The Poison Cup Story
The Poison Cup Story
By Kim Fisher
It was a long time ago. My first wife JoArden Michael was pregnant with our eldest son, Jeremy. Jeremy was born in January 1975 so it must have been the summer of 1974. The ocean was flat calm, like a sheet of glass. Because the seas were so calm and there was no wind the Captain of the Virgilona Demostonese “Mo” Molinar had decided to spend the night on the Atocha site. We were going to work until dark.
We were working in shallow sand just one or two feet deep on the edge of the “Quicksands”. Because of the water depth and the shallow sand, we were running the mailboxes at an idle dusting away the fine white sand. It was the last hole of the day and the sun had already sunk halfway below the horizon. I was the only one still suited up and the rest of the crew was busy putting their gear away and clearing the decks for the night.
As I was about to push off the dive ladder JoArden, tongue in cheek, told me, “Find me a gold chalice!” As incredible as it seems, I followed her order. As soon as I got to the bottom, I saw gold. It looked like a dragon or “maritime dolphin” I stared in awe for about two minutes as the mailboxes gently dust the sand away. What I had first seen was what turned out to be one of the handles of a magnificent intricately smithed, gold poison cup.
When I surfaced with the poison cup the excitement, as you can imagine, was tremendous. Even though the sun had already set everyone was suited up and back in the water within five minutes. The base of the cup which is threaded and actually can be unscrewed from the cup was found about twenty feet away.
A second hurricane that tracked over the Atocha in 1622 was so powerful it had ripped the Atocha apart. The main pile was so heavy that it didn’t move but the upper decks including the forecastle and stern castle were torn from the hull and scattered for several miles ending up in the “Quicksands”. This spot we lovingly refer to as “The Bank of Spain”. During this tremendous storm which mercilessly pounded the ship apart the poison cup had been crushed. We located a gold smith well known for restoring antiques like this. He was an Octogenarian and took most of the rest of the year to restore the cup using only his hands. That’s how pure the gold was.
At the time we didn’t know what we had. I mean we knew we had a beautiful gold cup but it wasn’t until early the next year when brought in numerous experts to examine all of the unique “artifacts of distinction” that we had recovered the previous year that we found out what we had. Priscilla Muller one of the top experts in Hispanic art history and jewelry took one look at it and said, “Oh my goodness, you’ve found a poison cup.” It turns out that in the bottom of the cup was a large mount, around one inch tall that held a bezoar stone.
A bezoar stone comes from the alimentary track of a llama or goat. When arsenic, a common poison in 1622, comes in contact with a bezoar stone the stone would turn dark, warning its owner that someone was trying to poison him. After hearing the story we hired a chemist to see if it was true. It is. they had some pretty sharp people back then to figure that out. We have found numerous bezoar stones on the Atocha and Margarita since then. Some were just loose, found in a wooden box along with some gold chains. Others were in elaborate gold bezels worn on a gold chain around the neck and could be dipped into any cup to test for arsenic.
I hope you enjoyed this tidbit of treasure hunting. I know it is a day that I will never forget.
Today’s the day!