Oak Island mystery
The Oak Island mystery refers to stories of buried treasure and unexplained objects found on or near Oak Island in Nova Scotia. Since the 19th century, a number of attempts have been made to locate treasure and artifacts. Theories about artifacts present on the island range from pirate treasure, to Shakespearean manuscripts, to possibly the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant, with the Grail and the Ark having been buried there by the Knights Templar. Various items have surfaced over the years that were found on the island, some of which have since been carbon-dated and found to be hundreds of years old. Although these items can be considered treasure in their own right, no significant main treasure site has ever been found. The site consists of digs by numerous people and groups of people. The original shaft, in an unknown location today, was dug by early explorers and known as "the money pit". "The curse" is said to have originated more than a century ago and states that seven men will die in the search for the treasure before it is found. To date, six men have died in their efforts to find the treasure.
Early accounts (1790s–1857)
Very little verified information is known about early treasure-related activities on Oak Island, thus the following accounts are word of mouth stories going back to the late eighteenth century. It wasn't until decades later that publishers began to pay attention to such activity and investigated the stories involved. The earliest known story of a treasure found by a settler named Daniel McGinnis appeared in print in 1857. It then took another five years before one of the alleged original diggers gave a statement regarding the original story along with subsequent Onslow and Truro Company activities.
The original story by early settlers involves a dying sailor from the crew of Captain Kidd (d. 1701), in which he states that treasure worth £2 million had been buried on the island. According to the most widely held discovery story, Daniel McGinnis found a depression in the ground around 1799 while he was looking for a location for a farm. McGinnis, who believed that the depression was consistent with the Captain Kidd story, sought help with digging. With the assistance of two men identified only as John Smith and Anthony Vaughn, he excavated the depression and discovered a layer of flagstones two feet (60 cm) below. According to later accounts, oak platforms were discovered every 10 feet (3.0 m); however, the earliest accounts simply mention "marks" of some type at these intervals. The accounts also mentioned "tool marks" or pick scrapes on the walls of the pit. The earth was noticeably loose, not as hard-packed as the surrounding soil. The three men reportedly abandoned the excavation at 30 feet (9.1 m) due to "superstitious dread". Another twist on the story has all four people involved as teenagers. In this rendering McGinnis first finds the depression in 1795 while on a fishing expedition. The rest of the story is consistent with the first involving the logs found, but ends with all four individuals giving up after digging as much as they could.
In about 1802, a group known as the Onslow Company allegedly sailed from central Nova Scotia to Oak Island to recover what they believed to be hidden treasure. They continued the excavation down to about 90 feet (27 m), with layers of logs (or "marks") found about every ten feet (3.0 m), and also discovered layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre along with a large stone inscribed with symbols. The diggers then faced a dilemma when the pit flooded with 60 feet (18 m) of water for unknown reasons. The alleged excavation was eventually abandoned after workers attempted to recover the treasure from below by digging a tunnel from a second shaft that also flooded. The last major company of the unpublished era was called The Truro Company, which was allegedly formed in 1849 by investors. The pit was re-excavated back down to the 86-foot (26 m) level, but ended up flooding again. It was then decided to drill five bore holes using a pod-auger into the original shaft. The auger passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet (30 m), then hit layers of oak, something described as "metal in pieces", another spruce layer, and clay for 7 feet (2.1 m). This platform was hit twice each time metal was brought to the surface along with various other items such as wood and coconut fibre.
Another shaft was then dug 109 feet (33 m) deep northwest of the original shaft, and a tunnel was again branched off in an attempt to intersect the treasure. Once again though, seawater flooded this new shaft; workers then assumed that the water was connected to the sea as the now flooded new pit rose and fell with each tide cycle. The Truro Company shifted its resources to excavating a nearby cove known as "Smith's Cove" where they found a flood tunnel system. When efforts failed to shut off the flood system, one final shaft was dug 118 feet (36 m) deep with the branched-off tunnel going under the original shaft. Sometime during the excavation of this new shaft, the bottom of the original shaft collapsed. It was later speculated that the treasure had fallen through the new shaft into a deep void causing the new shaft to flood as well. The Truro Company then ran out of funds and was dissolved sometime in 1851.
The first published account took place in 1857, when the Liverpool Transcript mentioned a group digging for Captain Kidd's treasure on Oak Island. This would be followed by a more complete account by a justice of the peace in Chester, Nova Scotia in 1861, which was also published in The Transcript. However, the first published account of what had taken place on the Island did not appear until October 16, 1862 when Anthony Vaughan's memories were recorded by The Transcript for posterity. Activities regarding the Onslow and Truro Companies were also included that mention the mysterious stone, and the Truro owned auger hitting wooden platforms along with the "metal in pieces". The accounts based on the Liverpool Transcript articles also ran in the Novascotian, the British Colonist, and is mentioned in an 1895 book called A History Of Lunenburg County. In early 2000, investigator Joe Nickell reviewed the original accounts and interviews with descendants of McGinnis and the original Oak Island landowners. While later sources state that the treasure had been discovered by three young boys, Nickell reported that the story was about three adult lot owners who discovered the depression on the island and began digging.
Early excavations (1861–1898)
The next major excavation attempt was carried out in 1861 by a company called "The Oak Island Association". The original pit was re-excavated to a depth of 88 feet (27 m), and two more shafts were dug. The first one missed its intended target of an alleged flood tunnel, while the other intersected the original shaft via a branched-off tunnel at around 105 feet (32 m) deep. Both of these shafts were filled with water when an alleged flood tunnel was again breached. At one point one of the platforms placed in the original shaft at 98 feet (30 m) collapsed, and dropped to a lower level. The effect caused the next two platforms to drop as well with the treasure now resting some 119 feet (36 m) below ground along with an estimated 10,000 feet (3048 m) of lumber. The first of six accidental deaths during excavations occurred during the fall of 1861 when a pump engine boiler burst. The explosion was first mentioned in an 1863 novel titled Rambles Among the Blue-noses, while mention of a death came five years later. Another shaft was dug in the spring of 1862, one which was 107 feet (33 m) deep. This new shaft was parallel to and connected with the original shaft as it was used to pump water out of the original shaft to a depth of 103 feet (31 m). Although the pumps could not keep up with the floodwater, tools that had been used by the Onslow and Truro companies were recovered. The Oak Island Association also did some work at Smith's Cove by drilling a few shafts in an attempt to shut off and seal the alleged flood tunnels. All of these attempts were failures in the end, due to the tide which eventually broke through barriers that were put in place. One final attempt was made in 1864 to intersect the money pit, resulting in an alleged flood tunnels again being breached. By this time, saltwater was undermining the walls of the original shaft which some workers refused to enter. The original shaft was inspected by mining engineers who declared it unsafe, and the company abandoned their efforts when their money ran out.
In 1866, a group known as The Oak Island Eldorado Company or more commonly The Halifax Company was formed to find the treasure. By this time there were many shafts, bore holes, and tunnels under Oak Island made by previous treasure hunters. When a plan to shut off the alleged flood tunnels from Smith's didn't work, the company decided to shift focus to the original main shaft. Exploratory holes that were drilled turned up bits of wood, more coconut fiber, soft clay, and blue mud. Having found nothing of interest, the group gave up the search in 1867.
In 1896, an unknown group arrived on the island with steam pumps and boring equipment. Although the pumps were unable to keep water out of the flooded side shaft, boring samples were taken. It was claimed that one of the samples brought a tiny piece of sheepskin parchment to the surface. The parchment had two letters, "vi" or "wi", written in India ink. The second accidental death occurred on March 26, 1897, when a worker named Maynard Kaiser fell to his death.
In 1898, red paint was poured into the flooded pit by the group, reportedly revealing three exit holes around the island.
Old Gold Salvage group (1909)
Captain Henry L. Bowdoin arrived on Oak Island in August 1909 representing the Old Gold Salvage Group, one of whose members was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By this time the area now known as the "money pit" was cleared out to 113 feet (34 m), and divers were sent down to investigate. Although multiple borings were taken in and around the pit, none of the cores revealed anything of interest.
Bowdoin also examined Smith's Cove, where drain tunnels and a ring bolt in a rock had reportedly been seen. Although the group found the remains of an 1850 cofferdam, no evidence of anything else was found. Bowdoin later examined the "stone cipher" in Halifax, and found it a basalt rock with no symbols. He was doubtful that symbols could have worn off the rock, given its hardness. The group left the island in November 1909, but Roosevelt kept up with Oak Island news and developments for most of the rest of his life.
William Chappell and Gilbert Hedden (1928–1939)
In 1928, a New York newspaper published a feature story about Oak Island. William Chappell became interested and excavated the pit in 1931 by sinking a 12-by-14-foot (3.7 m × 4.3 m) 163-foot (50 m) shaft southwest of what he believed was the site of the 1897 shaft (which was thought, without evidence, to be near the original pit). At 127 feet (39 m), a number of artifacts, including an axe, a fluke anchor and a pick, were found. The pick was identified as a Cornish miner's pick, but by this time the area around the pit was littered with debris from previous excavation attempts and finding the owner was impossible.
Gilbert Hedden, an operator of a steel fabricating company, saw the 1928 article and was fascinated by the engineering problems involved in recovering the reported treasure. Hedden made six trips to Oak Island and collected books and articles about the island. He went to England to consult Harold T. Wilkins, author of Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island, about a link he found between Oak Island and a map in Wilkins' book. After Chappell's excavations, Hedden began digging in the summer of 1935, after he purchased the southeastern end of the island. In 1939, he informed King George VI about developments on the island. Further excavations were made in 1935 and 1936, not one of which was successful.
Restall family and Robert Dunfield (1959–1966)
Robert Restall, his 18-year-old son, and work partner Karle Graeser, came to Oak Island in 1959 after signing a contract with one of the property owners. In 1965, they tried to seal what was thought to be a storm drain in Smith's Cove and dug a shaft down to 27 feet (8.2 m). On August 17, Restall was overcome by hydrogen sulfide fumes. His son then went down the shaft, and also lost consciousness. Graeser and two others, Cyril Hiltz and Andy DeMont, then attempted to save the two men. A visitor to the site, Edward White, had himself lowered on a rope into the shaft but was able to bring out only DeMont. Restall, his son, Graeser and Hiltz all died.
That year, Robert Dunfield leased portions of the island. Dunfield dug the pit area to a depth of 134 feet (41 m) and a width of 100 feet (30 m) by using a 70-ton digging crane with a clam bucket. 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 metres away. Dunfield's lease ended in August 1966.
Triton Alliance (1967–1990s)
n January 1967, Daniel C. Blankenship, David Tobias, Robert Dunfield, and Fred Nolan formed a syndicate for exploration on Oak Island. Two years later, Blankenship and Tobias formed Triton Alliance after purchasing most of the island. Several former landowners, including Mel Chappell, became shareholders in Triton. Triton workers excavated a 235 feet (72 m) shaft, known as Borehole 10-X and supported by a steel caisson to bedrock, in 1971.
According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave recorded possible chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear and none of the claims have been independently confirmed. The shaft later collapsed, and the excavation was again abandoned. The shaft was later re-dug to 181 feet (55 m), reaching bedrock, but work was halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership. Divers sent to the bottom of Borehole 10-X in 2016 found no artifacts. An account of an excavation of the pit was published in the January 1965 issue of Reader's Digest. The island was the subject of an episode of In Search of... which was first broadcast on January 18, 1979.
In 1983, Triton Alliance sued Frederick Nolan over the ownership of seven lots on the island and its causeway access. Two years later, Nolan's ownership of the lots was confirmed, but he was ordered to pay damages for interfering with Triton's tourist business. On appeal, Triton lost again in 1989 and Nolan's damages were reduced.
During the 1990s, further exploration stalled because of legal battles between the Triton partners and a lack of financing. In 2005, a portion of the island was for sale for US$7 million. Lot Five is currently owned by Robert S. Young of Upper Tantallon, NS, who purchased it from Frederick G. Nolan of Bedford, NS, in June 1996. Although the Oak Island Tourism Society had hoped that the government of Canada would purchase the island, a group of American drillers did so instead.
Oak Island Tours & The Michigan Group (2005–present)
It was announced in April 2006 that brothers Rick and Marty Lagina of Michigan had purchased 50 percent of Oak Island Tours from David Tobias for an undisclosed sum. The rest of the company is owned by Blankenship. Center Road Developments, in conjunction with Allan Kostrzewa and Brian Urbach (members of the Michigan group), had purchased Lot 25 from David Tobias for a reported $230,000 one year before Tobias sold the rest of his share. The Michigan group, working with Blankenship, said that it would resume operations on Oak Island in the hope of discovering buried treasure and solving the island's mystery.
In July 2010, Blankenship and the other stakeholders in Oak Island Tours announced on their website that the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage had granted them a treasure-trove license which allowed them to resume activities until December 31, 2010. After December 2010, the departments repealed the treasure-trove license and replaced it with an Oak Island Treasure Act. The act, which became effective on January 1, 2011, allows treasure hunting to continue on the island under the terms of a licence issued by the Minister of Natural Resources. Exploration by the Lagina brothers has been documented in a reality television show airing on the History channel starting in 2014.