Not much more than a century after Columbus bumped into an island obstacle on his way to the Far East, the Spanish galleon Our Lady of Atocha set sail from Havana in September 1622 with a fortune in silver, gold, emeralds and minted coins on a return voyage carrying the valuable bounty of New World mines, heading home with the frontier grandees who had reaped untold riches there. Only the second day out of port, the Atocha was hammered by a hurricane in the Gulf west of Key West and sank with major loss of life. Fortune hunter Mel Fisher was the reincarnation of the most successful "wreckers" of 19th Century Key West who claimed salvage off sinking ships in those early days--his divers finally found the wreckage of the Atocha at the bottom of the sea more than 300 years later. This non-profit museum recounts the history of Atocha and its ill-fated voyage, with manifests of who died or survived aboard the ship and another sunken galleon, along with exhibits of how silver bars were found in the sands, coins and jewelry recovered from the wreckage, rich artifacts of religion. A CNN cameraman friend told me I had to go see this, and I'm delighted I did. This is what the New World was like for the fortunate few--who did not live to tell the tale, but Fisher did. This is a rich, rich history of an era none of us was able to experience. But don't miss the gift shop on the way out, because it is like window-shopping at Tiffany's. Like me, you probably can't afford those little price tags unless you arrived in Key West on a private plane, preferably from Dubai. One small item is valued at one million dollars. But, hey, you can cross your fingers and wish on a star as you return to your hotel room or cruise ship at night. Maybe fortune will smile back at you,
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