Key West Shipwreck Treasure Museum
Key West, Florida, USA
- Meet wrecker Asa Tift and his crew: Dressed in period garb and well versed in the tales and details, learn firsthand what it was like to be part of this chapter in history.
- The Issac Allerton wreck: Experience the mesmerizing tale of one of the richest shipwrecks in Key West history, and see artifacts that come from her watery grave.
- Climb the Captain's Observatory: Get a wreckers-eye view of Key West's waters from this 65-ft. tower – just like those used for spotting calamity in the mid 1800s.
About this Key West, Florida tour
"Avast, ye swabbies!" Wait, that's pirates. "Wreck ashore!" – there, that's the correct hail of the Key West shipwrecker, circa 1851. And you'll hear it called out live by master wrecker Asa Tift and his crew in this recreation of his salvage warehouse featuring artifacts, laser technology, video presentations, and live actors in-character.
Listen and imagine as they share their tales, and the fascinating history of Key West's era of shipwrecking fortunes – enough of them to make this America's richest city at the time.
During the age of sail, over 100 ships a day passed near Key West – where some of the most treacherous reefs in the world were waiting. At least a ship a week would wreck somewhere along that reef line. And wreckers were who rescued the survivors and salvaged what they could of the cargo – in exchange for a court-awarded share of the recovery. The perils were extreme, the rewards even more so.
You can also climb Asa's 65-foot observation tower, like the ones manned night and day by watches combing the coast for mishap. When "Wreck ashore" echoed through the island, whoever got to the scene first got the majority of the salvage prize.
The merchant ship Issac Allerton of Portsmouth is an example. Caught in a hurricane off the Saddlebunch Keys in 1856, she sank nearby and turned out to yield one of the largest payouts in Key West wrecking history – some $50,000 in 1850s dollars. It’d be worth 25 times that today. Hey, we’re not math whizzes but that’s a lot of dough. Rediscovered in 1985, many examples of Allerton artifacts and original cargo are on display there at the Museum.
So is a salvaged silver bar you can try to pick up. But it's not easy; bend your knees and lift with your legs – not your back. Good luck, matey.
The Black Swan find heads home
Modern treasure salvaging is a risky, secretive game. When dominant player Odyssey came up with 16 tons of near-mint silver and gold coins (worth about $500 million), they went to great lengths to conceal the identity of the wreck they'd found. After a five-year court dispute, Spain proved that the so-called "Black Swan" was actually the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a galleon lost off Portugal's coast in 1804 – and was granted full ownership of the haul. Ouch.
Please make your way to Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum in Mallory Square to meet your guide.
Tour requires walking over even surfaces with a limited number of steps, a minimal amount of cobblestones or uneven surfaces, and some standing for extended time. Wheelchair accessible on main floor only.
Family Friendly, Theme Park
Tour Participation Requirements
This experience is rated mild. To participate fully, you may be required to walk over primarily even surfaces at a leisurely pace. You may encounter a limited number of steps, cobblestones, or uneven surfaces, and you may have to stand for extended periods of time.
Suitable for all ages.
Full refunds issued for cancellations made 7 full days prior to the date and time of requested services. Cancellations made within the 7-day and 72-hour window will receive a 50% refund of purchase total. Purchases are non-refundable inside of 72 hours.
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