MIAMI, Florida -- Next time you head down to the Florida Keys to go scuba diving, stop in at the recently opened History of Diving Museum in Islamorada.
The 6,000-square-foot exhibit holds an exceptional array of diving equipment and artifacts collected by owners Joe and Sally Bauer during the past 40 years.
The Bauers, both retired physicians who moved to the Keys from Cleveland in 1997, are avid scuba divers and historians who want to share their appreciation of their favorite pastime with the rest of the world.
"The museum covers the diving history of the world," Joe Bauer said. "We're really telling the story of man's quest to explore under the sea."
The entry gallery presents a timeline of diving, beginning with Gilgamesh, the world's earliest-known diver whose breath-hold plunges around 2,700 B.C. were recorded on stone tablets recovered in what is now Iraq.
From there, visitors follow the evolution of scuba-diving equipment through modern times. Little-known fact: Astronomer Edmond Halley (as in Halley's Comet) invented both the diving bell and helmet in 1691.
The museum traces South Florida's contributions to scuba diving, including the Divinhoods of the early 1900s and treasure hunter Art McKee's primitive underwater camera.
"Every country that ever made a diving helmet is represented here," Sally Bauer said.
Visitors might be surprised to learn that some of the earliest widely used scuba equipment was the rebreather - not the open-circuit system used throughout the world today - developed by the Drager company in Germany in 1908. The late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau did not invent modern scuba, according to the Bauers.
"He popularized diving for the English-speaking world," Sally Bauer clarified.
The museum is located at mile marker 83, bayside, U.S. 1. Call before you visit at 305-664-2784. Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for kids 12 and under; free for kids under 5. A grand opening party is scheduled for Feb. 3-4. For more information, log onto www.divingmuseum.com.
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