Story of Oak Island

Updated In Memory of Tony - R.I.P. Brother
Updated In Memory of Tony - R.I.P. Brother

Date: Late 1700s

Location: Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

Oak Island is noted as the location of the so called Money Pit and the site of over 200 years of treasure hunting. Repeated excavations have reported layers of apparently man-made artifacts as deep as 102', but ended in collapsed excavations and flooding. Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole. As the legend goes...

One summer day in 1795, Daniel McGinnis, then a teenager, was wandering about Oak Island, when he came across a curious circular depression in the ground. Standing over this depression was a tree whose branches had been cut in a way which looked like it had been used as a pulley. Having heard tales of pirates in the area he decided to return home to get friends and return later to investigate the hole.

Location of Oak Island
Location of Oak Island

Over the next few days McGinnis, along with friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughan, worked the hole. What they found amazed them. 2' below the surface they came across of layer of flagstones covering the pit. At 10' down they ran into a layer of oak logs spanning the pit. The same was found at 20' and 30' down. Not being able to continue alone from here, they went home, but with plans of returning to search more.

It took the trio 8 years, but they did return. Along with The Onslow Company, formed for the purpose of the search, they began digging again. They quickly got back to 30' point that had been reached 8 years ago. They continued diggint to 90', finding a layer of oak logs at every 10' interval. At 40' though, they encountered a layer of charcoal was found, at 50' a layer of putty, then at 60' a layer of coconut fiber.

A surprise awaited them at 90'though, one of the more puzzling finds: a stone inscribed with mysterious writing.

Inscribed Stone
Inscribed Stone

After pulling up the layer of oak at 90' and continuing on, water began to seep into the pit. By the next day the pit was filled with water up to the 33' level. Pumping didn't work, so the next year a new pit was dug parallel to the original down to 100'. From there a tunnel was run over to The Money Pit. Again the water flooded in and the search was abandoned for 45 years.

As it turns out, an ingenious booby trap had been sprung. The Onslow Company had inadvertently unplugged a 500'waterway that had been dug from the pit to nearby Smith's Cove by the pit's designers. As quickly as the water could be pumped out it was refilled by the sea. This however is only a small part of the intricate plan by the unknown designers to keep people away from the cache.

In 1849 the next company to attempt to extract the treasure, The Truro Company, was founded and the search began again. They quickly dug down to 86' only to be flooded. Deciding to try to figure out what was buried before attempting to extract it, Truro switched to drilling core samples. The drilling produced some positive results.

At 98' the drill went through a spruce platform. Then it encountered 4" of oak, and then 22" of what was characterized as metal in pieces. Followed by yet another 8" of oak, and another 22" of metal, 4" of oak and another layer of spruce. The conclusion was that they had drilled through 2 casks, or chests filled will coins. Upon pulling out the drill they found splinters of oak and strands of what looked like coconut husk.

One account of the drilling also mentions that 3 small gold links, as from a chain, were brought up. Unfortunately no one knows where they have gone. Inconsistencies in contemporary accounts range from gold links to no links to copper wire. There are also reports, albeit hearsay, that the story was a hoax planted to encourage investment in the Truro Company. The company was disbanded in 1851.

As a side note, it's part of the Oak Island legend that Truro Company foreman John Pitbladdo, James Pitblado in some accounts, was seen wiping a muddy object and placing it in his pocket before hastily departing the island. Apparently he later returned with a partner, Charles Dickson Archibald but left again after a bid to buy the pit was rejected. Archibald later retired to England, and Pitbladdo, long thought to have died early in an accident, is now known to have lived to the ripe old age of 81.

Interestingly, the earth encountered beneath the bottom spruce platform was loose indicating that the pit may have gone even deeper. A later group of excavators would find out how much deeper.

The Truro Company returned in 1850 with plans to dig another parallel hole and then tunnel over to the Money Pit. Just like before, as they tunneled over, water began to rush in. They brought in pumps to try to get rid of the water but it was impossible to keep the water out. During the pumping someone noticed that at Smith's Cove during low tide there was water coming out of the beach. This lead to an amazing discovery, the beach was artificial.

It turns out that the pit designers had created a drain system, spread over a 145' length of beach, in effect making it an artificial beach, which resembled the fingers of a hand. Each finger was a channel dug into the clay under the beach and lined by rocks. The channels were then filled with beach rocks, covered with several inches of eel grass, and then covered by several more inches of coconut fiber. The effect of this filtering system was that the channels remained clear of silt and sand while water was still allowed to flow along them. The fingers met at a point inland where they fed sea water into a sloping channel which eventually joined the Money Pit some 500' away. Later investigations showed this underground channel to have been 4' wide, 2½ high, lined with stone, and meeting the Money Pit between the depths of 95' to 110'.

To the Truro Company, the answer was now simple, just block off the water flow from the beach and dig out the treasure. Their first attempt was to build a cofferdam just off the beach at Smith's Cove, drain the water, and then dismantle the drain channels. Unfortunately a storm blew up and destroyed the dam before they could finish. An added note, the remains of an older dam were found when building the new one.

The next plan was to dig a pit 100' or so inland in the hopes of meeting with the water channel underground at which point they could plug the channel. This scheme too failed. And this was the last attempt by the Truro company to uncover the secrets of Oak Island.

The next attempt at securing the treasure was made in 1861, by the Oak Island Association. First they cleared out the Money Pit down to 88'. Then they ran a new hole to the east of the pit hoping to intercept the channel from the sea. The new shaft was dug out to 120' without hitting the channel and then abandoned.

A second shaft was run, this one to west, down to 118'. They then attempted to tunnel over to the Money Pit. Again the water started to enter this pit as well as the Money Pit. Bailing was attempted and appeared to work. And then flooded. The bottom fell out. Water rushed into the shafts and the bottom of the Money Pit dropped over 15'. Everything in the Money Pit had fallen farther down the hole. The big questions were why, and how far? Over the next several years different companies tried to crack the pit, but unsuccessfully. They dug more shafts, tried to fill in the drain on the beach, built a new dam, the dam that was destroyed by a storm, and drilled for more core samples. They met with little success.

In 1893 a man named Fred Blair, along with a group called The Oak Island Treasure Company began their search. Their first task was to investigate the Cave-in Pit. Discovered in 1878 about 350' east of the Money Pit, the cave-in pit appears to have been a shaft dug out by the designers of the Money Pit, perhaps as a ventilation shaft for the digging of the flood tunnel. It apparently intersected or closely passed the flood tunnel. While it was being cleared by the Treasure Company, it started to flood at a depth of 55' and was abandoned.

Over the next several years The Oak Island Treasure Company would dig more shafts, pump more water, and go nowhere. In 1897 they did manage to clear out the Money Pit down to 111' where they actually saw the entrance of the flood tunnel temporarily stopped up with rocks. However, the water worked its way through again and filled the pit.

The treasure company then decided that they would attempt to seal off the flow of water from Smith's Cove by dynamiting the flood tunnel. Five charges were set off in holes drilled near the flood tunnel. They didn't work. The water flowed into the Money Pit as rapidly as ever. At the same time a new set of core samples were drilled at the pit itself. The results were unanticipated.

At 126', wood was struck and then iron. This material is probably part of the material that fell during the crash of the Pit. On other drillings the wood was encountered at 122' and the iron was missed completely indicating that the material may be laying in a offhand way due to the fall.

Between 130' and 151' and also between 160' and 171', a blue clay was found which consisted of clay, sand, and water. This clay can be used to form a watertight seal and is probably the same putty, that was found at the 50' level of the Pit. The major find was in the gap between the putty layers. A cement vault was discovered. The vault itself was 7' high with 7" thick walls. Inside the vault the drill first struck wood, then a void several inches high and an unknown substance. Next a layer of soft metal was reached, then almost 3' of metal pieces, and then more soft metal. When the drill was brought back up another twist was added to the whole mystery. Attached to the auger was a small piece of sheepskin parchment with the letters vi, ui, or wi. Doubts have since surfaced as to the authenticity of the parchment, purportedly drilled up from a cement vault, which seems to have disappeared, at a depth of 153't. It's possible it was planted to inspire investment in the Oak Island Treasure Company which at the time was having difficulties with funding.

The Parchment
The Parchment

More convinced than ever that a great treasure was beneath the island, The Treasure Company began sinking more shafts in the attempts to get to the cement vault. They all met with failure due to flooding.

In May of 1899, yet another startling discovery was made. There was a second flood tunnel. This one was located in the South Shore Cove. The designers had been more ingenious and had done more work than previously thought. Though this find certainly strengthened the case that something valuable was buried below it didn't bring anyone closer to actually finding the treasure.

Blair and The Oak Island Treasure Company continued to sink new shafts and drill more core samples, but no progress was made and no new information obtained.

In 1909 the company transitioned into the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company, but still no luck, and that in spite of attracting the likes of 27 year old president to be, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Between 1900 and 1936 several attempts were made to obtain the treasure. All met with no success.

In 1936 Gilbert Hadden, in conjunction with Fred Blair, began a new exploration of the island. Hadden cleared some of the earlier shafts near the pit, and made plans for exploratory drilling the next summer. However, he made two revelations away from the pit.

The first was a fragment of a stone bearing inscriptions similar to those found on the inscribed stone discovered at the 90' level of the Money Pit. The second discovery was of several old timbers in Smith's Cove. These timbers seem to have been from the original designers, due to the fact that they were joined using wooden pins rather than metal. These timbers were only a small part of a much larger construction.

The next treasure hunter was Erwin Hamilton. He began his search in 1938 by clearing out previous shafts and doing some exploratory drilling. In 1939 during drilling two more discoveries were made. The first was the finding of rocks and gravel at 190'. According to Hamilton they were foreign and therefore placed there by someone. The second finding came after clearing out an earlier shaft down to 176'. At this point a layer of limestone was encountered and drilled through. The drilling brought up oak splinters. Apparently there was wood below the natural limestone.

In 1959 Bob Restall and his family began their attack on the island which ultimately proved tragic. His one discovery was made on the Smith's Cove beach while attempting to stop the drain system. He found a rock with 1704 inscribed on it. Though others believed it was prank left by a previous search team, Restall believed it was from the time of the original construction.

1704 Inscribed Rock
1704 Inscribed Rock

In 1965 tragedy struck. While excavating a shaft Bob passed out and fell into the water at the bottom. His son, Bobbie, attempted to rescue him as did two of the workers. All four apparently were overcome by some sort of gas, perhaps carbon monoxide from a generator, passed out and drowned.

Bob Dunfield was the next to take on the island. In 1965 he attempted to solve the problem with heavy machinery, bulldozers and cranes. He attempted to block the inflow of water at Smith's Cove, and may have succeeded. Then on the south side of the island a trench was dug in the hope of intercepting the other water tunnel and blocking it off. The flood tunnel wasn't found, but an unknown refilled shaft was found, possibly one dug by the designers of the pit. The shaft apparently went down to 45' and stopped, its purpose is unknown. Dunfield's other findings were based on drilling. It was determined that at 140' there was a 2' thick layer of limestone and then a 40' void. At the bottom of the void was bedrock. This information matched with a drilling done back in 1955. There seemed to a large, natural underground cavern, something apparently common with limestone around the world.

Daniel Blankenship, the current searcher, began his quest in 1965. In 1966 he dug out more of the original shaft found by Bob Dunfield in 1965. It turned out that the shaft did go beyond 45'. Blankenship found a hand wrought nail and a washer at 60'. At 90' he met a layer of rocks in stagnant water. He assumed this was part of the south water tunnel but couldn't explore further because the shaft could not be stopped from caving in.

A pair of wrought iron scissors were discovered in 1967 buried below the drains at Smith's Cove. It was determined that the scissors were Spanish American, probably made in Mexico, and they were up to 300 years old. Also found was a heart shaped stone.

Smith's Cove revealed more finds in 1970 to Triton Alliance, a group formed by Blankenship to continue the search. While Triton was building a new cofferdam they discovered the remains of what appeared to be the original builders' cofferdam. The findings included several logs 2' thick and up to 65' long. They were marked every 4' with Roman numerals carved in them and some contained wooden pins or nails. The wood has been carbon dated to 250 years ago.

The western end of the island has also revealed several items. Two wooden structures, along with wrought iron nails and metal straps were found at the western beach. 9' below the beach, a pair of leather shoes were unearthed.

The next major discoveries came in 1976 when Triton dug what is known as Borehole 10-X, a 237' tube of steel sunk 180' northeast of the Money Pit. During the digging several apparently artificial cavities were found down to 230'.

10-X Drilling
10-X Drilling

A camera lowered down to a bedrock cavity at 230' returned some amazing images. At first a severed hand could be seen floating in the water. Later three chests, and various tools could be made out. Finally a human body was detected.

After viewing these, the decision was made to send divers down for a look. Several attempts were made but strong current and poor visibility made it impossible to see anything. Soon after the hole itself collapsed and has not been reopened.

Blankenship and Triton still continue the quest.

The curse of Oak Island says that seven must die before the Island will give up its treasure, so far there have been six. The deaths are of course the most tragic bi-product of the Oak Island endeavors,

The Deaths this far are:

In fall of 1861, as the company struggled to drain the tunnel, a boiler exploded fatally scalding one operator and injuring several others.

Then in 1897, A rope snapped while pulling Maynard Kaiser out of the pit, he fell to his death, the accident contributing to talk of malevolent spirits by several of his crewmmates.

Tuesday, August 17, 1965. Robert Restall and his son had been working on digging a new shaft on one of the beaches. Sometime after 2:00 p.m., as Restall peered over the edge of the tunnel to inspect his work, he succumbed to noxious gas emanating from the pit. Restall then lost consciousness and fell into the watery shaft. When his son, Bobbie, witnessed this episode, he dashed in after his father only to be claimed by the toxic fumes as well. Unaware of what was unfolding, two nearby workers, Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz, also rushed in to help. Both suffered the same fate as the Restall men. At the close of this fateful day, Oak Island had claimed a total of six people since the mystery began.

Theories, Who constructed the puzzle on Oak Island?

Captain William Kidd - the notorious privateer. Legends abound about secret caches of treasure buried by Kidd and his crew. Periodically maps have popped up alleged to be Kidd's showing the location of his treasures. There are many tales of old men on their death beds claiming to have been part of Kidd's crews and having knowledge of hidden wealth. Some of these stories point toward Oak Island.

Francis Bacon - there is a raging debate regarding the possibility that Shakespeare's play were not written by him. Some claim that Shakespeare was not educated enough to write his plays and they must have been written by someone else. Some people believe this someone else is Francis Bacon. Since no original manuscripts of Shakespeare have ever been found, the theory goes that Bacon has buried them somewhere to be found some time at some time in the future. This is a fascinating subject by itself that we'll explore under its own topic in the future.

The French - some theorize that the French may have buried money on the island as a safeguard against loss during the many battles with the English over the colonization of the Americas.

The Vikings - there is some record of Viking visitation to the Americas. Though no one knows what would have been so important to hide that such a complicated hiding place was needed, they have been offered as possible builders.

Bands of pirates - Oak Island acted as a communal bank for pirates. Each group would dig tunnels off the Money Pit shaft and bury their treasure. To retrieve it they could dig down through untouched dirt to get their cache.

Stranded Spanish Galleon - it's possible that a Spanish Galleon returning with gold and jewels from Central or South America could have been forced off course. Badly damaged, then stopped at Oak Island, hid the treasure while repairing the ship, and limped home with plans to return later with a more sea-worthy ship to retrieve their cargo.

British during American revolution - similar to the French theory. The idea is that the British hid money on the island to prevent it from falling into the hands of the revolutionaries.

Inca or Maya treasure - during the conquering of the Americas by the Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, much of the wealth of the Incas and Mayas disappeared. Usually rumored to have been buried or sunken at the bottom of lakes, some researchers believe that it's possible that a group of Incas or Mayas, possible with the help of sympathetic Europeans, stole away with the wealth and buried on Oak Island out of the reach of the conquerors.

Money Pit Timeline:

1795 - Daniel McGinnis finds The Money Pit. McGinnis, John Smith, and Anthony Vaughan dig to 30' temporarily give up.

1803 - Onslow Company along with the 3 original finders begin excavation. They get down to 90' but are flooded out.

1804 - Onslow Company digs parallel pit to 110' put this too floods when they attempt to tunnel over the Money Pit.

1849 - The Truro Company begins digging. They drill through 2 casks filled with loose metal. Also recovered 3 gold chains links.

1850 - Subterranean waterway and artificial beach where found at Smith's Cove.

1861 - The Oak Island Association was formed.

1861 - First life claimed by Oak Island. A man was scalded to death by an exploding boiler.

1861 - The bottom literally fell out as the items that had been at 100' fell farther down to hole thanks to weakening of the pit by several cross tunnels.

1893 - Fred Blair and The Oak Island Treasure Company begin their investigations. Cave-in pit investigated.

1897 - Triangle rock formation was discovered.

1897 - Cement vault encountered and parchment was found during drilling.

1897 - Second life lost when Maynard Kaiser fell to his death while being pulled out of the pit.

1899 - The 2nd flood tunnel, The South Shore Tunnel, was discovered.

1909 - The Oak Island Treasure Company transitioned into the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company.

1936 - 2nd inscribed stone found and more evidence of original cofferdam found.

1965 - In one day Oak Island claimed four more lives: Bob and Bobbie Restall, Karl Grasser, and Cyril Hiltz.

1966 - A frustrated Dunfield left the project and returned to California.

2008 - Oak Island Tours Inc., Dan Blankenship and the Michigan Group, received the Treasure Trove License formerly owned by Oak Island Exploration Company in 2008. This is the paperwork necessary to move forward with their thorough exploration of Oak Island.

2010 - The Canadian government revised the Treasure Trove Act, under the initial act of 1954 a license was granted to treasure seekers whereby 10% of recovered wealth went to the provincial government, replacing it with the Oak Island Treasure Act and much higher taxes on items found. Since its enactment, the new act has discouraged many treasure seekers and inhibited activity on the once spirited island. However, in 2011 a new Oak Island Treasure Act invited the hunt to continue, with permission granted from the Minister of Natural Resources.

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