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Ghost Guns Virginia

Kip Wagner
Born: 1906. Died: 1970s.

Kip Wagner grew up in Miamisburg, Ohio. His father built houses, and it was Kip's ambition to follow in his father's footsteps.

Kip first visited Florida in 1921 on a car trip with his brother. They passed through a small hamlet called Wabasso (about 12 miles from Vero Beach, and 160 miles north of Miami). Kip liked the area so much that he returned there for vacations several times, on vacations from his construction business.

Eventually, after World War II, he moved his family - wife Alice and son Tom - to Wabasso on a permanent basis.

One day, a friend, Captain Steadmsan Parker, told Kip that after storms, silver coins were frequently washed up on the beaches between Wabasso and Sebastian. A Spanish treasure fleet had wrecked off this area in 1715. After some skepticism, Kip became a regular on the beaches (in free time from his construction work) and began to find coins himself. Not silver coins - but blackened lumps that, when cleaned, were revealed as coins.

Kip and friends launched an expedition that summer to find a wreck off Wabasso beach, but it proved unsuccessful. However, Kip didn't give up.

Kip met Dr. Kip Kelso, who had moved to Wabasso at about the same time as he had. Kelso was a "walking encyclopedia" of Spanish colonial history. Both Kip and Dr. Kelso joined forces to research how best to find the treasure from the 1715 wrecks. Kelso eventually visited the Library of Congress in Washington DC and found a book, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, published in 1775, which contained a map on which the location of hte 1715 wrecks were located.

The General Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain, sent hium at his request information about the loss of the 1715 fleet - microfilm of the records of the day. It took a year for Wagner and Kelso to translate the archaic Spanish.

Kip first looked on land, for the salvage camp that the Spaniards had made when they attempted to salvage the wrecks back in 1715. After months of searching, he found what he believed to be the location. He leased the land from the state, used a bulldozer to clear the land, and then began excacating with shovel and screen.

Kip applied for a nonexclusive salvage lease from the state, for a 50-mile area from Sebastiam Inlet to a point near Stuart, Florida. The state would receive 25% of whatever he found.

The winter of 1959
Kip puts together a treasure hunting team consisting of Lou Ullian, Delphibe Long, Ervin Taylor, Colonel Dan F. Thompson and Lieutenant Colonel Harru Cannon.

This group became the nucleus of the Real Eight Company, which eventually reached 8 members. They leased a converted Liberty boat named the Sampan.

After working on an un-productive wreck, which Wagner chose to build team-work between his crew, the Real Eight crew were ready to work on a wreck in Sebastian Inlet.

January, 1961 - the Cabin Wreck
Sebastian Inlet, narrow and swift, is about 40 miles south of Cape Canaveral, on the east coast of Florida. Lemon, bull and tigersharks roam the area.

The shipwreck expedition featured Kip Wagner, Harry Cannon, Dan Thompson, Del Long, Lou Ullian and Erv Taylor. Their boat is the Sampan, a converted Liberty ship.

The expedition finds caanon, and thousands of silver coins fused together in lumps. The coins were just scattered over the bottom, there for the finding.

Other members of the expedition, not there for the initial discovery, were Dr. Kip Kelso and Libe Futch.

The weather prevented further work for several weeks, but then they returned.

In 1962, Wagner was beachcombing with his nephew, Rex Stocker, Rex found a golden chain buried in the sand - 11 feet and 41/2 inches long, with a 30-inch long dragon as a pendant. When sold at auction, this iten brought in $55,000, the single most valuable artifact of the 1715 treasure recovered up to that time.

For the first four months of 1964, only a few silver coins were found. In June, however, they began recovering more and more silver coins, then intact porcelain..and then gold.

Winter, 1962
Lou Ullian walked into a skin-diving store in Los Angeles, and met Mel Fisher.

Mel Fisher was already a celebrity. At this point he had not found any treasure in his shipwreck searches, but he'd been marketing his underwater diving adventure films to a weekly Hollywood television station. That money, plus his dive shop, financed his treasure hunting efforts.

Mel Fisher was planning an expedition to the coast of the Dominican Republic in search of the Silver Shoals. Ullian suggested that Fisher pay a call on Kip Wagner on the way.

Fisher's expedition proved fruitless. However, in March of the next year, Fisher visited Kip's home again. At this point, Kip and his fellow Real Eight members were working on the wreck on the weekends. Fisher suggested that he should form a team of professionals who would dive the wreck, and they'd split the findings fifty-fifty (after the state had taken its 25% off the top.)

Wagner agreed, and Fisher sold his business on the west coast and moved with his family to Florida. The team of divers he had assembled were called Treasure Salvors, Inc. The divers consisted of Rupert Gates, Walt Holzworth, Fay Feild, Demostines Molinar, and Dick Williams. Also part fo the crew were Fisher's wife Dolores and their four sons.


At the end of the 1964 salvage season, Kip Wagner estimated that bwtween Real Eight and TReasure Salvors, they had recovered from the wreck sites "a treasure valued in excess of $3 million in gold, silver, jewelry, and artifacts," with probably over $14 million worth of treasure still to be found.

Because of the success of Treasure Salvers and Real Eight (detailed in Mel Fisher's entry), the news made the papers, the cat was out of the bag, and the coast was suddenly full of treasure hunters wanting in on the act. The state of Florida also decided that procedures would have to be changed, in regards to what percentage of the finding they would receive, and so on.

Real Eight purchased a "new" salvage boat, which they called the Derelict.

Real Eight began full-time treasure hunting.

After paying the state its share, the rest was divided beetween the two companies. Wagner and his group built a treasure museum near Cape Canaveral. It was popular, but burned down some years later.

Real Eight eventually sold its holdings, and the group went their separate ways.

Kip "went on to enjoy some of the spin-offs of his fame before he died in the 1970s."



  • The 1715 Fleet and Kip Wagner Story
  • Times article, Feb 10, 1967

    Books on Kip Wagner

  • Sunken Treasure: Six Who Found Fortunes, Robert F. Burgess, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1988
  • Pieces of Eight by Kip Wagner, as told to L.B. Taylor, Jr., 1966
  • Bibliography
    Sunken Treasure: Six Who Found Fortunes, Robert F. Burgess, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1988