By Chris Thomsen SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – A pirate’s life is stereotypically filled with pillaging villages, drinking rum and sailing the Seven Seas. But Central New York’s Captain Jack Sparrow couldn’t be any more different.
Rick Martinez makes a full-time job from impersonating the famous pirate. He started in 2005, two years after the release of the first Pirates of the Carribean movie. He had never heard of the character until watching the film on DVD.
The next day, he made his first Jack Sparrow outfit – and a Central New York legend was born overnight. It was immediately obvious to everyone that he fit the part, which he plays at parties, events, schools and other affairs.
“Some said, ‘you know, you really look like Jack Sparrow,’” Martinez said. “And I was like, ‘That’s kind of why I’m doing this.’”
Almost immediately, Martinez turned his new commercial venture into a philanthropic one. When he lived in Auburn, he constructed a huge pirate ship every year for the Halloween season in his backyard. It was the perfect place for kids to have fun — hundreds showed up annually to roam around the ship’s cabins.
“The cool thing about it was it was giving people a good sense of community,” Martinez said. “It was a good place to come. It was safe. And we literally had thousands of people come over on these weekends.”
One year, he decided to charge a small admission fee: one canned good per person. The idea worked as Martinez was able to donate thousands of canned goods to the Calvary Food Pantry in Auburn.
And in 2013, the last year of “Captain Jack’s Haunted Pirate Ship,” one of the real pirates showed up: Marty Klebba. The duo raised hundreds of dollars for the food pantry and collected over 10,000 canned goods.
There are plenty of sailor’s tales that Martinez can rattle off, but one recent photo opportunity sticks with him.
Last year, Martinez took a picture with a 12-year-old girl who has autism. Her parents told him that she had never taken a picture with anyone “famous” before – not even Santa Claus.
That one moment stuck with the girl. When Martinez was invited to her house this summer, she was dressed up as a pirate herself. Her parents said she had opened up after meeting Captain Jack.
“And my daughter, when she was watching that whole thing, had tears in her eyes,” Martinez said. “She was going, ‘Wow, how can you not cry right then and there, Dad?’
“I said, ‘Because I’m making them happy. We’ll cry when we get out back.’”
Crying may be against pirate’s code. But Martinez is unlike any pirate, especially his lookalike: he already has found his treasure.