Oak Island

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Oak Island

Oak Island, Nova Scotia
Location Nova Scotia Canada
Coordinates 44°31′00″N 64°17′57″W / 44.516667°N 64.29917°W / 44.516667; -64.29917
Total islands 1
Population Uninhabited

Oak Island is a 140-acre (57 ha) island in Lunenberg County on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada. The tree-covered island is one of about 360 small islands in Mahone Bay and rises to a maximum of 35 feet (11 m) above sea level.

Oak Island is noted as the location of the so-called Money Pit, a site of numerous excavations to recover treasure believed by many to be buried there.[1] Despite great effort and expense, no treasure has been found, and skeptics have dismissed it as a sinkhole and natural cavities.

The island is privately owned, and advance permission is required for any visitation.


[edit] History of the Money Pit

[edit] Early accounts

There are many 19th-century accounts of Oak Island, but they are conflicting, not contemporary, and not impartial.[2] Further, physical evidence from the initial excavations is absent or has been lost. A basic summary of the claimed history of the pit is as follows.

In 1795, 16-year-old Daniel McGinnis discovered a circular depression in a clearing on the southeastern end of the island with an adjacent tree which had a tackle block on one of its overhanging branches. McGinnis, with the help of friends John Smith (in early accounts, Samuel Ball) and Anthony Vaughan, excavated the depression and discovered a layer of flagstones a few feet below. On the pit walls there were visible markings from a pick. As they dug down they discovered layers of logs at about every ten feet (3 m). They abandoned the excavation at 30 feet (10 m).

This initial discovery and excavation was first briefly mentioned in print in the Liverpool Transcript[3] in October, 1856. A more complete account followed in the Liverpool Transcript,[4][5] the Novascotian,[6][7] British Colonist,[8] and A History Of Lunenburg County[9] (however, the latter account was based on the earlier Liverpool Transcript articles and does not represent an independent source).

About eight years after the 1795 dig, according to the original articles and the memories of Vaughan, another company examined what was to become known as the Money Pit. The Onslow Company sailed 300 nautical miles (560 km) from central Nova Scotia near Truro to Oak Island with the goal of recovering what they believed to be secret treasure. They continued the excavation down to approximately 90 feet (27.43 m) and found layers of logs or "marks" about every ten feet (3 m) and layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre at 40, 50 and 60 feet (12, 15 and 18 m).

According to one of the earliest written accounts, at 80 or 90 feet (27 m), they recovered a large stone bearing an inscription of symbols. Several researchers are said to have attempted to decipher the symbols. One translated them as saying: "forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried."[5] No photographs, drawings, or other images of the stone are known to have been produced prior to its claimed disappearance circa 1912. The symbols currently associated with the "forty feet down..." translation and seen in many books first appeared in True Tales of Buried Treasure, written by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow in 1951. In this book he claims he was given this set of symbols by one Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts.[10] Nothing more is known about Kempton's involvement in the Oak Island tale.

The pit subsequently flooded up to the 33-foot (10 m) level. Bailing did not reduce the water level, and the excavation was abandoned.

Investors formed The Truro Company in 1849, which re-excavated the shaft back down to the 86-foot (26 m) level, where it flooded again. They then drilled into the ground below the bottom of the shaft. According to the nineteenth-century account, the drill or "pod auger" passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet (30 m), a 12-inch head space, 22 inches (560 mm) of what was described as "metal in pieces", 8 inches (200 mm) of oak, another 22 inches (560 mm) of metal, 4 inches (100 mm) of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else.

[edit] Oak Island Association and Old Gold Salvage group years

The next excavation attempt was made in 1861 by a new company called the Oak Island Association which resulted in the collapse of the bottom of the shaft into either a natural cavern or booby trap underneath. The first fatality during excavations occurred when the boiler of a pumping engine burst.[11] The company gave up when their funds were exhausted in 1864.

Further excavations were made in 1866, 1893, 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936, and 1959, none of which were successful. Another fatality occurred in 1887, when a worker fell to his death.[11] (Six people have been killed in accidents during various excavations.) Franklin Roosevelt was part of the Old Gold Salvage group of 1909 and kept up with news and developments for most of his life.

[edit] Gilbert Hedden and William Chappell years

In 1928, a New York newspaper printed a feature story about the strange history of the island. Gilbert Hedden, operator of a steel fabricating concern, saw the article and was fascinated by the engineering problems involved in recovering the putative treasure. Hedden collected books and articles on the island and made six trips there. He even ventured to England to converse with Harold Tom Wilkins, the author of Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island, believing he had found a link between Oak Island and a map in Wilkins's book.[12]

The very wealthy Hedden then purchased the southeast end of the island. He did not start digging until the summer of 1935, following excavations by William Chappell in 1931. In 1939, he even informed King George VI of the United Kingdom about developments on Oak Island.

The 1931 excavations by William Chappell sank a 163-foot (50 m) shaft 12x14 feet to the southwest of what he believed was the site of the 1897 shaft, close to the original pit. At 127 feet (39 m), a number of artifacts, including an axe, an anchor fluke, and a pick were found. The pick has been identified as a Cornish miner's poll pick. By this time, the entire area around the Money Pit was littered with the debris and refuse of numerous prior excavation attempts, so exactly to whom the pick belonged is unverifiable.

[edit] Restall family and Robert Dunfield years

Excavation by the Restall family in the early 1960s ended tragically when four men died after being overcome by fumes in a shaft near the beach. In 1965, Robert Dunfield leased the island and, using a 70-ton digging crane with a clam bucket, dug out the pit area to a depth of 134 feet (41 m) and width of 100 feet (30 m). The removed soil was carefully inspected for artifacts. Transportation of the crane to the island required the construction of a causeway (which still exists) from the western end of the island to Crandall's Point on the mainland two hundred meters away.[11]

[edit] Triton Alliance years

Around 1967, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed Triton Alliance, Ltd. and purchased most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235-foot (72 m) shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear, and none of these claims have been independently confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed, and the excavation was again abandoned. This shaft was later successfully re-dug to 181 feet (55 m), reaching bedrock; work was halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership.[13]

In the mid 1960s, an account of an excavation of the "Money Pit" appeared in Readers' Digest magazine. Over a decade later, the Money Pit mystery was the subject of an episode of the television series In Search of..., which first aired January 18, 1979, bringing the legend of Oak Island to a wider audience.

During the 1990s, further exploration was stalled due to legal battles between the Triton partners. As of 2005, a portion of the island was for sale with an estimated price tag of $7 million. A group called the Oak Island Tourism Society had hoped the Government of Canada would purchase the island, but a group of American businessmen in the drilling industry did so instead.[1]

[edit] After Triton

It was announced in April 2006 that partners from Michigan had purchased a 50 percent stake in Oak Island Tours Inc. for an undisclosed amount of money. The shares sold to the Michigan partners were previously owned by David Tobias; remaining shares are owned by Blankenship. Center Road Developments, in conjunction with Allan Kostrzewa, a member of the Michigan group, had purchased Lot 25 from David Tobias for a reported $230,000 one year previous to Tobias selling the rest of his share. The Michigan group, working with Blankenship, has said it will resume operations on Oak Island in the hope of discovering buried treasure and the mystery of Oak Island.

[edit] Treasure theories

There has been wide-ranging speculation as to who originally dug the pit and what it might contain. Later accounts claim that oak platforms were discovered every 10 feet,[14] but the earliest accounts simply say that "marks" of some type were found at these places.[14] They also claim there were "tool marks" or pick scrapes on the walls on the money pit and that the dirt was noticeably loose and not as hard packed as the surrounding soil.[14] One expedition claimed to have found the flood tunnel at 90 feet, and that it was lined with flat stones.[14] However, Robert Dunfield (a trained geologist) wrote that he carefully examined the walls of the re-excavated pit and was unable locate any evidence of this tunnel.[14]

[edit] Pirate treasure

The cipher stone, which one researcher is said to have translated to read "Forty feet below two million pounds are buried",[15] was allegedly last seen in the early 20th century (exact dates are a topic of controversy). Some accounts state that Smith used it as a fireback in his fireplace,[14] while others claim it was last seen as a doorstep in a Halifax bookbinder's shop.[14] The accuracy of the translation, whether the symbols as commonly depicted are accurate, or if they meant anything at all, remains disputed. Some believe the pit holds a pirate treasure hoard buried by Captain Kidd or possibly Edward Teach (Blackbeard), who claimed he buried his treasure "where none but Satan and myself can find it."[15]

Some also hold to the theory that Kidd conspired with Henry Every and Oak Island was used as a pseudo community bank between the two.[15]

Man made structures under Oak Island do in fact exist as discussed in many books, including a book written by Lee Lamb, daughter of Robert Restall.[16] Whether these structures are the remains of prior excavation attempts or artifacts left behind by those who allegedly built the Money Pit are unknown. It is known that several documented post-1860 treasure recovery attempts, as described above, ended in collapsed excavations and flooding.

[edit] Naval treasure

Others agree it was dug to hold treasure, but believe this was done by someone other than pirates, such as Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon or British troops during the American revolution. John Godwin argued that, given the apparent size and complexity of the pit, it was likely dug by French army engineers hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg after it fell to the British during the French and Indian War.[17]

[edit] Marie Antoinette's jewels

There is a story that, like most others regarding the island, lacks adequate archival sources, or any quoted sources at all, which places the priceless jewels of Marie Antoinette (which are historically missing, save for some specimens in the collections of museums worldwide) on Oak Island. During the French Revolution, when the Palace of Versailles was stormed by revolutionaries in 1789, Marie Antoinette instructed her maid or a lady-in-waiting to take her prized possessions and flee. Supposedly, this maid fled to London with such royal items as Antoinette's jewels and perhaps other treasures, such as important artwork or documents, secreted away either on her person (one variation suggests sewn into her underskirts in the case of the jewels, though fails to mention artwork) or as her luggage; it is even said she was perhaps assisted by the remaining officers of the French navy during the uprising at the queen's behest.

The story then goes on to say that this woman fled further afield from London to Nova Scotia and through the royal connections she would have had during her service to the queen at Versailles, managed to contract the French navy to help construct the famed 'pit' on the island. This theory, as noted, lacks recognized documentation other than that which is folkloric in nature, involves the French navy, which, during the Revolution had an uncertain level of authority, and would place the construction of the Oak Island structure very close to its initial discovery by Daniel McGinnis in 1795. Whether such a complex engineering effort could have been completed in that small space of time is questionable, though no official date of its construction exists. However, other theories do suggest the structure is French and naval in style.

[edit] Exotic treasure

Still others have speculated that the Oak Island pit was dug to hold treasure much more exotic than gold or silver. In his 1953 book, The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit, Penn Leary claimed that English philosopher Francis Bacon used the pit to hide documents proving him to be the author of William Shakespeare's plays,[18] a theory recently used in the Norwegian book Organisten (The Organ Player) by Erlend Loe and Petter Amundsen.[19] It has even been asserted that the pit might have been dug by exiled Knights Templar, and that it is the last resting place of the Holy Grail.[20]

[edit] Criticism of treasure theories

[edit] General

Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the apparent pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole and natural caverns. It is argued that the story of the money is largely unverified and the gap of sixty years between the supposed discovery and the first known reports is very long. There is no surviving evidence that the nine platforms existed. Indeed, it is noteworthy that no debris, lost tools or other items mentioned in the early accounts have been found. This includes the two links from the gold chain, the piece of parchment, the inscribed stone, and even the tree itself.[2]

Joe Nickell[2] also identifies parallels between the accounts of Oak Island and the allegory of the "Secret Vault" in Freemasonry (similar to the Chase Vault), and identifies many prominent excavators as Freemasons, leading to the suggestion that the accounts explicitly include Masonic imagery.

[edit] Sinkhole

Suggestions that the pit is a natural phenomenon, specifically a sinkhole or debris in a fault, date to at least 1911.[21][22][23][24] There are numerous sinkholes on the mainland near the island, together with underground caves (the apparent booby traps are attributed to these latter).

The appearance of a man-made pit has been attributed partly to the texture of sinkholes: "this filling would be softer than the surrounding ground, and give the impression that it had been dug up before",[24] and the appearance of "platforms" of rotten logs has been attributed to trees or "blowdowns" falling or washing into the depression.[25] An undetermined pit similar to the description of the early Money Pit had been discovered in the area. In 1949, workmen digging a well on the shore of Mahone Bay, at a point where the earth was soft, found a pit of the following description: "At about two feet down a layer of fieldstone was struck. Then logs of spruce and oak were unearthed at irregular intervals, and some of the wood was charred. The immediate suspicion was that another Money Pit had been found."[26]

[edit] Romanticized elements

Many elements contained in the Oak Island story, such as the discovery of tantalizing but inconclusive objects and a message in indecipherable code, are common in fictional works on treasure and piracy (such as the Edgar Allan Poe short story "The Gold-Bug"). This has led many to conclude that the early account of the Money Pit is a romanticized combination of several works of nineteenth century fiction conflated with a local story about a search for buried treasure. Similarly, the burial of the supposed jewels of Marie Antoinette requires, logically, an assumption that they would someday soon after their concealment be retrieved; as well, the apparent complexity of the Island's 'treasure' structure seems too frivolous an attempt to conceal what the queen's maid could have easily used for her own gain once in North America. There is little historical context to link the French Revolution directly to Nova Scotia, save for the ongoing conflicts in North America between the British and French both at the time and prior.

[edit] Pit flooding issues

In 1850, treasure hunters discovered fibers beneath the surface of one beach called Smith's Cove. This led to the theory that the beach had been converted into a giant siphon, feeding water from the ocean into the pit via a man made tunnel.

The purpose of these fibers has been a source of heated debate among Oak Island researchers; a sample of this material was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in the early 20th century, where it was concluded that the material was coconut fiber.[27] Carbon dating was conducted on a sample in the 1960s and returned a date of 1200-1400 AD.[27] However, this testing method reveals only when the material began to degrade, not when it was deposited at the site.

Oak Island lies on a glacial tumulus system and is underlain by a series of water-filled limestone cavities (Anhydrite), which may be responsible for the repeated flooding of the pit. This type of limestone easily dissolves when exposed to water, forming caves and natural voids. Bedrock lies at a depth of 130-150 feet in the Money Pit area.

According to a letter written by Robert Dunfield, a trained geologist who excavated the Money Pit using heavy machinery in the 1960s, no flood tunnels or other manufactured features were encountered. He stated in a letter to author D'Arcy O'Connor on 21 October, 1976 that his drill operators encountered what appeared to be a natural cavity after drilling through ~2' of limestone at 141 feet. His professional opinion at that time was that the Windsor limestone formation had been struck. He additionally stated that "caverns and cavities, etc., are present elsewhere in the Windsor formation."

Upon the invitation of Boston-area businessman David Mugar, a two-week survey was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1995. This is the only known scientific study that has been conducted on the site. After running dye tests in the bore hole, they concluded that the flooding was caused by a natural interaction between the island's freshwater lens and tidal pressures in the underlying geology, refuting the idea of artificially constructed flood tunnels. The Woods Hole scientists who viewed the videos taken in 1971 concluded that nothing conclusive could be determined from the murky images.

[edit] Oak Island in popular culture

And over the ashes the stories are told
Of witches and werewolves and Oak Island gold
The stars on the river they sparkle and spin
I wish I was with them again.

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Whipps, Heather. "For Sale: Island with Mysterious Money Pit". http://www.livescience.com/history/051107_oak_island.html. Retrieved on December 5 2005. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Secrets of Oak Island", Joe Nickell, Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2000.
  3. ^ Microfiche of the original Liverpool Transcript articles
  4. ^ Unnamed author. "Correspondence." Liverpool Transcript, 15 August 1857.
  5. ^ a b McCully, J.B. "The Oak Island Diggings." Liverpool Transcript, October 1862
  6. ^ Patrick. "Response to the Oak Island Folly." The Novascotian, 30 September 1861
  7. ^ Unnamed author. "The Oak Island Folly", The Novascotian, 29 August 1861
  8. ^ A Member. "A History of The Oak Island Enterprise." British Colonist (in 3 chapters published on 2, 7, and 14 January, 1864)
  9. ^ DesBrisay, Mather, A History Of Lunenburg County (1895)
  10. ^ Snow, Edward Rowe. True Tales of Buried Treasure, (Dodd and Mead, 1951) ASIN B000OI2EFC
  11. ^ a b c The History Channel, Decoding the Past: The Templar Code, video documentary, November 7, 2005, written by Marcy Marzuni
  12. ^ Doyle, Lynn C. "Nova Scotia's Treasure Island." MacLean's 1 June, 1931
  13. ^ Ellerd, Kerry. "Finding Buried Treasure: It's an Expensive Business." Montreal STAR February 6, 1971
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Crooker, William S. Oak Island Gold (Nimbus Publishing, 1993) ISBN 1-55109-049-X
  15. ^ a b c Howlett, A. "Mystery of Captain Kidd's Treasure." World Wide Magazine October, 1958
  16. ^ Lamb, Lee. Oak Island Obsession: The Restall Story (Dundurn Press, 2006) ISBN 978-1550026252
  17. ^ Godwin, John. This Baffling World. (Bantam, 1971)
  18. ^ Leary, Thomas P. The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit. (T.P. Leary, 1953)
  19. ^ Loe, Erland, and Amundsen, Petter. Organisten (Cappelen, 2006)
  20. ^ Sora, Steven. The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar (Inner Traditions/Destiny, 1999). ISBN 0-89-281-710-0
  21. ^ This section follows Nickell, section "Man-made or Natural?".
  22. ^ Bowdoin, H. L. 1911. Solving the mystery of Oak Island. Collier's Magazine, August 18. Cited and discussed in Harris 1958, 110-120; O'Connor 1988, 63-66.
  23. ^ Faribault, E. Rudolph. 1911. Summary Report of Geological Survey Branch of the Department of Mines. Quoted in Furneaux 1972, 110.
  24. ^ a b Atlantic Advocate. 1965. Article in October issue, cited in Crooker 1978, 85-86.
  25. ^ Preston, Douglas. 1988 (thoughts taken form a Novel fiction body of work called "Riptide"). However this notion has been disregarded as a consequence of reported pick marks along the sides of the walls down to the 90 foot mark and the stone lined flood tunnel the lead to Smiths Cove. Man made death trap defies treasure seekers for two centuries. The Smithsonian. June. 53-6
  26. ^ O'Connor (1988, 172-173)
  27. ^ a b French, Carey. "Treasure Island? Fabled Booty Eludes the Fortune Hunters." Globe & Mail 19 November, 1983

[edit] External links

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