my school’s play Peter Pan when I was a 6th grader in the role of an Indian. I still remember the words to one of the songs the Pirates in the play sang, “We’re bloody buccaneers and each a murderous crook, we massacre Indians, kill little boys and cater to Captain Hook”.
There are many an evil Pirate out there, but good ones as well. I’ve learned a lot from “Untitled” Pirate.
~ Pirates don’t like to follow rules, but they do follow a Pirate’s code. Each Pirate ship has one. Black Bart Roberts’ code let Pirate musicians rest on the Sabbath Day. And who doesn’t love singing a rousing Sea Shanty.
~ Have you heard of Black Sam Bellamy? According to the New England Historical Society, “Black Sam Bellamy became the wealthiest pirate in history not because of greed but because of anger—anger at the English system that exploited poor country boys and sailors like him. He considered himself the ‘Robin Hood of the Sea’ He scorned the wealthy merchants he plundered: ‘They rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage.’ ”
~ Gouged-out-by-sword missing eyeball? Usually not. Those patches help Pirates eyes adjust more quickly when moving from the ship’s bright upper deck to the dark deck below.
~ And what about that Pirate William Dampier? He pirated for 12 years, collected plant specimens, journaled about remote places, kept detailed records on winds, currents, latitude and longitude and then wrote a book, ‘A New Voyage Around the World’. It became a best seller.
~ Workers compensation and disability insurance may have been started by Pirates. They received money for their missing limbs, peg-legs and hooks. Their families received money if the Pirate met an untimely death.
~ It was considered bad luck to have a woman on a ship, but that did not deter some women from becoming powerful Pirates. China’s Madame Ching Shih, France’s Jeanne de Clisson, England’s Mary Read, and Ireland’s Grace O’Malley and Anne Bonny were forces to be reckoned with.
~ According to Kenneth Kinkor, a pirate expert: “In pirate society, everyone got their fair share of stolen loot. Two shares typically went to the captain, 1 1/2 shares to the quartermaster and one share to each crew member. By comparison, captains of merchant ships often got 15 times more than the crew, who at times were left with almost nothing. Skilled seamen in England and other countries were fed up with harsh naval life. Piracy promised freedom and wealth”.
~ “The deck of a pirate ship was the most empowering place there was for a black man during the 18th century…They had the same right as white pirates to booty and the vote, and some were even elected captains by predominantly white crews” according to Pirate expert Kinkor.
~ Everyone on board was dressed to kill.
Golden Gate Park’s 1,017 acres stretch three miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Here you will find the city’s oldest museum, named after newspaper magnate M. H. de Young. The de Young Museum got its start in 1894 as part of the city’s California Midwinter International Exposition.
The Garden of Enchantment covers an acre of land surrounding the de Young Museum and includes the misty (literally) Fog bog (I hung out for hours at the Fog bog one day and figured out the “fog” is expelled on the bog every hour on the hour). Oakland Landscape Architect Walter Hood designed the Fog bog and the area surrounding the de Young. The Pool of Enchantment built in 1917, is by the famous San Francisco sculptor Earl Cummings.
“Untitled” Pirate lives in the Garden of Enchantment next to The Pool of Enchantment at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park.
Come say Ahoy to me Matey and sing some sea shanties. (But best watch your step Missy… I’ve got my one eye on you from afar…no hanky-planky… or you’ll end up in Davey Jones’s locker beneath the sea…Aaargh! )