Friday, March 8, 2013

Sunken Treasure in Key West

If you are like me, the lure of hidden treasure is compelling.  Who hasn't read Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" and not dreamed of someday finding a treasure chest themselves? Some people today seek that treasure through the lottery. Mel Fisher did it another way: he spent sixteen years searching for the treasure of a Spanish ship that sunk to the bottom of the sea in 1622 In 1985, he found it and today, you can see some of that treasure and other artifacts from that ship in a museum in Key West, Florida, Mel Fisher's Maritime Museum.

While many people visit Key West to see the Ernest Hemingway house or have a drink at Hemingway's favorite watering hole, Sloppy Joe's, or better yet, have a cheeseburger in paradise at the original Jimmy Buffett Margarativille, the real deal is the Mel Fisher museum. Located just a short distance from these better known Key West attractions in an old building on Greene street, it is well worth a visit.

The Spanish ship Nuestra Senora de Atocha (Our Lady of Atocha) sank some 35 miles off the coast of the  Florida Keys in a severe hurricane on September 6, 1622. Of the 265 people on  board, including several Augustinian priests, only three sailors and 2 slaves managed to survive. The Atocha (named for a parish in Madrid) was also carrying an unbelievable cargo of copper, jewels, silver, gold and tobacco. Included were some 24 tons of silver and 125 gold bars and discs.Although the Spanish attempted various salvage operations for several years, the depth of the sunken ship and other storms hampered those operations.

It was not until Mel Fisher, a chicken farmer turned deep sea diver found it in 1985, that most of that cargo was located and retrieved.Gold and silver and other artifacts worth over $500 million have already been recovered. Recovery operations continue and additional treasure continues to be found. Recently, an emerald ring valued at $500,000 was found and is on display in the museum.

In addition to the displays of gold and silver ingots and other valuables,the museum offers a glimpse of life aboard the Atocha  Several cannon, muskets and swords from the heavily armed vessel give an insight into the ship's defenses.  Also, spoons and plates of Majolica show the day to day functioning of the ship. Most of these articles are in remarkable condition given that they are 450 years old!

The gift shop adjacent to the museum  has a silver ingot  available for purchase for over $100,000 and reproduction silver coin jewelry for as little as $65

The museum is located at 200 Greene Street in Key West. It is open daily.  The admission fee is $12.50 for adults with a small discount for veterans.  For more information, contact the museum at 305-294-2633 or view their website at

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