The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum: Key West’s Treasure Trove of Nautical History

Tucked away in Key West’s historic seaport district sits a modest gray building brimming with riches – the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. This intriguing museum illuminates Key West’s role in maritime history and honors the famous treasure hunter it’s named after.

Mel Fisher is most renowned for discovering the 1622 shipwreck of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha off the Florida Keys. The immense trove of Spanish emeralds, gold coins and artifacts is the richest underwater find in history. Fisher’s dramatic hunt for the treasure and personal tragedies became legendary.

Today, the museum showcases not only Mel Fisher’s astounding finds, but artifacts spanning centuries of fascinating seafaring lore. From pirate adventures to salvaging tales, a visit here provides an immersive journey into Key West’s captivating past.

The Life of Mel Fisher Mel Fisher was born in Indiana in 1922 and eventually relocated to California where he ran a diving company. After moving to Key West in 1960, he set his sights on discovering a mother lode of Spanish treasure ships that sank in 1622 during a hurricane.

Fisher spent 16 tireless years researching archives in Spain and combing the waters off the Florida Keys in his quest. Endless challenges plagued the dangerous search, including bureaucracy, funding problems, technical failures, a Hurricane Betsy wipeout, and the tragic death of his son and daughter-in-law in a salvage accident.

Against all odds, Fisher finally unearthed the riches of the Atocha in 1985, hauling up over 100,000 Spanish silver coins, Columbian emeralds, and over 1,000 pounds of gold and silver bars. His life story became the basis for a best-selling book and hit movie “Treasure.” Fisher died in 1998, but his legacy lives on.

Museum Exhibits

The Mel Fisher Maritime Museum tells the intriguing stories surrounding Key West’s maritime past through engaging exhibits spanning three floors.

First Floor:

The ground floor introduces Key West’s development as the “Wrecking Capital of the World” in the 1800s. Salvaging materials from shipwrecks grew into a huge industry that fueled the region’s economy. Highlights here include artifacts from the Isaac Allerton ship that wrecked in 1856 and the remarkably preserved hull of the Adelaide Baker.

Don’t miss the dense gold bar and glittering emeralds recovered from the seafloor. Photos, films, and salvaging equipment captures the risky work required to recover these underwater treasures.

Second Floor:

Ascend into Mel Fisher’s universe on the captivating second floor. A short film profiles Fisher’s epic Atocha discovery and the immense difficulties overcome. See real silver bars and glittering coins pulled from the shipwreck, along with cannons, pottery and other artifacts intact after 400 years underwater.

Gold jewelry, pendants and ingots are also on display, letting you glimpse these priceless Spanish relics up close. One highlight is the magnificent gold Colombian emerald ring set with a massive 5.16 carat stone. Estimated at over $250,000, it evokes the immense wealth lost when the Atocha sank.

Don’t bypass the exhibit about the Santa Margarita, another 1622 shipwreck found by Fisher off Key West. Gold chains, swords, religious artifacts and more reveal the human stories behind these fascinating time capsules.

Third Floor:

Dedicated to pirates and privateers, the third floor exhibit conveys Key West’s notoriety for smugglers and buccaneers back in the day. An enormous pirate flag hangs from the rafters while ship models, cannons and treasure chests set the scene.

Historic accounts, wanted posters and artifacts provide insight into piracy’s bloody history and operations. See real pirate treasure along with subjects like how pirated cargo was fenced, gruesome medical instruments, and creative booby traps for evading capture on ships.

Don’t miss the jars of onyx gems, gold flakes, and pieces of eight recovered from the Whydah ship of the notorious pirate Black Sam Bellamy. Nearby, Captain Kidd’s fiendish reputation comes to life through his tools and navigation gear. The interactive elements like a ship’s wheel and cannon to photograph yourself with add to the fun.

Treasure Trove Museum Store

No visit to the Mel Fisher Museum is complete without browsing their gift shop, dubbed the “Treasure Trove.” Beyond the usual tourist trinkets, this museum store lets visitors take home genuine certified treasure.

Buy museum merchandise like t-shirts and books, or opt for real shipwreck coins and artifacts. For big spenders, emerald rings, gold chains, and investment grade collectible coins are also available. Don’t worry, they provide official certificates of authenticity with every purchase to document their maritime origins.

It’s not every day you can bring home bona fide relics from Key West’s storied seafaring past. Stop by the Treasure Trove to find an affordable pirate coin or maybe that dream emerald ring that catches your eye!

Visiting the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum

Address: 200 Greene St, Key West, FL 33040

Hours: Opens at 10am Daily

Admission: Adults $17.50, Children $8.50 (Please check for udpated pricing)

Tours: Lab Tours are available at 11:30 and 2PM Monday Through Friday

The museum is conveniently located near Mile Marker 0 and the Key West Historic Seaport. Limited parking is available directly behind the museum for a fee. Otherwise, use street parking or city garages nearby.

Stop by this engaging Key West museum to dive into the city’s rich maritime legacy. Through historic artifacts, films, and family treasures, you’ll gain insight into salvaging, piracy, shipwrecks and the inspiring life of Mel Fisher. It’s a can’t-miss attraction for anyone curious about the drama and fortunes buried under the sea.

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