Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Today's The Day!

Mel Fisher was the "World's Greatest Treasure Hunter."    For 16 years, he and his family searched the waters around Key West to locate the sunken treasures of the Atocha and the Santa Margarita, Spanish galleons that sank during a hurricane in 1622.  He suffered many personal losses, including a son and daughter-in-law, while pursuing his dream. but each day he would get up and declare "Today's the day!"   Once he discovered the ships, he endured many court battles to keep the estimated $450 million treasure that included gold, silver and emeralds.  While visiting Key West, we took the time to tour his museum, learn about his quest and see a portion of the haul.

Before we entered the museum, however, there was a very interesting display in the courtyard.  On August 4, 2015, there was a breaking story about some Cuban immigrants who landed in Key West, causing a firestorm of controversy in the news about the "wet foot, dry foot" policy in our country.  In front of Mel Fisher's museum was the homemade vessel in which they traveled.   Made of 55 gallon drums and what looked like wooden pallets, 24 people braved the dangerous 90 mile sea journey in this vessel.

Boat to freedom
I can't imagine even going for a ride near the shore in a boat like this, let alone out into the open sea!

Anyway, back to the museum.  There was a short documentary about Mel Fisher's dream and the costs, both personal and financial.  But he worked and lived for his dream and, happily, it became a reality.  Some of the artifacts he found are displayed throughout the building.

These pieces are in amazing shape for being buried under the sea for over 350 years.

Gold bullion
Some legal, some contraband, each legal piece is marked with a tax stamp.

Gold chains
Since bullion was taxed at a higher rate than jewelry, much of the gold transported from the New World to the Old World was made into chains.  Links of the chains could be used as money, as well.

The tiny, intricate details survived the years and these pieces look like they were made yesterday.

Silver ingots
What excitement the divers must have experienced when they first discovered these!

"Pieces of Eight"
Spanish reales, heavily documented in fact and fiction, were the most reliable currency of the time period.

This display shows the transition of a crossbow from discovery on the floor of the ocean to restored condition.  Some of the other items displayed were so heavily encrusted that I can't imagine how the divers knew to retrieve them.

The second floor of the museum was dedicated to the lives of pirates and the role they played in the establishment of Key West.  Often used interchangeably, the terms pirate, privateer and buccaneer have very different meanings.  A pirate plundered for cargo and his acts were punishable by death.  A privateer attacked ships while under contract to a government.  The goods taken were then split with that government and the privateer never plundered their own country's ships.  Buccaneers were the pirates of the Caribbean and formed a loose network dedicated to causing as much havoc to the Spanish fleets as possible.  

Key West was established by Navy Lt. Commander Matthew Perry to be a naval depot whose sole mission was to end piracy.  In a politically controversial move, he sailed into Key West and claimed the territory previously seen as "North Havana" as part of the US.  At the time, the keys and Cuba were well known as havens for pirates and illegal slavers.

Buccaneers were primarily of French and English descent.

Entering the museum display

I think this guy was there to make sure we didn't steal anything!

While I was not expecting to get much out of this museum, it ended up being completely fascinating!  If you have a chance, read up on Mel Fisher and, too, the history of piracy.  And definitely visit the museum when in Key West.

Until next time...

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