Did you know that Fairyland runs a school? Aye, mateys: a school for pirates. Once a year, at our Jack O’Lantern Jamboree, we train more than 800 kids how to look for treasure, engage in swordplay and come up with their own pirate names. No training is required for the kids to let their imaginations go wild on our big wooden ship.

Over the last five years, the main teacher of the school has emerged as a brilliant inspiration to thousands of young mateys. And so it is with great pleasure that we announce that Andrew Nardinelli (a.k.a. Commodore Bartholomew Barfbeard) is now the official pirate of Children’s Fairyland.

He has all the right qualifications and then some. He belongs to Berkeley’s Olympic Circle Sailing Club in Berkeley, where he and his mother—like Andrew, an aggressive sailor—take to the sea in a 40-foot boat. (Andrew’s pirate name honors a landlubber who ventured out with them one day. Enough said.)

When he was growing up, Andrew loved to watch swashbuckling movies with his dad. That led to fencing lessons, which led to Andrew’s winning some saber competitions.

As a longtime member of the Oakland Raiders’ Black Hole fan club, Andrew also hangs out with people who proudly sport the eyepatched buccaneer logo.

Finally: “I’m a general contractor,” Andrew says jokingly, “so you can call me a crook.”

Pirate school is one of the biggest draws at Fairyland’s upcoming Jack O’Lantern Jamboree. Photo by Maria Rodriguez

Pirate school is one of the biggest draws at Fairyland’s upcoming Jack O’Lantern Jamboree. Photo by Maria Rodriguez

When Andrew started teaching at our school, he would conscientiously write down his routines … and routinely experience a bit of panic. The routines went out the window as he discovered the joys of engaging the kids, making them feel comfortable and then unleashing their imaginations on a ship that features a wheel, a tiller, a crow’s nest, even an alligator. Even though “they’re more Johnny Depp and I’m more Treasure Island,” Andrew says, it all works brilliantly. Kids love searching for hidden coins to get a prize, hearing about how fruit prevents scurvy, and learning how to use a (foam) sword correctly.

Andrew named all the swords: “Toothpick,” “Homework Eater,” “Butter Knife” and his own sword, “Toybreaker.” At the end of the school session, newly-minted pirates are given a certificate and asked to fill in their chosen pirate name. Needless to say, Jack Sparrow is the choice of many.

“Are you a real pirate?” he’s often asked. “Are you a real kid?” he replies.

But teaching pirate school isn’t all Andrew does to make Fairyland special for our largest event of the year. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine our big Halloween event without him. As artistic director of the entire Jack O’Lantern Jamboree, he “themes out” a number of areas of the park with giant books, 18-foot-high sunflowers, an ant as big as your head, and butterflies as big as dogs. “I work really hard at it,” he says—no joking, this time. Whenever he takes a break from pirate school, he runs around the park to check on the sets he’s created.

Andrew describes our Jamboree philosophy as “Halloween cheer, not fear.” We’re happy that he wants to keep working with us as long as he can.

As we approach the weekend of October 26 and 27, Andrew is preparing his introductory remarks for the future pirates: “Batten down the hatches, and yard the mainsail. I’m Commander Bartholomew Barfbeard, and this here be my pirate school!”

This year’s Jamboree will be held at Children’s Fairyland Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26 and 27, from 10 to 5 each day.

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