TREASURE   FOR THE TAKING

WBR Museum interactive exhibit offers hands-on fortune hunting

Eeeewwwww!

Smells like pirate socks. Or, at least, that’s how Shawn Blount identified the smell wafting from the barrel.

Open it for yourself and take a whiff. If you’re an adult, you’re likely to recognize the aroma as moth balls.

“But kids today really aren’t familiar with moth balls,” Lauren Davis said. “So, they can’t quite place the smell.”

Davis is the West Baton Rouge Museum’s curator, and she stood next to the barrel, which simply instructs visitors to raise the lid to get an idea of how a pirate’s ship may have smelled.

And Blount declared that he was smelling dirty pirate socks. He’s 11 and a student at Central Intermediate School. He and his 8-year-old sister and fellow student, Samantha Blount, were participating in the museum’s annual day camp. But they stepped into the museum’s summer exhibit, The Hunt for Treasure!, on this particular morning.

They couldn’t help being intrigued.

“There’s just so much for them to do,” Davis said. “A lot of times, even the adults won’t stop and read the labels, because they’re too busy trying out things in the exhibit.”

The Hunt for Treasure! is a traveling exhibit organized and toured by NRG Exhibits, of Kirkland, Wash. The show features four themes: sunken treasure, buried treasure, metal-detecting and the modern treasure hunt involving a process called geocaching. It also features video presentations.

Visitors can make souvenir rubbings of early coins, use an exhibit-provided metal detector to find treasure buried in a crate of dirt-like rubber shavings, hoist a pirate flag and explore geocaching, a game in which a global positioning system, or GPS, is used to hide and seek containers.

But the Blounts were more interested in cracking the exhibit’s safe. They were joined by 11-year-old camper Gabrielle Boudreaux, a student at Brusly Middle School, and 16-year-old camp counselor Austin Cristina.

“That’s what all the kids like doing the most,” Davis said. “They’ve come in here and tried, but none of them have opened it yet.”

The group stood there, passing the task of trying to crack the code from one to another. All the while, they were surrounded by history discussing the Knights Templar; the centuries-old rumor of treasure on Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia; and locally, actual artifacts from the Spanish cargo ship El Constante, sunk by a hurricane off the coast of Louisiana in 1764.

The artifacts are on loan from the Louisiana Division of Archaeology.

“And when you look at the items in the cases, you would think of them as treasure today,” Davis said. “But these were things that the Spanish were seeing for the first time in the new world, and they were bringing it back to Spain as treasure.”

Finally there was a distinct click in the background, followed by yelps of “We did it!”

And they did — campers and counselors had opened the safe.

There was a note inside that said, “Better luck next time,” meaning the treasure. In this case, the achievement was figuring out the code.

And at least it didn’t smell like pirates’ socks.