Only a little off the coast of Nova Scotia, there lies an island. In fact there lies about 360 islands, so what makes Oak Island so special?
This island is primarily forest, bushes, rocks and sandy shores. You would be forgiven for not even noting it as any significant importance due to it’s plain nature. However, appearances can be deceiving. For Oak Island is in fact the site of a great unsolved mystery, a mystery people have died trying to uncover.
Our story begins in the summer of 1795. A local teenager named Daniel McGinnis decided one day to explore Oak Island, it was only a little way offshore so this is a reasonable thing for a bored kid to do with his day. While exploring the island he found what appeared to be a block and tackle hung from a severed tree branch, and below it there was a circular depression in the ground. Now, to a kid of his age in a time of pirates this screams buried treasure. He decided he’d come back the follow day and bring his two friends, John Smith and Anthony Vaughan.
The following day they began excavating the site. Before long, about 2 feet down they came across a layer of flagstone. Excitedly they pulled the block away, eager for treasure, only to find nothing bug more dirt. They weren’t to be dissuaded however, so they kept digging, and at 10 feet they found another blockage, this time in the form of timbers spanning a width of about seven feet. Hearing a hollow sound from beneath they became once again excited, but were once again disappointed. Below the wood there was a two foot pocket of air and then more dirt.
Determined not to give up they continued down. After reaching yet another layout of timbers at 20 feet they decided to give up for the day. They came back several weeks later however and continued to work on the pit, digging down they encountered yet another level of timbers. Pretty down hearted by this point they removed the timbers to reveal…nothing, as before. They continued down about 5 feet after that before they admitted defeat.
While the boys were initially defeated by what would come to be known as the Money Pit, the legend of the pit lived on. In 1804, the Onslow Company, owned by Thomas Lynds, a relative of the Vaughan family, returned to the island with a full excavation expedition. They started first by shoring up the tunnel and getting back down to the 25 foot mark. From that point on the promise of treasure was in every shovel of soil. Can you guess what they found at 30 feet? More timbers. Although these apparently had evidence of charcoal on them. They continued on.
40 feet….more timbers, but these were more interesting. The seams between the planks were coated in a sap like substance, implying that whatever was buried beneath had been sealed off thoroughly for protection. These two small finds spurred them on and after another 10 feet they reached more timbers…with coconut shell fibers scattered on them. Why was this significant? Coconuts were not native to Canada and on the high seas coconut fibers were often used to secure and protect valuable cargo. They continued on with even more excitement than before, but it would take another 30 feet of digging and two additional levels of timbers being removed before they would make their most significant discovery.
At a depth of 90 feet, the now worn out team of treasure hunters discovered a stone. A large square stone table with strange inscriptions carved into its face. Unfortunately, nobody could decipher the inscriptions, however many years later in the 1860s a professor apparently translated them as saying “Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried”. Whether this is true or not as hard to say as the stone has since vanished and no official records of what was written on it remain.
This all happened many years later however, and despite not being able to translate the stone the Onslow company were far from done. The continued to dig only to hit upon some more timbers. Disheartened they pried a gap between two of the timbers to check there was nothing beneath and then retired for the day.
When they returned the following day however they were startled to find the money pit entirely filled by water. They attempted in vain to bucket the water out of the pit but soon realised it was being refilled as fast as they could scoop it out. It would seem to some that the pit had be engineers to frustrate would be treasure hunter, and that by breaking the wooden seals they had released the water trap. They would not admit defeat however and tried several more times to excavate the treasure, using methods such as a water pump and a parallel tunnel to bypass the trap. Both failed.
More Company Muscle
The Oak Island site lay undisturbed for 40 years after that point, until 1845 when a member of the original dig, Anthony Vaughan, helped found the Truro company and returned to the pit. In 1849 the team returned to the pit and made some startling discoveries. First they attempted to lower a hand operated auger into the water filled pit and managed to drill down to around 114 feet. What did they find? Gold. As well as several thicker layers of wood and more coconut fibres, a gold chain was wrapped around the drill as they retrieved it from one of their attempts. As you can imagine this spurred them on to no end and they continued their dig.
They still had the problem of the water however, and any attempt to remove it always failed, so they had an idea. Up until this point very little of the island except from the money pit had been explored, and when they explored Smith’s Cove they discovered that at least part of it was man made. To hopefully expose the mechanism by which the pit was flooding they made a cofferdam around the cover. What they discovered where a series of finger drains leading inland. Elated with their discovery they soon set about trying to block these drains, specifically the main central drain they fed into. Believing they had succeeded they again tried to drain the pit, but it still filled up with water.
Over the following years many more attempts were made to discover the treasure buried at the bottom of the money pit, but all met with failure. Several more successful attempts were made at creating parallel shafts near the pit, but every time they dug into the pit itself water quickly flooded in. Over the years the multiple attempts to both block the finger drains and excavate the pit made the area more unstable, leading to shaft cave into and eventually deaths.
The first death
The first death related to the money pit occurred when a boiler on one of the water pumps exploded, killing one of the people working on it.
Many More attempts
As the 18th century led into the 19th century there were many more attempts to discover the treasure on Oak Island. None so far have been successful. Even such notable figures as Franklin D Roosevelt have taken an interest in the island, actually going there and searching for the treasure himself. Another drilling attempt similar to the ones mentioned previously was made and by another group of treasure hunters, and this time a scrap of paper was discovered. All that can be seen on the paper is the letters VI. This paper still exists today but nobody is sure what it means.
As the 19th century rolled on, a curse has been attributed to Oak Island due to the amount of deaths that have no occurred there. No fewer than 14 deaths are attributed to the island, although some were from sickness and not directly related to the money pit. The latest tragedy was by far the worst and occurred in 1965. Robert Restall was checking a shaft him and his son had dug on the island when suddenly he was overcome by poisonous fumes from some of the machines they were using in the pit. He passed out and fell in. His son, Robert Junior, saw his father fall and rushed to help him, at which point he too was overcome by fumes and fell to his death. Two workers saw what had happened and they to tried to help, unfortunately succumbing to the same tragedy.
Many theories have been thought up about the Oak Island treasure over the years. The original of course is pirate treasure, possibly attributed to Captain Kidd or Blackbeard himself. But it is quite a complex trap that would have taken a long time to construct for the pirates of the time, so other theories emerged. Some have suggested that Sir Frances Bacon was in fact really Shakespeare himself, and buried manuscripts under the island. The jewels of Marie Antoinette are another possibility, as are British imperial treasures. And of course, with it being such an elaborate and well designed trap, thoughts no doubt turn towards the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant and Freemason treasure troves.
There are some that believe there is no treasure at all, that it’s fairy story with very little documented proof. They explain away the water flooding in with talk of geography and underground rivers and cave networks. It’s certainly possible, but it’s not about what they believe…what do you believe?