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DATELINE: Washington, PA – Commemoration Cameos

During July, I spent a considerable amount of time in Florida getting things ready for Commemoration Week. Although my duties took up most of my time, I did manage to contact some folks to see if they had time to meet with me while I was in the area. All of these folks had some connection with the 1715 Fleet. I am calling these visits “Commemoration Cameos”.

I hope you enjoy these little vignettes.


July 20, 2015 – Brent Brisben,1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, LLC.

On Monday, July 20, 2015, I had the opportunity to finally meet Brent Brisben of 1715 Fleet-Queens Jewels, LLC. Brent and I have spoken and e-mailed on a number of occasions but we never personally met. Brent invited me to his office located in Sebastian, Florida. Upon arriving that morning, I was greeted by Brent who escorted me around the facility. I particularly enjoyed visiting his lab where he showed me how many of the artifacts recovered were being conserved. The entire feel was like being in a small museum. One could see cannonballs, pottery shards, musket balls and an assortment of EO’s (Encrusted Objects).

Brent was very gracious and spent a considerable part of his morning talking to me about some of his experiences traversing the 1715 Fleet wreck sites. Although I could have spent the entire day there, Brent was off to the Capitana hoping to make some substantial recovery. Neither of us knew it at the time, but within a mere 10 days, Brent would discover what can only be called the cache of a lifetime!

Ernie Richards' first-hand account of the News Conference filed August 20, 2015.
Ernie Richards’ first-hand account of the News Conference.


July 23, 2015 – Jane Thompson

Since being involved with the 1715 Fleet Society, I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of very nice people. They don’t come nicer than Jane Thompson and her daughter, Gay Withers. Jane is the widow of Colonel Dan Thompson, an original Real 8 member. I first met Jane in January of 2014 at the home of Helen Ullian, herself a widow of an original Real 8 member, Lou Ullian. Since then I have come to know her daughter, Gay Withers. Gay told me that her mother (who now resides in a retirement community in Melbourne) was giving a lecture to residents of her facility. The focus of the presentation involved the loss of the 1715 Fleet, punctuated by first-hand accounts of her husband’s involvement in the recovery of the Fleet’s treasure. Naturally I was interested, so when her daughter Gay invited me to attend, I accepted.

Jane gave a wonderful presentation to about 25 attendees. The auditorium was small, seating only about 40 people. But all who attended were eager to hear what Jane had to say. In addition to her brief talk, Jane had a table of display items which included some coins, encrusted objects, pictures and books.

Her address was very well received and afterward I had an opportunity to visit with Jane and her daughter briefly. I was certainly happy to have had the opportunity to hear Jane’s talk. Below are some pictures of Jane and her display.

Jane Thompson with her display table
Jane Thompson with her display table
Closeup of artifacts, coins, and books at display table
Closeup of artifacts, coins, and books at display table


July 24, 2015 – Tommy Neiman

Tommy Neiman Click image to enlarge
Tommy Neiman

Most folks who are passionate about the 1715 Fleet and its history are familiar with the story of the Real 8 Company as related by its founder, Kip Wagner, in a book called “Pieces of Eight”. In his book, Wagner relates an incident wherein several gentlemen came to his house one night with coins that had been found near Ft. Pierce, Florida, which Wagner immediately recognized as coins from the 1715 Fleet. This encounter later led to a contract that Don Neiman and two of his colleagues, Bruce Ward and Frank Allen, signed with the Real 8 Company in August of 1963.


The contract called for the Real 8 Company to search the area identified by Don Neiman and his partners in the contract. For their efforts, the Real 8 Company would get 60% of whatever was recovered and Don Neiman, Bruce Ward and Frank Allen would get 40% of what was left after the state took their 25% share. Wagner subsequently entered into a separate arrangement with Mel Fisher to have Mel Fisher’s crew work on the site. Subsequently, in May of 1964, Fisher and his men found over 1000 gold coins in an area that they dubbed the “Carpet of Gold”.

Sirens for the Cross - Tommy Neiman

Tommy Neiman, the son of Don Neiman, agreed to meet with me in Ft. Pierce. We had breakfast at a little diner and Tommy reminisced about his father’s treasure hunting experience. Afterward he showed me the last remaining gold coin that his father had from the division following Mel Fisher’s discovery. Above are pictures of that coin, a Lima eight escudo dated 1712. Also, there is a picture of Tommy Nieman himself. Tommy is a professional firefighter who has written a book called “Sirens for the Cross”. He gave me a signed copy for my library. He was a full-time firefighter/paramedic with the Saint Lucie County Fire District in Ft. Pierce, Florida. He now serves with the Malabar Fire Department in Brevard County, Florida. Tommy is a member of the Indian River Baptist Association as an ordained pastor. Incidentally, his father, Don, is still alive and resides in Pennsylvania.



July 26, 2015 – Rex Stocker & his daughter, Julie

Upon arriving in Vero Beach around the middle of July, I called Rex Stocker, one of only two remaining Real 8 Company members. Rex resides in Sebastian and I called to see if he might have some time to visit with me. We made arrangements to visit on a Sunday afternoon at a house that his daughter was renovating for rental purposes. When I arrived Rex introduced me to his daughter, Julie, who gave me a brief tour of the property that she was renovating.

Much to my surprise I learned that this little house in Sebastian was the one that Kip Wagner built as a little retreat whenever he wanted some peace and quiet. One of the most interesting features of this house was a massive fireplace that Wagner built using ballast stones from the 1715 Fleet. So impressed was I that I asked Julie to take a picture of her father and I standing in front of the fireplace. The whole afternoon that I spent with Rex was quite enjoyable as he told me stories of the early days of Fleet recovery.

After leaving I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time with Rex and his daughter in the very house that was built and occupied by Kip Wagner.

Ben and Kip



Well, that concludes my Commemoration Cameos – I hope you enjoyed them.


Ben Costello

Director, 1715 Fleet Society

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