Was Captain Kidd set up? New exhibit airs doubts

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“Some great men would have me dye for Solving their Honor,” he wrote.

Still, Kidd claimed to have a trump card, saying in a letter that he’d hidden treasure away at a secret location in the Caribbean, a stash which he valued at 100,000 pounds _ then worth about 5,000 times a sailor’s annual wage.

“It is an enormous sum of money _ absolutely enormous,” said Wareham.

The letter got London talking, but it couldn’t save Kidd’s life. He was hanged at London's Execution Dock on May 23, 1701 _ almost exactly 310 years ago. His body was coated in pitch, squeezed into a gibbet cage, and left for several years as a warning before being taken down and buried in secret.

But Kidd’s desperate promise of treasure practically beyond measure would ensure that his name would live on.

The search for Kidd’s missing booty was the focus Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Gold Bug” and an inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.” The final part of the exhibit is packed with the pirate-themed books, and movie posters.

Curator Hilary David said Kidd’s promise of wealth practically beyond measure gave pirate stories one of their most enduring tropes.

“It seems that this is the origin of all the ‘pirates’ buried treasure’ stories,” said Hilary Davidson, a curator at the museum. “After the treasure is mentioned in the letter, X marks the spot forever.”

The exhibit, “Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story,” opens Friday. Admission is seven pounds (about $11) at the door.



Museum of London Docklands: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/


Raphael G. Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael

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