Key West Shipwreck Museum

Many ships lie beneath the surface of the waters off the Florida Keys, and each vessel and person aboard had a distinct story. Part of the mission of the Key West Shipwreck Historeum is to tell these tales.

When visitors come and explore, they'll enter a world when Key West was one of the richest places anywhere. The museum tells a story filled with captains, sailors, pirates, entrepreneurs, wreckers, and others who were shaped by the fortunes of the sea. Actors, artifacts, and movies work together at the Shipwreck Historeum to tell the history of this fascinating chain of islands.

One of the richest shipwrecks in all of America was the Isaac Allerton, which was built in 1838 in New Hampshire. The vessel served as a merchant ship, carrying goods around the Caribbean in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. A hurricane came through in 1856, and the ship, now the centerpiece of the story told by the Key West Shipwreck Historeum, was able to stay anchored for several hours before it went down. Local wreckers rescued the crew the next morning. Much of the cargo was lost to the depths, but what was salvaged later made the ship the biggest payoff at that point in Key West history.

The ship lay at the bottom of the sea for 130 years before its treasures were brought to the surface. Many of these artifacts are now on display at this Key West shipwreck museum. Visitors are encouraged to look around on their own to see artifacts that are on display.

Frequent presentations, given by skilled interpreters, help to bring the story to life. They tell tales of 1856, explaining how Key West was a different place than it is today, and in what ways it stayed the same. Guides from the Shipwreck Historeum take on several roles of people from the ship's history, including master wrecker Asa Tift and his crew. As visitors explore the exhibits created by the Shipwreck Historeum, they'll learn about the early residents of Key West and how they made a living. Exhibits at the Key West shipwreck museum are sure to be interesting to youngsters and adults alike.

The Key West Shipwreck Historeum is open daily throughout the year. Along with the guided presentations and interactive exhibits, it features a video that illustrates the world of shipwrecks. With expert interviews, underwater scenes, and movie clips, this presentation takes visitors to a place they can't go on their own.

Another one of the most interesting attractions at the Key West shipwreck museum is the 65-foot observation tower. Visitors can climb to the top and watch for ships, just like the early days of Key West.

This is just one way to discover the history and maritime heritage of the Key West. After they've explored the museum, visitors can plan other complementary adventures. Several companies lead tours, both on land and sea. Walking and boat tours both provide perspective on the heritage of the seas. Other museums, including the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and Pirate Soul Museum, tell tales of shipwrecks. Divers can dip below the surface to take a look at some wrecks up close. These titans of the sea are now home to a colorful assortment of marine life as well as artificial reefs.

Image: Robert English
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