Metal Detecting UK Home > Pirate Treasure - Hidden Plunder > Oak Island - The mysterious money pit
Oak Island - The Mysterious Money Pit
Oak Island ( 44�31′00″N, 64�17′57″W) is a 140 acre (570,000 m�) 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.
The Money Pit
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. The island is privately owned and advance permission is required for any visitation.
Mid-19th century newspaper stories recount that in 1795, young Donald Daniel McInnis discovered a circular depression on the south eastern end of the island with an adjacent tree which had a tackle block on one of its overhanging branches. McInnis, with the help of friends John Smith 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).
About eight years later, according to the original nineteenth century article, another company examined what was to become known as the Money Pit. The Onslow Company sailed 300 nautical miles 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, a newspaper article called 'The Oak Island Diggings' from the Liverpool Transcript (Oct 1862) at 80 or 90 feet (27 m) they recovered a large stone bearing an inscription of symbols. 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.
One account states they recovered three small gold links of a chain from mud stuck to the drill. They attempted to prevent the pit from flooding by damming Smith's Cove, and later by excavating a shaft into what was believed to be a flood tunnel from the sea to block it and prevent the pit from filling with water.
The original 18th Century story of the pit's discovery along with the mid-19th century newspaper accounts are based on unverified folklore and may be entirely false. The earliest published description of the Money Pit is a news article in the Liverpool Transcript newspaper in October 1862. This included an oral account of the early years of excavation attempts as told by at least one digger. No supporting material or evidence has surfaced ever since and the story has been impossible to verify. Several researchers have noted that artifacts like the inscribed stone and gold chain links could have been placed in the pit during expensive excavation operations for the purpose of attracting more investors.
The Money Pit was first mentioned in print by the Liverpool Transcript in October, 1856. More accounts followed in the Liverpool Transcript, the Novascotian newspaper and A History Of Lunenburg County *, but this last account was based on the earlier Liverpool Transcript articles and does not represent an independent source.
The next excavation attempt was made in 1861 by a new company called the Oak Island Association and apparently led to the collapse of the bottom of the shaft into a suspected void or booby trap underneath. The first fatality during excavations occurred when the boiler of a pumping engine burst. 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. Franklin Roosevelt (later President of the United States) was part of the Old Gold Salvage group of 1909 and kept up with news and developments for most of his life. About six people have been killed in accidents during various excavations.
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 in recovering the putative treasure. Hedden collected books and articles on the island, and made six trips there. Wholly convinced that there was buried treasure on Oak Island, Mr. Hedden even ventured to England to converse with Harold Tom Wilkins, the author of Captain Kidd and His Skeleton Island. Gilbert believed he had found a link between Oak Island and a mysterious map in Wilkins' book.
The very wealthy Hedden then bought 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 England about developments on Oak Island.
The 1931 excavations by William Chappell sank a 163 foot shaft 12x14 feet to the southwest of what they believed was the site of the 1897 shaft, close to the original pit. At 127 feet, a number of artifacts, including an axe, anchor fluke, and 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 it is unlikely the pick belonged to the original party (if any) that created the hole, however, that is not known with certainty.
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. As a result, the location of the original shaft is no longer known by most, but not all researchers. 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. However, four workers died during this attempt, when they were overcome by fumes in the tunnel.
Around 1967, Daniel C. Blankenship and David Tobias formed Triton Alliance, Ltd. and bought most of the island. In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235 foot (72 m) shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. Cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below were said to have recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools, but the images were unclear and none of these claims have been confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed and the excavation was again abandoned. This shaft was later successfully re-dug to 181 feet, reaching bedrock; work was halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership.
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. Previously the story had only been known among locals, treasure hunting groups, and readers of sensational magazines and anthologies. The island has been loosely associated with the Freemasons and Templars, but none of this is proven.
During the 1990s, further exploration was stalled because of legal battles. 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.
It was announced in April 2006 that partners from Michigan purchased a 50% stake in Oak Island Tours Inc., for an undisclosed amount of money. The shares were previously owned by David Tobias, and the remaining shares are owned by Dan Blankenship. Center Road Developments, in conjunction with Allan Kostrzewa, a member of the 'Michigan Group', purchased Lot 25 from David Tobias for a reported $230,000 one year previously. Working closely with Dan Blankenship, the 'Michigan Group' has said they will resume operations on Oak Island in the hope of discovering buried treasure and the mystery of Oak Island.
Treasure hunters discovered coconut fibres beneath the surface of one beach called Smith's Cove (coconuts are not indigenous to Nova Scotia). This was discovered in 1850 and led to the theory that the beach had been converted into a giant 'sponge', feeding water from the ocean into the pit via a man made tunnel.
Coconut fibres were also used as shipping dunnage and some say that the fibres may have been discarded from cargo ships stopping at the island or sailing nearby. The purpose, of these fibers has been a source of heated debate among Oak Island researchers. But scientific analysis has confirmed it is indeed coconut fibre.
Oak Island lies on a glacial tumulus system and is underlain by a series of water-filled limestone cavities (Anhydrite) which could be responsible for the repeated flooding of the pit. Bedrock lies at a depth of 160- 180 feet in the Money Pit area. However, bedrock does not come to the surface at that end of the island.
Upon the invitation of Boston-area businessman David Mugar, a two-week survey was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1995, one of many scientific studies 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. Some scientists who viewed the videos taken in 1971 concluded that nothing of value could be determined from the murky images. However,other scientists confirmed that there were man made objects there.
There has been wide speculation about what the pit might contain. Most suggestions include treasure buried by either Captain Kidd, British troops during the American revolution, Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon, the Inca or even exiled Knights Templar hiding the Holy Grail in the pit. A theory published by Penn Leary in his The Oak Island enigma: A history and inquiry into the origin of the money pit from 1953, claims that English philosopher Francis Bacon used the pit to hide documents proving him to be the author of William Shakespeare's plays, a theory recently picked up on in the book Organisten (The Organ Player) by Norwegian Petter Amundsen and novelist Erlend Loe.
The notorious pirate Edward Teach (Blackbeard) claimed he buried his treasure 'where none but Satan and myself can find it,' leading to inevitable suggestions that he dug the pit, but there is no evidence to support this. The pit may contain nothing at all. Since the 1970s fewer people have believed the pit has any connection to pirates, due to the massive scale of the subterranean structure.
The cipher stone (which disappeared from the island in 1919) has been translated many times with multiple decoders to read 'Forty feet bellow lies two million pounds.' Even this has been argued to be a hoax despite its appearing in nearly all early accounts of the island. The stone existed, but whether or not the often noted decipher is correct remains in dispute. A cipher key and a coded message have been linked to Masonic vaults.
History or legend
The story of the Money Pit 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 or 'marks' existed other than Vaughan's memories. Indeed, it is noteworthy that almost all of the debris, lost tools and other items mentioned in the early accounts have not been found. But a Multibeam Bathymetry survey by Bedford Institute of Oceanography of Dartmouth Nova Scotia in the mid nineties indicates that there may be tailings off the eastern end of Oak Island. This speculation includes the two links from the gold chain, the inscribed stone, and even the tree itself. The piece of parchment does exist and is in the possession of Dan Blankenship along with a host of other objects.
Many elements contained in the Oak Island story, such as the discovery of tantalising but inconclusive objects and a message in indecipherable code, are common in fictional works on treasure and piracy (such as the Edgar Allan Poe story The Gold Bug). This has led many to conclude that the early account of the Money Pit is a romanticised combination of several works of nineteenth century fiction conflated with a local story about a search for buried treasure. It is interesting to note, all these popular stories came after the discovery of the Money Pit.
Oak Island in popular culture
- Several works of fiction have been based upon the Money Pit, including 'The Money Pit Mystery', Riptide and The Hand of Robin Squires.
- The television show Bones aired an episode called 'The Man With the Bone' on April 5, 2006, which featured a fictionalized version of the Oak Island pit moved to Assateague Island, Maryland.
- The television show In Search Of... hosted by Leonard Nimoy, aired an episode that investigated the Oak Island Money Pit with interviews and recreated footage, as well as footage of the actual location.
- The Soul series of video games features the character Voldo, who protects the treasures in an area called the Money Pit. The location of his stage in the Money Pit varied from game to game.
Nineteenth century sources
- 'Correspondence,' Liverpool Transcript, 15 August 1857. (The Transcript is available on microfilm, in the Vaughn Memorial Library of Acadia University.)
- 'The Oak Island Folly', the Novascotian, 29 August 1861. (The Novascotian is also available on microfilm, in the Vaughn Memorial Library of Acadia University.)
- 'Patrick,' the Novascotian, 30 September 1861.
- McCully, J.B., 'The Oak Island Diggings', Liverpool Transcript, October 1862
- 'A Member', 'A History of The Oak Island Enterprise,' 2, 7, and 14 January 1864
- Brisay, Des, A History Of Lunenburg County 1895
- Friends of Oak Island
- Unmuseum.org, diagrams of the excavation locations
- CBC Television 'Dan Blankenship, treasure seeker'
- CBC Television 'The Oak Island money pit: how it works'
- CBC Radio conversation 'Nova Scotia's own Treasure Island'
- CBC Radio conversation 'Engineer proposes freezing method to extract Oak Island treasure'
- Satellite image of Oak Island at Google Maps
- 'The Secrets of Oak Island', Joe Nickell, Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 2000.
- The Oak Island Tourism Society (Now defunct)
- A critical enquiry