Today’s the Day.
— Mel Fisher’s Daily Mantra –
In 1622, the Tierra Firme Fleet, a convoy of 28 Spanish ships, departed Havana, setting sail for Spain. Five of those ships never made it out of the Florida Straits. Two of them, the Spanish galleons Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita, floundered in heavy wind and seas, finally succumbing to the hurricane forces and sinking near Key West, taking their passengers and magnificent treasures with them. It was September 6, 1622.
For over 15 years, beginning in 1970, treasure hunter Mel Fisher searched for the Santa Margarita and the Atocha off the Florida Keys. The search was overwrought with competing salvors, lawsuits and litigation, financial woes and personal heartbreaks. But Fisher never gave up. And for this, he was rewarded greatly. The Atocha was found on July 20, 1985 in fifty-five feet of water. Its treasures, referred to as the “Atocha Mother Lode,” would eventually be valued at $450 million dollars.
Not sure what to expect, we entered the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum on Greene Street in Key West. At the admission desk we received a sticker which boasted “I lifted a gold bar.” Half way through the exhibit this would come true as I placed my hand inside a designated glass casing and lifted a heavy gold bar.
The exhibit is quite spectacular. The gold bars, the silver ingots, the jewelry…
WHY MEL FISHER?
In his book, The Search for the Atocha, Eugene Lyon, Colonial Spanish Historian and consultant to Fisher during his search, describes Mel Fisher after early successes this way:
Since treasure hunters are often men of great drive and ego who are living out their fantasies, they may color their adventures highly, and tend to dramatize their finds in extravagant terms. Mel, now beginning to loom large in the treasure fraternity, possessed all these characteristics to excess. He was ready to gamble for higher stakes, to take more risks, and to exaggerate more than anyone.
Much has been said about Fisher through the years, but at the end of the day, Fisher has the last laugh. Proof of this is found in the exhibit right here in good ‘ole Key West.