The History of Diving Museum exists to restore focus to the importance of salvage diving... and to create the once magical and overwhelming sense of adventure inherent in diving and experienced by any diver that suits up and slips below the surface of the water in search of sunken treasure and the great fortune it brings. The History of Diving Museum features a single diver on the building's façade, and an entire room inside is devoted to the life of that same extraordinary diver... Art McKee, a man whose many accomplishments are largely responsible for the evolution of modern salvage diving and to many, he remains to this day, the father of salvage diving.
Art McKee was among the first to recognize that the reef-riddled Florida Keys were a natural landscape for wrecked ships and their precious cargo. He would become the first to salvage treasure from many great vessels... a pioneer in the salvage industry and an innovator in the history of diving. Art began his storied career by replacing the standard diving equipment at the time, with an open-bottom helmet. The full diving-dress of his time was much too warm for the south Florida waters where he lived and a lone diver would need a full team in order to get the cumbersome suit on and operational. McKee's new design was practical and did not require a diving suit. The Miller_Dunn "Divinhood," as it became known was easy to use and allowed the diver greater freedom than ever before. To say that it was a "hit," with just about everyone in the diving community... would be an understatement.
One of McKee's first experiences in salvage diving was only a short distance from Key Largo, and a stroke of good luck to be sure! What appeared to be only scrap metal in the murky water was in fact the Capitana el Rui, an important ship and part of the Spanish Treasure fleet that wrecked back in 1733! Art would spend the next 20 years salvaging the wreck though the riches were conveniently located a mere 18 feet below the surface. His career changed quickly when he discovered his first silver bar, and it cemented his notoriety as a salvage diver. Always eager for more, Art's next adventure centered around the Ivory Wreck, a notorious slave ship that like so many before it had sunk during a storm in the 1700s. The Ivory's cargo was not only valuable, but it was also one-of-a-kind as it contained numeropus ivory tusks and more than 70 lbs. of silver bars... a part and parcel of what would become one of the most valuable and interesting collections of artifacts ever acquired by a single diver... but when the diver is Art McKee... anything is possible!
The public was fascinated with McKee as a and Treasure Harbor was opened in Plantation Key as his first museum for a vast and ever-growing collection of valuable and unique sunken treasure. However, the collection soon outgrew its meager space and was moved to what would become the premier tourist attraction in the Upper Keys... McKee's Museum of Sunken Treasure.
Today, the museum's location is more widely known as Treasure Village and for the Montessori School in residence.
Art McKee was forever driven and charismatic. Featured in Life magazine and the Dave Garroway Show on numerous occasions, Art was proof positive that a salvage diver could achieve fame. He was also able to persuade some of the world's best underwater minds to join him in important salvage efforts while still working on and developing many of the every day tools we use for modern salvage diving... the underwater metal detector, for instance... jet propulsion vehicle and sifting cage. He was even a mentor to the late and now rather infamous Mel Fisher, who discovered the many treasures of the Atocha back in 1985. Like any good treasure hunter, Art's appetite for adventure kept him searching for the next big find. He was happy to be among the first to excavate Port Royal and shortly before his death in 1979, he was largely responsible for and credited with the discovery of the wreck of the Genoves and its 3 million pesos of gold and silver.
There is little doubt that diving history provides the proper avenue for memorializing the life of such an extraordinary man and diver, as Art McKee... who remains to this day on the façade of the History of Diving Museum... a lone, but important figure of a man who changed diving forever.