Under the sea! Thinkstock
For most of us, attempts to find buried treasure don't extend beyond second grade in our backyards. But some persevering souls have successfully found wrecked ships from long ago with rumored spoils—though to mixed results. Here are three tales of real life buried treasure to keep your youthful dreams of pirate bounty alive.
Spanish Ship in the Florida Keys
1622 was square in the golden age of Spanish treasure ships. Pluck goods from exploited and rapidly dying indigenous peoples in the New World, and high-tail the spoils back to Europe. But tragedy struck the Nuestra Senora de Atocha that year, when a hurricane tossed the vessel to the bottom of the sea. The Spanish tried to recover the lost copper, silver, gold, tobacco and gems from the ship, but they couldn’t do it. You know who could? 1980s treasure hunter extraordinaire Mel Fisher. After years of searching, Fisher located the bounty in 1985—and, boy, was it a honey! Workers have recovered an estimated $450 million worth of goods since then and divers continue to find lucrative little knickknacks from the vessel.
Steamship Down Off Coast of Carolina
Mother Nature struck again when a hurricane downed the S.S. Central America off the coast of North Carolina in 1857. Four hundred and twenty five people drowned, but more to the point, 21 tons of gold (valued at $2 million at the time) sank to the ocean floor. Apparently the 1980s were the time to hunt for treasure, because in 1988 Tommy Thompson and his crew found the ship. Thompson sold the gold for around $60 million, then in 2012 he disappeared, supposedly out to sea, amid lawsuits over rightful ownership of said precious metal.
But rumor has it no one has been able to retrieve much of the gold from the ship, and it still lies beneath . . . in the infamous words of the Pet Shop Boys, "if you’ve got the inclination, I’ve got the crime."
Nantucket Passenger Ship
We all know about the White Star Line’s epic screw-up with the Titanic, but it turns out the ship company had a trial run in failure three years before with another "unsinkable vessel": their RMS Republic was downed off Nantucket’s coast after it was struck by another ship in 1909. Most passengers made it off safely, but their cargo sunk with the ship. Legend—and a conspiratorial website—has it that $3 million worth of gold coins were onboard, in addition to the monied passengers’ jewels and other luxuries. Rounding out the success of the 1980s, the ship was found in 1981. And though there have been several recovery efforts, so far no money has turned up.
Three found vessels, three possibilities of more riches not yet uncovered. Quit your job, move to the east coast, get scuba certified, and—likeliest outcome for sure!—let the riches roll in!