Information about the Florida Keys and Key West
"TODAY'S THE DAY! "(Mel's Motto)
This is the story of Mel and his family's search through the years.
Originally written by Bleth McHaley & Wendy Tucker
July 20, 1985 was "the day" at last when Mel Fisher, the world's greatest
treasure hunter, found his dream of dreams, the priceless treasure cargo of the
fabled lost Spanish galleon Atocha. At 1:05 p.m. that amazing day, Mel Fisher
learned from his son Kane that his greatest dream had been realized. The
marine radio crackled to life in the Key West, Florida office of Mel Fisher at
Treasure Salvors, Inc. "WZG9605. Unit 1, this is Unit 11." From aboard the
vessel Dauntless of which he was captain, Kane told his beaming father: "Put
away the charts. We've got the 'Mother Lode'!"
The dream that had consumed Mel Fisher for more than 16 years now came
true before the eyes of the world. He had found the "rainbow's end" including
stacks of silver bars, chests of silver coins, gold, jewels, and thousands of other
unique artifacts from the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. Mel Fisher found what
adventurous souls through centuries had only dreamed of finding!
Mel Fisher's dreams of treasure began in childhood with the reading of Robert
Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and about pirates of the "Spanish Main". He
also read about the exploits of deep sea divers in their bulky "hard hat" suits
who were just beginning the exploration of the sub-sea world. There were no
oceans to conquer in Hobart and Glen Park, Indiana. But at age eleven, Mel
Fisher made his own first "hard hat" diving outfit to use in a mud-bottomed
Mel learned carpentry skills from his father, Earl Fisher, and his musical talents
seemed to come from his mother's side of the family. Grace Sprencel Fisher
and her sisters were gifted in music and dance. Mel Fisher formed his first
dance band while attending Lew Wallace High School at Glen Park, Indiana. He
attended Purdue University, where he studied engineering and led his own
21-piece band. With the outbreak of World War II, Mel went into the U.S.Army. He
was trained and served with the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers. Before being
shipped over-seas to Europe with the Army Engineers, he studied at the
University of Alabama where he was later awarded an honorary doctorate.
After the war, Mel restlessly moved to Chicago and Denver, then to Florida where
he again pursued his primary interest in diving. In 1950, Mel moved with his
parents to Torrance, California. They operated a chicken ranch there.
Mel continued to pursue his interest in diving while he helped with the ranch and
also studied animal husbandry at El Camino College. Mel Fisher opened his
first dive shop in a small feed shed on the family chicken ranch. He had a small
compressor and sold "breathing" air as well as scuba equipment and parts.
In 1953, a gorgeous, red-haired girl named Dolores Horton lighted Mel Fisher's
life. She was from Montana and a stranger to the ocean, but quickly became a
mermaid called "Deo". On their honeymoon, the handsome young couple went
diving on shipwrecks in Florida and the Florida Keys. They planned to open a
store devoted exclusively to diving. To raise the money they dove commercially
for spiny lobster in the frigid California waters. This was grueling but lucrative
work, and they built their own business one wall at a time. Finally they opened
Mel's Aqua Shop in Redondo Beach, California. This was the first "dive shop" in
Mel and Dolores Fisher were hugely successful in this pioneering business,
training more than 65,000 novices in the science of scuba diving. An undersea
pioneer, Mel made early underwater films and movies, for training, advertising
and entertainment purposes. When television was still young, Mel Fisher aired
his own underwater adventures on weekly TV shows. Dolores personally set a
world underwater endurance record that continues through the years to stand as
a woman's underwater endurance record of more than 55 hours and 37
minutes, [55:37:9.6]. Mel and Deo were the unofficial "king and queen" of the
Five children were born to Mel and Dolores Fisher, sons Terry, Dirk, Kim and
Kane, and daughter Taffi. The Fisher enterprise has always been a "family"
activity. Mel personally continued to develop various types of wet suits, spear
guns, including gas guns, underwater cameras, housings, and other
In company with other multi-talented divers, the Fishers explored the California
coast for shipwrecks, and ultimately completed several exciting treasure hunting
expeditions into the Caribbean. Discoveries from these adventures were limited.
But each one gave unique training to Mel and Deo.
In 1962, returning from the Caribbean through Florida, Mel had a meeting with a
treasure hunter named Kip Wagner. Wagner had been attempting to salvage
remains of the ten shipwrecks of the 1715 Spanish Plate Fleet lost in a
hurricane off Florida's East Coast. Ill-equipped, with his crew unable to devote
full-time to the project, Wagner invited Mel to join him on a 50-50 basis.
Mel, along with a hand-picked team of seven people, agreed to move to Florida
and work for one year without pay while searching for the big bonanza. After 360
days of "no finds", the team was testing a device Mel invented called the
"mailbox". This is a tube which is lowered from the vessels stern over the
propellers while the boat is securely anchored. The engines are then put in gear
and the prop wash sends a layer of clear water from the surface downward to
the bottom so the divers can see. But it did more than bring clear water to the
bottom so that the divers could see. The "mailbox" also dug a hole in the sand
and revealed 1,033 gold coins. Mel Fisher exclaimed "Once you have seen the
ocean bottom paved with gold, you'll never forget it!" They were hooked. The
team continued salvaging the 1715 Fleet for another decade.
During the winter months, it was impossible to dive and salvage the 1715 Fleet
because of storms and rough waters. Around 1969, Mel shifted his focus from
the 1715 sites to the tropical waters of the Florida Keys in search of the Spanish
galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha which he had read about in Potter's Treasure
Diver's Guide. It was a royal guard galleon with 40 tons of gold and silver aboard
which sank in a devastating hurricane along with others in 1622. Mel had found
a new goal worthy of this greatest effort. The hunt had begun.
One of Mel's projects was to operate a floating treasure museum. Mel searched
in Europe and purchased an old ship in 1967. It was brought across the Atlantic
Ocean and converted into a full size reproduction of a Spanish galleon which
served as a floating museum and headquarters for Mel's operations.
In 1980, Mel Fisher topped his previous glories as a treasure hunter to discover
more than 20 million dollars worth of gold and other riches of the Santa
Margarita, a sister ship of the Atocha lost in the same storm of 1622. However,
finding priceless treasures and artifacts is only the beginning. They must be
conserved, studied, restored, recorded, and, to share them with the world,
exhibited. Mel's "Ship Museum" sank in the early eighties, so, in 1987, with part
of his share of treasure, Mel bought a former Key West Naval Station building to
permanently house the non-profit Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society Museum,
with research center, education and conservation laboratories, and Mel's own
It took years, cost lives, and challenged all who served as members of Mel's
loyal crew. Mel Fisher made a commitment of his greatest personal effort to find
the Atocha, believing every day that the elusive lady was ready at last to reveal
her lavish secrets. Lesser men would have failed. On July 20, 1985, after more
than 15 years Mel's dream was achieved, and the Atocha's mother lode was
located. Thousands of artifacts, silver coins, gold coins, many in near mint
condition, period and earlier amazing Spanish objects and wares, exquisite
jewelry set with precious stones, gold chains, disks, a variety of armaments and
even seeds (which later sprouted!) were recovered. These and more discovered
by Mel Fisher and his "Golden Crew" reflected the richest treasure find since the
opening of King Tut's tomb in the 1930's. The lives of Mel and Dolores Fisher,
their family and all their crew were lifted onto the world's stage as people who
truly contributed to the priceless historical and cultural heritage of the world.
In the 1990's, the Mel Fisher Center, Inc, was opened in Sebastian, Florida. It
primarily serves to conserve and exhibit many of the new discoveries from
wrecks of the 1715 Fleet still being worked and recovered by Mel's children and
other sub-contractors decades after their initial discovery. While daughter Taffi
manages the Mel Fisher Center, sons Terry and Kane operate search and
recovery vessels, presently on the Atocha and Margarita sites. Many gorgeous
emeralds and other precious items are still being discovered weekly. Son Kim
manages the worldwide traveling treasure exhibit. Work of the Fisher teams will
continue through the turn of the century.
For Mel Fisher, the glory is in the quest, wherever in the world it may take him.
Beyond the 1622 and 1715 treasure galleons, Mel continues to lead expeditions
all over the world. Working with associate Pat Clyne and others, they have been
conducting research and developing new treasure hunting techniques. One of
particular significance is a high-resolution video remote-sensing package to
assist in pinpointing and isolating possible underwater search targets from the
air. "We're constantly doing state-of-the-art work to develop long-range density
imagery systems for discriminating gold," says Mel. "We're way out ahead; we
really are. We have always been on the leading edge of undersea technology
and detection systems."
Thousands of people: students, scholars and interested persons: come from all
over the world to see the educational, cultural and historical treasures that have
been raised from oblivion by Mel Fisher and his crews.
Whoever comes to see Mel Fisher also comes to share in the glory of discovery.
For those who dream and persevere like Mel Fisher, "Today" is always "The
|"WE MISS YOU MEL!" - We know that you are with us in spirit and riding the high
seas of heaven. Mel Fisher: August 21, 1922 - December 19, 1998
Undoubtedly, if you visit Key West, you'll hear the legend of Mel Fisher and see
some of the gold from the Atocha. The following is the story of Mel.
Visit the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum to learn
more about Mel Fisher.
200 Greene St
Key West, FL
Click on the picture to see a map of Key West.
Click on the
picture to see
a map of Old
Town in Key
CITY MILE MARKER
APPROX. MILES FROM MIAMI
Key Largo MM118-90.7 58
Islamorada MM90.7- 63 76
Marathon MM63-47 111
Lower Keys MM47- 4 128
Key West MM4-0 159
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