When Buckeye Lake residents Kelly and Nina Collins got married, they did so as pirates. 

“At our reception, we dressed up as pirates,” said Kelly, who produced the first-ever Buckeye Lake Pirate Festival on Saturday, May 18 alongside his wife. 

“Two Bits” greeted Pirate Festival attendees next to “The World’s Tallest Arrvee.” Credit: Caroline Zollinger

The festival, which kicked off Friday night and ran through Saturday night, included a pirate marketplace, treasure hunts on land and water, a mermaid meet-and-greet, face painting, artists and “the world’s tallest ARRVEE,” a 41-foot-tall pirate ship on wheels.  

Attendees were encouraged to dress in pirate, mermaid and steampunk attire.

Long before the pirate festival was a reality, though, the Collins had a passion for cosplay and a hand in local conventions. They previously owned a haunted house, and ran the Midwest Haunters Convention in Columbus. 

When they moved to Buckeye Lake six years ago, they continued dressing as pirates during the village’s annual Winter Festival pub crawl, and eventually, others joined in. 

Now, there’s an entire group that calls themselves the Buckeye Lake Pirates, and it continues to grow. 

Kelly’s vision for the pirate festival was a family-friendly event to kick off the summer season at Buckeye Lake. 

“We didn’t want to be scary — we wanted to be fun,” he said.

The pirate weekend started with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, May 17, and lasted from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on May 18. Kelly estimated more than 1,000 people attended the festival on Saturday.

Two pirates — known as Two Bits and Calypso — greeted attendees at the entrance and directed visitors to treasure maps and festival activities. 

Although this was the first annual pirate festival this was not their first time as pirates on Buckeye Lake.

“When he (Kelly) moved out here to Buckeye Lake he decided to have the Buckeye Lake Pirates start up,” Calypso said. “We started just going around on our own dressing like pirates and being foolish.” 

Pirates, mermaids and steampunk cosplayers traveled from all over Ohio to attend the festival. 

Cathay Blaise adorned herself with sparkles and jewels to get into her mermaid character. Kelly reached out to her to be a mermaid for the event since she had previously worn the costume for Halloween. When Blaise was not taking pictures with children, she sold her homemade candles that were in old beer and soda cans. 

Alicia Freeman from Nashport, Ohio came to the event for steampunk. She makes many steampunk costumes and hopes to create a business out of her punk passion. Her outfit was made from an old prom gown, and her costume was mostly made from pieces already in her closet and items she had thrifted. She wheeled around a trunk that held her treasure map and booty from the festival. 

Mary Kansa, also known as the “The Repurposed Pirate,” shops in thrift stores and transforms items into pirate attire. 

 “I turn hats, like women’s straw hats, or winter hats and I turn them into pirate hats,” Kansa said. “And I find coats and shirts and turn them into pirate shirts and coats.” 

She started repurposing clothes into pirate attire as a hobby for herself seven years ago. Kansa then began selling her creations. She focuses on affordability with her products so others can enjoy the pirate life. 

The Sparrow and Draven Black Bird of the Modern Day Pirates traveled from Lake Erie in full pirate makeup, hair, and costume to the pirate festival. They say it takes hours for them to get completely ready including their makeup, hair, and accessories. Sparrow said he made his pirate wig himself with a base wig and synthetic dreadlocks. 

Sharon Dean is the artist of the Mystic Sister Studio in Zanesville, OH. She came to Buckeye Lake Saturday to sell her ocean-inspired artwork and some artwork she created specifically to match the event. She paints with acrylic and builds the paint to make different textures in her pieces. Dean uses glitter in her mermaid paintings and even blacklight effects in some of her pieces. 

Kelly included local restaurants in the pirate festival. Many businesses hung skull and crossbones flags in their windows. Some restaurants like the Chef Shack had special menus for the events that included food items like “The Catch of the Day,” “Scurvy Dogs,” and “The Best Burrrrgers!”

“We wanted everybody around the lake to feel comfortable, to have fun,” Kelly said. “We wanted them to feel as though we were bringing people to the community to welcome our guests and encourage them to come back and visit Buckeye Lake.” 

Caroline Zollinger and Andrew Theophilus write for TheReportingProject.org, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.