Remembering Bob Marx

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    Bob Marx (left) with legendary treasure diver Bert Kilbride

    “He went out like a true marine. He died on July Fourth with fireworks blazing overhead,” David Foster said. David and Bob worked together on many projects; their friendship spanned decades.

    David’s was a eulogy Bob would have liked. 

    Article and photos by John Christopher Fine

    Bob Marx was self-taught, self-educated, self-reliant. A man with a brilliant mind whose research led to discovery of treasures in the undersea. He brought generations of divers into the passion and thrill of discovery. 

    With his wife Jennifer, Bob produced extraordinary books that will live forever attesting to his passion for discovery.

    This is a story that may capture one aspect of Bob’s character. I knew him from the days when we both wrote for Argosy Magazine in New York City. Last diving season I resolved to drive north from my base of operations in Boynton Beach, Florida to visit with him. Perhaps there were good reasons for not doing it. I was diving and conducting research. David Foster and I discussed paying Bob a visit despite the fact that he was experiencing health issues. We didn’t go. Bob passed over the bar and likely will be regaling fellow marines in heaven with his many exploits.

    The following was written by John Christopher Fine and published in “Lost Treasure”, June 2013:

    Treasureman

    David Foster joking with Bob Marx

    “I’m sick so no pictures,” Bob Marx growled. He stayed overnight at a friend’s home in Tequesta, Florida, and forgot his sleeping pills so couldn’t sleep.

    “He drank Vodka all night,” David Foster laughed. David produced a T-shirt that he slung over his friend that had a happy puppy cartoon on it, then snapped his picture with a small digital camera. Marx tolerated it then tolerated me as I snapped a couple of photos of him as well.

    His eyes were swollen and mostly closed, his voice rattled in his throat, and when he talked made the sound of gravel rumbling in a wave and, for all intents and purposes, he looked grouchy.

    Bob is a large man, a burly ex-Marine, adventurer and diver. He has explored the world’s oceans looking for sunken treasure and has found more than his share. He’s also garnered his share of trouble. Big trouble.

    He excavated the lost city of Port Royal in Jamaica. The English settlement was submerged in the sea after an earthquake and tidal wave struck in 1692. He worked on Port Royal bringing up artifacts and treasure, conserving what was found for more than three years.

    Marx could not get the Jamaican government to let him continue. He found the legendary Spanish treasure galleon “Maravillas” in Bahamas waters. He worked well, for a time, with authorities in that country then had a major confrontation. What he called the country’s leaders is unpublishable. He still calls them what he called them then and without compunction.

    Bob is one person that is not politically correct. Like some stand-up comics of our era, he thrives on being politically incorrect and likes to shock audiences with rough talk and raucous stories.

    “I knew Bob Marx when he was a 19-year-old Marine at Camp LeJeune,” Bob Weller, ex-U.S. Navy Commander of UDT 1 during the Korean War, said. Weller was 83 years old  at the time and considered the Dean of Treasure Divers.

    Weller began diving on ship-wrecks after his wartime naval ser-vice and discovered Spanish galleons off Florida’s coast in the 1960’s. To some extent Weller worked for some of Bob Marx’s rivals. “Bob has a knack for making enemies,” Weller laughed.

    For all of his rough edges, and he has plenty, Bob is in demand as a lecturer. He spoke at the Jupiter Beach Resort to raise money for the museum run by the historical society and regularly lectures on cruise ships like the QE II.

    Maybe the rough edges are the result of his education. “I went to first, third and sixth grade,” Marx grumbled. “I don’t give a #@&x if people know I was in reform school.” The tough edge was an act of sorts.

    This rough and tumble adventurer has a brilliant mind. He has writ-ten more than 60 books, some 800 research papers and articles, and has taught himself to read complicated old Spanish in the Archives of the Indies of Seville.

    He has done much of his own principal research into maritime history, has received a knighthood from the Spanish queen, and says, “I turned down seven honorary PhDs including one from MIT, which Dr. Edgerton got me. That one I regret-ted since it was Dr. Edgerton that got it for me. Edgerton was with me in Brazil, France, Spain, Mauritius, Florida, Mexico, Bahamas…”

    As he got into his recollections, Marx softened. His life spans many generations of great explorers that helped him along the way, shared their inventions and expertise, and took the young diver under their wings as he pursued his great adventure that continues to this day.

    He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 8. “I’m not going to give my age,” Marx growled. “It’s all in the books. My resume is 22 pages long. It would be longer, but I stopped writing it three years ago.”

    It is in his books; the copyright page lists his year of birth as 1933. This puts his generation of hard drinking, hard living and high adventure into the world’s great era of ocean exploration. Discoveries were being made for the first time.

    Author John Christopher Fine, Bob Marx and David Foster

    Scuba, self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, was not invent-ed for another 10 years and by that time Bob Marx had run away from home and was already diving and getting in trouble.

    “Ask and ye shall receive,” he said, sipping another cup of Chris Foster’s brewed coffee.

    He sat at their breakfast nook table in the kitchen of a spacious home decorated with shipwreck finds, rare books and nautical antiques. “It’s all in books.”

    Bob Marx has been interviewed by television reporters, journalists and media moguls. He’s been in reform school and jail and relishes his tales of woebegone before.

    “I don’t ask questions,” I told him. We worked for the same editor at the late and lamented “Argosy” Magazine long ago, so I felt comfortable with the big guy’s grouchy demeanor.

    “Couple of years ago my grand-kids went to Disney. They brought me a T-shirt with ‘grouchy’ on it. I wore it the day I had three doctor appointments. I told the nurses, ‘You got 10 minutes to get me in to see the doctor. Otherwise #@$% you and I’m out of here.’”

    About wanting me to ask him questions he said, “Everyone else does.” Marx said it calmly, smoothing out, relaxing into the spirit of his life of adventure.

    “Talk,” I told him. Talk he did and he began with something of a quote that is the touchstone of his life. “The best is the next adventure and more adventure.” Then, “I have gout. Last night was the first drink I had in four months. It’s all in books. How I made my first helmet. How I started diving. How Harry Reisberg inspired me. I’ll take that for one of my grandkids.”

    Marx grabbed one of my books off the table that I’d brought for David Foster’s son, Will. Foster already had copies and when he said so Marx grabbed it. He was always grabbing Foster’s stuff, including his sunglasses.

    “When they’re only a $12 pair I let him. I don’t let him steal my $60 sunglasses,” David said, his Nashville accent still pronounced even after living the last 20 years in Florida.

    “I’ll take it for my grandkids. Right now, they’re on a flight to California with my wife to visit their 99-year-old grandmother.” Her longevity stunned Bob Marx who, at 75, is struggling with his own mortality, suffering with heart disease and gout. He’s had to have a pacemaker replaced.

    I don’t see him that often anymore since I’ve taken myself off the film festival and lecture circuit to research and write my own books. I take it for granted that he’ll be around forever. Indestructible, indefatigable, irrepressible, irresponsible Bob Marx.

    And he’s got a dirty mouth. He spouts expletives in any company that are not fit to print. He relishes the effect he has on people and is old enough not to care if their reaction is negative. He is not opposed to blowing his own horn but is not a braggart. He can denounce himself and, because of his age and imprecations, is a welcome subject for friendly jest and good humor.

    “I started to run away from home by age seven. I pedaled a bike all the way from Pittsburgh to Chicago where I got in trouble stealing candy from a blind person selling papers and candy in the Federal Building. I spent a lot of time either running away or in reform school,” Marx said.

    “At age 10 I went to reform school for the next three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I escaped. Steve McQueen would have been proud of me. I slid down a laundry chute four flights and landed in a laundry truck. I went to Atlantic City.”

    Of this great escape Marx was justly proud. All things are relative I suppose. I recently did an article about a woman whose claim to fame at the same age was to have won an essay contest in a newspaper.

    “I looked in the Yellow Pages under diving and found Joe Novak. He had an old fashioned rig that pumped air down into a helmet. He’d sing Polish songs. After a while Novak said, ‘Why should I do this. You do the diving,’” Marx related.

    “I was 13. Six days a week I worked with this Pollock. I made a mistake and sent a postcard back to Pittsburgh to one of my chums with a return address on it. Cops showed up. Joe picked me up and threw me into the back of his pick-up while his wife, three times bigger than he was, argued with the police. I ended up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and dove for a company doing contract work which included picking up bodies of test pilots from a Sikorsky helicopter. They crashed and I had to pick up parts of the helicopters and parts of bodies.”

    “I visited Buffalo, New York, and dove on an 1830 shipwreck. I brought up Rye whiskey. We got 50 cents a bottle. They sold it for $50 a bottle to night clubs. Shows how divers get screwed,” Marx smiled. It was difficult to see the expression change. His face was swollen, but his eyes were getting bigger and the thick lids pushed back. His voice and demeanor animated.

    Marx stayed with a relative of diver Joe Novak in western New York until he was 15. Then California beckoned. “I stayed with an aunt. She had apartments for women. She gave me an apartment in exchange for a job painting and fixing. If you know me, that’s a disaster. I put up signs in my ship’s engine rooms, ‘Keep the captain out.’ Anyway, I was a disaster at fixing, but I learned about women.”

    Marx joined the U.S. Marine Corps. It was a milestone in his life. He went to diving school. “I went all over for the Marine Corps. Picking up bodies from crashed planes. We didn’t even have tanks. The first tanks we got were triples. They were heavy,” he related.

    Bob jumps around and goes from adventure to adventure without reference to any timeline. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier “Wasp” and went on several Mediterranean cruises. “We showed the flag. They sent sailors and marines ashore in various ports to get laid and spend money. The Wasp was an old World War II carrier. Nobody’d done it before…”

    Marx, disinterested in pursuits ashore, began diving in the ports of call where the Wasp dropped anchor. “There had been no diving there in the ports. Except sponge and coral divers. Every place I went it was virgin. I’d ask the fishermen where are amphorae. Octopus lived inside amphorae. The fishermen would pull them up, shake the octopus out and throw the amphorae back,” he related.

    “In 1953 we stopped in the Azores. We had a base there and unloaded supplies. Got thick, thick cables caught in the props. I got the job to cut them off. I looked down and saw a galleon. I dove on it and found my first astrolabe.” Bob described this rare early navigational instrument used by Spanish pilots to determine latitude.

    “The admiral of the fleet took it and said, ‘I’ll use it for a paper-weight.’ I didn’t know what it was. I looked at a photo I took of it later and said, ‘I wuz robbed’,” Marx said.

    “We spent five days in Cadiz showing the flag. We were in Moorish country. When we went ashore hoping to get laid, we found the women were being chaperoned. This was in the fifties. Wine was five cents a glass, Scotch 60 cents a bottle.

    “I looked out from the Wasp and said, ‘If I was a sailor, and say my ass would sink in a storm, where would I go?’ I’d look for Abrigo. There were two forts on either side. You could not go near them since they were prisons for Franco’s enemies. I got a rubber ducky and tanks. I dove there, the Guardia Civil yelling at me. I gave them…” Here Marx made the universal gesture of contempt recognized worldwide.

    “It was the best museum of my life. The whole bottom was paved with statues, amphorae. I loaded up the rubber ducky. Put the stuff on our ship. The admiral and captain had first pick. They took all the heads of the statues. I couldn’t take the whole statue up.

    “On the last day I heard the worst noise of my life underwater. The grinding sound of the Sixth Fleet pulling up anchors. I’m six kilometers away in a rubber ducky. They went without Roberto…” Bob paused. He savored the memory briefly.

    “I’m in the rubber ducky with my wetsuit. I had nothing else only my dog tags. I had to run into the middle of the thing between the two forts of Cadiz. The Guardia Civil started beating on me. I was saved by two men. They were out riding.”

    “Don Manuel had been the minister of Culture under the King. He was an enemy of Franco, but the Pope made him Papal Nuncio in Spain, therefore untouchable. He was a historian. The other man was Don Mauricio; his family owned the largest wine company in Spain, also a historian. I was rescued by two historians. Both went to Eaton University. I’m covered in blood from the beating.

    “One of them got me up on a horse behind him and we rode to their car, a Mercedes. This in an age where there were only tiny cars or motor bikes in the country. This was a real car. We went to the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. I needed stiches. They got me patched up.

    Bob Marx at David Foster’s home

    Those cops really worked me over,” Marx related.

    His rescuers called the American embassy. “But in those two days I learned more about history…it changed my life. They questioned me about what I had seen underwater and I asked them questions.

    “When I got back aboard ship, I was put on ‘piss and punk.’ In the brig five days drinking bread and water. They left without me.” Marx didn’t really laugh at his own story. He smiled. The lines in his face changed directions and the puffiness, likely from the medication he was taking for his heart condition and gout, moved.

    “Then the second Mediterranean cruise. No one ever did it before. It was all virgin,” he described diving on virgin ancient shipwrecks, veritable underwater museums.

    “In 1954, when I got out of the Marine Corps, I went to Cozumel with Mel Fisher. He had a deal to make movies in 16-millimeter. Black and white movies for companies like Pan Am and Voit Rubber. There were less than 500 people on the Island of Cozumel.

    “When we finished, I told Mel, ‘I’m going to open a hotel’.” Marx described how the people on Cozumel only spoke Maya, not Spanish in those days.

    “My first hotel was six poles sticking up. Everybody slept in hammocks. There were no telephones. The first yacht that came in I sent letters to friends in the states. Said, ‘If you get to Merida you can get here to Playa Azul. Today it is the museum in the city. I charged $8 a day including all the food, alcohol and diving. We went into the jungle killing jaguars, manatees. Everything we killed we ate. I stayed on Cozumel four-and-a-half years. I finally had 12 rooms, but still slept in hammocks.”

    “I read articles all the time that proclaim people did all these things in the Caribbean. The first hotel, the first diving vacations. I did it 50 years before. I took people to Tulum. Killed turtles, took turtle eggs. Killed manatees, tasted like pork. People would kill me for that today. I had to eat.” Marx closed his story and shifted to his four grand-children.

    “They’re actually terrorists, three, five, seven and nine.” He began another tale about the bronze cannon that Mel Fisher recovered from the Spanish galleon “Atocha” off Key West. Fisher presented the cannon to the Queen of Spain and it ended up in the basement of the Archives of the Indies in Seville.

    “It almost killed me. I had to clean it. I got a couple of gallons of muriatic acid. I was in the basement with the acid fumes. I nearly died.”

    Chris Foster’s father arrived to drive Bob home. He lives in Indialantic near Cape Canaveral with his wife of many years, Jenifer. A lively pit bull ran into the house and wagged what tail it had left.

    “I’m allergic to dogs, Bob pro-claimed.

    “We’re taking him,” Chris’ father proclaimed just as vehemently.

    “Put him in the trunk,” Marx growled.

    “Put you in the trunk,” was the answer.

    “How did you get gout?” I asked this veteran treasure diver who survived a wall toppling over on him as he was excavating the lost city of Port Royal in Jamaica and numerous other incidents underwater. He has had heart surgery and is taking heart medication. Gout was a recent malediction.

    At a party in his honor the invitation listed some of his close calls. “Bob survived five plane crashes, nine shipwrecks, two shark attacks (one Mako, one Hammerhead) and five times being blown out of the water with explosives.” That he survived at all is a miracle.

    “I did the Atkins diet. You’re sup-posed to do it for only a few days. I did it for four months. I gave myself gout. It took four months to get rid of it. For Easter my wife made a big lamb and it came back.” Whether annals of medical research will sup-port Bob’s premise is uncertain, but like most of his stories it made a good tale in the telling.

    His feet were in slippers, swollen and discolored. “I can’t wear shoes,” he grumped as he left the Foster house and said goodbye to his gracious hosts.

    “I’m going to steal another pair of his sunglasses,” Marx said and walked in his fleece lined pantoufles to David’s truck, opened the door, and lifted the sunglasses.

    “The best is the next adventure. More adventure,” Marx said. He was wearing a black shirt emblazoned on the front with the logo of David’s commercial diving company, American Underwater Contractors. On the back it read, “Treasure is trouble. The more treasure the more the trouble. Robert Marx, Miami 2003.”

    I wanted to ask him about his excavation of the treasure galleon Maravillas in the Bahamas. “Forget the Maravillas. That’s another story. I can’t get into it. I’m too tired.”

    “We call him Bobzilla. Don’t piss him off,” David Foster laughed.

    He got into the passenger’s seat of a little black sports car. The lively pit bull in the back seat was running back and forth panting. Marx, wearing Foster’s wrap around mirrored sunglasses, still looked cranky. He was off. A remarkable man. Treasureman.