Always a journalist and writer, Wendy Tucker was already working for two Nebraska newspapers, the McCook Daily Gazette and the Fremont Guide and Tribune, while still in high school and continuing into college. After graduating from the University of Nebraska School of Journalism—where she served as the university’s Daily Nebraskan news editor and also completed a summer internship in New Mexico at The Albuquerque Tribune—Tucker, raised in the Cornhusker State, worked as a Miami Herald intern before moving to New York City and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She received a master’s degree with High Honors from that institution. Tucker then worked as a reporter and photographer, again for the Herald, and eventually became that newspaper’s Boca Raton (Florida) bureau chief. She later served as a reporter in Charleston, South Carolina, at the News and Courier, then moved in the early 1970s with her Navy husband to Key West, Florida, joining the staff of the Key West Citizen as a reporter and photographer. She rose to assistant managing editor of the Citizen. Tucker was also a correspondent for United Press International (UPI), the Associated Press (AP), and Reuters, and broke the wire service news internationally of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha discovery in 1985. She then worked for the City of Key West, ultimately in an assistant city planner role, before her retirement in the early 1990s. Meeting Mel Fisher in summer 1964 during her Herald internship, and again later in Key West, Wendy became a close friend of the family; she conducted and transcribed more than one hundred hours of interviews with Mel Fisher, now collected in this book and using the late adventurer’s own words. Tucker worked closely with the Fisher family to provide in-depth color to his life and their collective experience.
TODAY’S THE DAY! AND WENDY TUCKER
In the masterful oral history tradition of Studs
Terkel, where the interviewer is deceptively quiescent and unobtrusive, journalist Wendy Tucker brings to the page the fully realized life story of Mel Fisher. Today’s the Day! is Mel Fisher’s memoir, in his own straightforward and unfailingly fair and optimistic words. It is many things on many levels: a humbling and touching read, a testimonial to the resilient fabric of the human spirit, a paean to family and friendship and loyalty, and a sweet, joyous, and ultimately rocky ride into the heart of the hunt for treasure, both tangible and divine. It is a headlong plunge into a world where the magical and unforeseen are a given. And the quest is not just for any treasure, but for one so immense in its historical value alone, and so seemingly out of reach, that only someone who had truly felt and heard its faint but still clear heartbeat across the centuries could heed and honor as his life’s work. That man was Mel Fisher, and it would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that he was born to find the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha and her sister ship Santa Margarita, lost to a hurricane off the Florida Keys in 1622.
Mel Fisher was a modern-day alchemist who understood on a very primal level the mysteries of the alchemy of old and the spiritual concept behind the transmutation of base metals into gold. In his own words he proclaimed that gold never tarnishes, gold never stops, gold just keeps going and going from man to woman and woman to man, and on and on and on. Gold was not a god to Mel, but rather a touchstone that shone a light onto his life’s path. When Mel states that it was never about the money in his quest for the Atocha, we believe him, because there is no greed evident in these pages, no avarice, no meanness of spirit. There is instead a rare and certain purity of heart that shows itself throughout the book, but most poignantly when Mel talks about how he felt as he held relics from the galleons that sank in 1622—a shard of olive jar, a piece of jewelry, a cross with tiny gold nails piercing the body of Christ. He wonders what those who drowned in the hurricane that took the Atocha were feeling, to what demon they had borne witness as the sky opened up, how much they must have suffered. And there is great empathy that comes across in his words, which are reverent, spoken almost to himself, as if he had known each man or woman or child who had been lost. And who’s to say he didn’t?
Joseph Campbell might call Mel’s a hero’s journey. This reader disagrees. I believe Mel would call it simply a journey—certainly one filled with adventure and fun and romance, as he often states in the book. But one suspects that is at times a catchphrase to mask what Mel would like to keep to himself: that he was bound by destiny to this journey before he was born, and that he knew it. He said that there is nothing that can compare to seeing the ocean floor covered in gold. His alchemist compatriots of the Middle Ages would have agreed with him, and they well may have knelt in prayer at that very sight. If you are able—just for a moment or two—to suspend all belief in the simply rational and instead believe in magic, transmutation, destiny—whatever one chooses to call it—then one can entertain the notion that a certain precise alignment of stars in Indiana at the exact moment of Mel’s birth foretold what was to come. There are “coincidences” aplenty in Mel’s journey in Today’s the Day! And who is to say this is just one Mel forgot to mention?
—Lorian Hemingway is the author of three critically acclaimed books: Walking into the River, Walk on Water, and A World Turned Over (Simon and Schuster). She was nominated for the Mississippi Arts and Letters Award for Fiction for her novel Walking into the River. Her work has also appeared in GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Westchester Magazine, and numerous other publications. She is the only woman to have received The Conch Republic Prize for Literature—other recipients include Russell Banks, John Updike, James Dickey, and Harry Crews—for her dedication to encouraging the work of new writers of fiction.