Mel Fisher'S Atocha Museum In Key West
A look at the treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his recovery of the Spanish ship Atocha.
The story begins in 1622, when a fleet of ships left Havana bound for Spain. Filled with emeralds, gold, silver,
coins, pearls and more, the treasure ships were ill-fated. Disaster struck in the form of a hurricane off the Florida Keys.
Over 500 people were lost at sea, along with an remarkable treasure. It was the end for the ships and yet the beginning
of a tantalizing legend.
Decades, then centuries passed and in 1969, Mel Fisher began his search for the lost galleons. It took sixteen
years and unfortunately, the lives of his son and daughter-in-law, but Mel persevered and never lost hope. All during the
1970s, his crew found bits and pieces from the 1622 fleet, some spectacular, others more common. They finally found
the main cargo hold of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha in 1985, known to treasure-hunters as "the motherlode." At the
time, estimates put the value of the treasure at $400 million dollars. Soon, the name Mel Fisher was known nation-wide.
Some have called him "the world's greatest treasure hunter."
The riches discovered from the Atocha and other ships, are displayed in the museum in Key West, as are
exhibits on the techniques used in underwater technology. There are so many artifacts from the Spanish galleons, they
have to be displayed in rotation. Changing exhibits delve into various aspects of history and treasure hunting in general.
About 200,000 people visit this museum each year.
Geologically speaking, it's said emeralds are just
about the rarest of all precious stones. The emeralds from the wreck of the Atocha are especially noteworthy. It's
believed about 69 pounds of rough emeralds were smuggled aboard the ship and only a small portion have been
In addition, many pieces of finished jewelry, such as rings and necklaces containing emeralds were discovered.
I'd have to say I found the emeralds on display in the museum nothing less than mesmerizing. The finely-crafted, large
crosses inset with emeralds would capture anyone's imagination.
Also on display are large, solid gold chains and gold bars, massive canons, and coins. But more than treasure
and ship artifacts, I think the museum represents the true realization of Mel's dream, a rare thing indeed.
Recovery work, as well as research on the 1622 fleet, has continued to this day. Additional items, including
more emeralds have been recovered in the years since the motherlode was located.
As an educational, non-profit organization, the Museum offers educational programming to area school-age
children on the topics of science, marine life and of course, underwater archeology. In this way, Mel's lasting legacy can
touch more lives.
When in Key West, don't miss this chance to see these extraordinary finds from the ocean floor. The Mel Fisher
Maritime Heritage Society Museum is located at 200 Greene Street, Key West, Florida. Admission for adults is $6.50,
children 6-12 are $2.00 and kids under 6 get in free. The museum shop has unique gifts and jewelry reproductions.
Their hours are 9:30 to 5:00 daily and the phone number is 1-305-294-2633.
"Once you have seen the ocean bottom paved with gold coins, you'll never forget it!" MEL FISHER