This year’s Mel Fisher Days celebration, Sept. 2-6, commemorates the 400th anniversary of the sinking of the Atocha and other ships in the 1622 Fleet. Multiple venues will host events that combine the adventure, history and hijinks of a true treasure tale.
Who’s Mel Fisher and what’s this all about?
A deadly hurricane overwhelmed several Spanish ships off Key West in September 1622 — 400 years ago next month. The storm shattered the Nuestra Senora de Atocha on the reef and scattered its cargo of silver, gold and emeralds.
Time and tide obscured the Atocha for centuries, until tedious tax records told its story. Historian and scholar Eugene Lyon translated that story for Mel Fisher — turning his 16-year search into one of the world’s most successful treasure hunts.
Key West became Treasure Island in July 1985, when Fisher’s team of divers discovered “a reef of silver bars, stacked like cordwood” — Atocha’s $400 million mother lode of treasure.
Mel Fisher was named “King of the Conch Republic,” and the annual Mel Fisher Days festival celebrates his relentless dream and the “golden crew” who made it happen.
Mel Fisher Days events
“Anyone enthralled with shipwrecks, treasure hunts, marine archaeology, recovered artifacts, and the unique camaraderie forged during Fisher’s 16-year quest will find events and activities to immerse themselves in,” writes Carol Tedesco for Mel Fisher Days.
Events kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2 at Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St., with an opening ceremony officiated by Kim Fisher and Taffi Fisher Abt, custodians of the Fisher family legacy and son and daughter, respectively, of Mel and Dolores Fisher. Their welcome announcements will be followed by a double feature screening of “Treasure Salvors of the Florida Keys” and “Adventures of a Lifetime.” Seating is limited for this free event, pre-registration is required and charity donations welcomed.
Saturday, Sept. 3, brings the annual Mel Fisher Days Party and fundraiser at Schooner Wharf Bar, 202 William St., starting at 4 p.m. The favorite “Golden Crew” reunion event includes live music, presentation of the annual Mel Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award, a live auction and huge online silent auction (visit melfisherdays.com), games, contests and prizes. The night also includes the official book release and signing event for “Today’s the Day – the Mel Fisher Story,” by longtime Florida Keys journalist Wendy Tucker, who was editor of the local newspaper throughout the search and on the famous day when a treasure hunter became a treasure finder.
A day-long, 400th anniversary speakers symposium takes place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m on Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Marriott Beachside Hotel ballroom. Noted experts will discuss the 1622 fleet, marine archaeology, shipwreck conservation, ancient treasure coins, underwater mapping, technology and more. That evening, ticket holders can join the Fisher family and symposium speakers for a banquet on the hotel beach. The symposium and moonlight dinner are each paid events with limited seating; $25 discount available for day/night event package; pre-registration required.
Monday, Sept. 5, from noon to 2:30 p.m. brings a treasure-hunting adventure via The Southernmost Scavenger Hunt. A Fisher family meet and greet and Wendy Tucker book-signing event takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Mel Fisher’s Shipwreck Treasures store, 613 Duval St. Tucker will be joined by a rotating roster of fellow treasure-related authors throughout the day.
Events wrap up Tuesday, Sept. 6, beginning at 10 a.m. when Fisher family members and city officials unveil a memorial plaque at Mallory Square to honor Mel Fisher and his “Golden Crew’s spirit of exploration and adventure, and to honor the 500-plus people who lost their lives in the 1622 fleet disaster,” the plaque states. The Mel Fisher Days online auction is live with bidding for more than $25,000 in booty continuing through Sept. 6. Links to the auction, tickets and reservations, schedule updates, and information on authors and symposium presenters can be found at melfisherdays.com.