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Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Curse Of Oak Island

There is a reality TV program on History channel called The Curse of Oak Island. If you've never heard of Oak Island you might want to read this first.

Oak Island is a 140 acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, in the Mahone Bay. "Mahone" is from the French word Mahonne meaning "barge". It has two hills and an intersecting swampland.

The tree-covered island is one of about 360 small islands. The Atlantic waters from Brazil to Newfoundland teemed with pirates seeking treasure in the 1600's-1700's. Mahone Bay was a pirate haven.

In 1795, 18 year old Daniel McGinnis noticed lights coming form Oak Island. He went to check it out and discovered a circular depression in a clearing on the southeastern end of the island. Undoubtedly knowing the history of pirates in the area, he became excited. Adjacent to the clearing was a tree with a tackle block on one of its overhanging branches. He and two friends, John Smith and Anthony Vaughn, decided to dig and see what was in the pit. After a few feet of digging, they found a layer of flagstone. At 10' they discovered a platform of oak logs. At 20 feet they came upon another layer of oak logs. At 30 feet, they hit another layer of logs. This is where they decided to stop digging and abandoned the site. But they never forgot it either. That pit would become known as the Money Pit.

John Smith's family owned Lot #19. Smith was born on 8/20/1775 and he died on on Oak Island on 9/29/1857. His family moved onto Oak Island when he was about 11 yrs old. On 6/26/1795, John Smith purchased Lot #18 which contained the Money Pit. Eventually he would build a house there and purchase lots 15-17, 19-20 making him the sole owner of the eastern end of the island. Anthony Vaughn's father had 200 acres on the mainland and Anthony's brother, Daniel, acquired Lots 13-14

There is a tale that there were lights seen on Oak Island. Some men rowed out to check and they saw pirates in the light of some bonfires. Two of the men went on to Oak Island and were never seen or heard from again.

After 8 years, the 3 young men found a financial backer in Simeon Lynds from Truro. He formed the Onslow Company to try excavating it. Colonel Archibald was the director of operations and they had about 2 dozen backers. Archibald was a surveyor. They started work in the summer of 1803.

They were able to dig to 98 feet. At every 10 feet they would find another layer of oak logs. The flagstones and the walls of the pit showed signs of tools being used. At the 40' level those logs were covered with putty, so much that they were able to use it to glaze windows in 20 homes on the mainland. At the 50 foot level the oak logs had a layer of charcoal on top of them. At the 60 foot level they found coconut fiber on top of the logs, the rind of a coconut and manilla grass. At the 70 foot level they found another layer of putty. At the 80 or 90 foot level they found a 3' stone engraved with mystical looking figures. It was found face down. But here is where they ran into trouble. At 90' the bottom began to ooze water and get soggy. At 93'  they had to begin bailing. They stopped at 98' one night. The next morning they found the pit was filled with water. The next summer they attempted to dig an adjacent pit with the intent of boring farther down than the Money Pit then tunneling laterally to the Money Pit. But this pit filled with water at the 110' level. They gave up.

The engraved stone that was found was an enigma.

Since Smith was in the process of building his house on Oak Island, he used the stone in the making of his fireplace. As the news traveled about Oak Island and the Money Pit, hundreds would visit the island and want to see the stone. John Smith would let them come into his house to see the stone in the fireplace. Supposedly the stone was removed from the old fireplace in 1865 by A.O. Creighton, treasurer of a newly formed treasure hunting group. He took it to Halifax and displayed it at his business, A. and H. Creighton Bookbinders. It later became Creighton and Marshall and finally into Phillips and Marshall. They used the stone for a beating stone and weight and eventually the engraving was lost. The business closed in 1919 and the stone was lost. in True Tales of Buried Treasure, written by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow in 1951. In this book he states he was given this set of symbols by Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Mass. This is a weak point. How did Rev. Kempton know the symbols? He could not have recalled the symbols in 1951 as they were illegible way before the 1919 closing of the business. Were they written down or a rubbing taken some time before they became illegible?

In 1849, the Truro Company formed and re-excavated the pit. They got to 86' before it filled with water. This time they decided to do some hole boring. They bored 5 holes in the bottom of the pit using a pod auger. They drilled to 112 feet. At the 98' level they struck the log barrier that they had reached in 1803. This time the logs were spruce five inches thick. Twelve inches later they came through 4" of oak. Directly after the oak, they were drilling through small metal pieces for 20" and then back to the 4" of oak and finally 6" of spruce. Were these oak chests filled with gold sitting in a vault of spruce?

The mining engineer-foreman, James Pitblado, was carefully going through the material brought up by the auger. At one point, someone saw him take something, wash it off, look at it, and pocket it. When challenged he denied it but refused to empty his pockets. He left the island immediately and tried to get a license to dig on Oak Island. Pitblado is said to have died in a gold mine or railway construction accident in 1850 but is not confirmed. Meanwhile the Truro Co. also tried sinking a shaft 10' from the Money Pit with the intent of reaching the vault and casks by lateral tunneling.. But water burst through at 109'.

Both the 1804 and the 1850 attempts to bore down and then tunnel laterally to the Money Pit had failed to encounter water until they were attempting to tunnel to the Money Pit. Both shafts were close to the Money Pit and through the same extremely hard clay. So why did they not have the water problem until the attempt to attach to the Money Pit? They also noted that the water was salt water meaning it did not come from some underground spring which would be fresh water.

They began to look at Smith Cove. With a little digging they found that Smith Cove was an artificial beach! Just below the sand and gravel rock, they found 2 inches of coconut fiber for 145' of the shore between the low and high water mark. Below the coconut fiber was 6" of eel grass. Below that was a dense layer of gravel without sand. So they built a coffer dam and drained Smith Cove. The original clay had been removed and filled with beach stone. They found 5 well built box drains made of stones below the gravel layer.

Smith's Cove on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada

They realized that these drainage boxes converged into a tunnel that ended at the Money Pit. It seemed a booby trap had been made. Whenever a digger reached that level, the side of the pit would weaken and burst, allowing the water to flood the Money Pit. But this invaluable discovery did not

draw investors and they Truro Company had to give up due to lack of money.

John Smith conveyed his property to his two sons, Joseph and Thomas. They conveyed it to Henry Stevens who conveyed it to Anthony Graves. It was said that Graves often used Spanish gold coins to pay for supplies. In 1930, a silver Spanish coin was found on his property and again another was found in 1965 at the site of his house.

In 1861 a new company called the Oak Island Association took on the challenge which resulted in the collapse of the bottom of the shaft into either a natural cavern or booby trap underneath. It is thought that the chests or casks, filled with "metal pieces", fell into a natural cavern or another booby trap. There was also the first fatality when a steam engine burst and scalded a man to death.

They attempted to destroy the flood tunnel to stop the water from flowing into the Money Pit but whatever they tried did not work.

In 1866, the Oak Island Eldorado Company tried. Their plan was to build another coffer dam to reveal the box drains and therefore deprive the flood tunnel of water. But storms and high tides destroyed the coffer dam just as it had before. They tried drilling the Pit again. At the 90' level they set up a drill and at 110' they brought up spruce chips. At 128' they drilled through coconut fiber, chips of wood and charcoal. At 132' they brought up oak borings, chips of spruce or popular and coconut fiber. They drilled on to 163; with no further findings.

In 1878, Sophia Graves Sellars, daughter of Anthony Graves, was plowing with 2 oxen when suddenly the ground gave way sinking her oxen into a pit about 12' deep. They managed to get the oxen out. The Sellars refilled the sink hole with rock and top soil. But this became known as the Cave-In Pit. It was deduced that this was part of the flood tunnel on it's way from Smith Cove to the Money Pit.

In 1885, a bone or ivory boatswain's whistle was discovered below high tide at Smith's Cove. A few year's earlier someone had found a copper coin dated 1317. In 1893, Frederick Leander Blair formed the Oak Island Treasure Company. Anthony Graves had died in 1887 and he left his property to his daughters, Sophia and Henry Sellers and Rachel and Abraham Ernst. Blair leased the land for 3 yrs for $30,000 and the rights to 100% of anything found.

In 1894, they tried to shut off the water from Smith's Cove by excavating the Cave-In Pit to 52 feet. They found it a soft circular pit dug in the very hard clay. So hard it was impervious even to picks. At the 52' level they drilled a hole from the bottom an additional 16' without striking water. But the next day the water broke into the pit. They failed to shut off the water. The company was re-organized in 1895 and in 1896 they tried again. This time a second man was killed. On 3/26/1897, Maynard Kaiser was sent down in the shaft to recover a cask that had fallen in. He filled the cask, and then attempted to ride with it up the shaft. It was too heavy a load, The rope slipped off the pulley and he was killed in the fall. But, while excavating the Money Pit, they go to 111' and found a well defined 2 1/2' wide opening which they determined was the flood tunnel. Water was gushing. So they drilled 5 holes 15' apart and 80-95' deep about 50' from the high water mark of the shore of Smith's Cove. Only the 3rd hole struck water. It was sea water and it rose and fell with the tide. They loaded each hole with dynamite hoping to destroy the flood tunnel and stop the water flow. Nothing happened. So they loaded the 3rd hole with 160 lbs of dynamite. This time the water slowed and the water in the Money Pit and the Cave In Pit foamed and boiled indicating they had pinpointed the flood tunnel. From this, Blair figured that the water dropped through a vertical hole where the fan shaped drains converged directing the water to a catch basin about 75' below the beach. They figured the tunnel ran on a slight incline where the Cave-In Pit was and then back down to the Money Pit. But this didn't fit with all the facts. They went back to the Money Pit and were able to work with the help of pumps. From the 90' level they drilled down. At 126' they struct an iron obstruction. They shifted over and drilled again and slipped past the iron. At 153'8" they struck cement that was 7 1/2" thick and on top of 5" of solid oak. Then they were drilling through metal pieces again. They had such trouble getting through the metal pieces that they stopped and withdrew the drill. It brought with it oak chips, coconut fiber and a tiny shred of parchment that had handwriting on it.

This so excited them that their work continued. They drilled a 3rd hole about 160". They hit wood, cement and then iron at 171'. They were only able to pierce the iron 1/4" so they stopped. They ran a magnet over the material that came up and found iron filings.

They drilled 2 more holes and one appeared to intercept another flood tunnel that might have come from the south shore. After this they sank more and more shafts only to get flooded out. They did some experiments and found there were natural or man-made flood tunnels that ran to 3 different areas of the south shore. It seemed the original flood tunnel from Smith's Cove had been blocked. They gave it up in May, 1990.

In 1909, Franklin Delano Roosevelt got involved. He had become fascinated with Oak Island so he joined a treasure search group headed by Capt. Henry L. Bowdoin and called the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company. But their attempts brought up nothing new.

In 1931, Frederick Blair found an investor, Chappell's Limited of Syndey, Nova Scotia. William Chappell was one of the owners and he was joined by one of his sons, Melbourne, and a brother Renerick, and his nephew Claude. William Chappell had been in charge of the drill in 1897 when the parchment was found.

At this time, the abandoned works were in sad shape and Chappell and Blair could not agree on the exact spot of the original Money Pit. The put a large shaft 12'x14' and down 163'. They drilled an additional 12'. They laid underwater electrical cable from the mainland so they could have electricity to run a pump. This shaft didn't encounter any of the expected materials so they must have been at the wrong spot. But they did find part of an anchor at 120' (lost after Blair's death in 1951) and an axe head believed to be 250 yrs old.

"The question now is, where is the wood and treasure - metal in pieces - which dropped from 100 feet, the iron struck at 126 feet by drillers, the cement and wood drilled into between 153 and 157 feet, and the iron at 171 feet? ...It has been the theory of many connected with previous expeditions, that there was an open chamber below when the Money Pit collapsed years ago. There was certainly an open space of some description under that deposit, otherwise the result of the collapse would never have been so great a drop, if any collapse had occurred." -Frederick Blain

Bad weather, cave ins and pump problems caused them to stop in October, 1931. But Mel Chappell did discover a stone triangle that had been discovered by Capt Welling in 1897. It was near the high water mark in Smith's Cove.

In 1932 and 1933, 2 search parties attempted to locate the lost deposits without success.

In 1935, Gilbert D. Hedden of Chatham, New Jersey, purchased the east end of Oak Island from the heirs of Sophia Sellers and signed an agreement with Blair. In 1936 they opened the Chappell Shaft and retimbered it to the depth of 170' but found nothing. In 1937 they bore a new shaft beside the Chappell Shafit, and called the Hedden Shaft, to a depth of 124'6". They made it twice the size of the Chappell Shaft. In the bottom of the Hedden Shaft they drilled 15 holes 42 more feet. The only thing they found was oak from 1" to 2'6" at levels 148' and 157'. But Hedden had sunk $50,000 into the project and he was having financial problems. So he bowed out but he hired a professional surveyor in Charles Roper, his son and his assistant George Bates. Working with the known stone triangle, he found cone shaped stones that had drill holes in them scattered throughout the island.


These stones formed a Christian cross

Next, Erwin H. Hamilton, Associate Professor of Engineering at New York University, wanted to give Oak Island a try. He carried out a two-phase operation for the next 5 summers at the cost of $58,000. First he deepened the Hedden Shaft and laterally drilled 58 holes at various angles to locate the lost deposits. By now the exact location of the Money Pit had been lost for years. The second phase involved exploring, recribbing and mapping many of the shafts and tunnels of previous expeditions. But this contributed nothing to towards solving the mystery.

He tried deepening the Chappell Shaft to 176 feet where he struck a 24' thick layer of limestone bedrock. He drilled through this layer for 200' and brought up chips of oak. He was through with it in 1943 when WWII interrupted his expedition.

Mel Chappell acquired the Oak Island land and took over Blair's treasure trove license. He found George Greene from Texas who represented 5 large oil companies. Being a petroleum engineer, he thought he was bringing new skills to the problem. So in 1955 he tried cored drilling. He drilled 4 holes and reported finding platforms every 10' until they reached the 112' level. From there it dropped into some type of cavity. He pumped water into the cavity to see how large it was but the water disappeared.. Greene left and never returned.

Next, two brothers, William and Victor Harman, signed an agreement with Mel Chappell. They used drillers and brought up oak, spruce, coconut fiber and ship's calking from depths of 150' in the vicinity of the Money Pit.

In October, 1959, Robert Restall and his wife, Mildred, signed an agreement with Chappell. Robert and his wife were motorcycle stunt riders in the Globe of Death. It was a steel mesh sphere and they rode around the sphere at 65 mph barely missing each other. Robert and Mildred's children came along. Robert Restall, Jr. and Rickey. They basically camped and worked on it themselves. He worked on a shoe string. He explored and recribbed the Hedden and Chappell shafts and did some tunneling between 100' - 120' but found nothing. In 1964 he concentrated on Smith's Cove and dug shafts between the Cave-in Pit and the Money Pit. His second shaft was 27' on 8/17/1965 and he was running a gas powered pump on the surface. Somehow, Restall fell in the pit, overcome by carbon monoxide. Restall, Jr. saw his father fall. He called for help and started down the ladder. He, too, was overcome and fell into the water at the bottom of the pit. Karl Graeser, Restall's business partner ran up, looked down and saw them unconscious in the water at the bottom. He went down the ladder and a 16 year old worker, Cyril Hiltz, followed. Another worker, Andy Demont, followed and fell. They were also overcome with carbon monoxide. Some tourists happened to be there and one happened to be a fireman. He recognized carbon monoxide poisoning. He tied a rope around his waist and the others fed him down. He harnessed DeMont into the rope before he succumbed. They were both pulled out and resuscitated. After they drained the shaft, they brought up the 4 bodies.

Immediately following the Restall tragedy, Robert R. Dunfield, a petroleum geologist from California, took over the operation. He decided heaving earth moving equipment should be used. First he had a causeway built to get the heavy equipment to the island.

He considered it like open pit mining with seeping water. He bulldozed 12' feet of layer of surface soil from the Money Pit area. He also pushed tons of clay over the beach at Smith's Cove to try and cut off the flood tunnel. He also dug a trench at the south shore where he struck a refilled 8' round shaft. It was not cribbed and there was no record from previous expeditions so he felt it was part of the original project with what would be called the Money Pit.

During this time, the rock triangle was lost

He dug a 100' diameter shaft at the approximate site of the Money Pit and went 198' down. He ripped out old cribbing leaving only the Hedden Shaft undisturbed. They did sift the soil coming up and found some porcelain dish fragments from the 1700's. He also drilled into the cavern that was 40' deep before he hit bedrock. Next he attacked the Cave-In Pit and he excavated 100' wide and 108' down with nothing to show. But bad weather, breakdowns, cave-ins caused the project to lose money at a rate or $2,000/day and he called it off. He was out $131,000.

There were some other rocks found on Oak Island that seemed to have human shaping.

This rock is called the heart stone.

This stone is called the head stone because it has been shaped into a head. You can see the nose and chin on the right side.

The reality TV show called The Curse of Oak Island has already had season 1 and will begin season 2 in November on the History Channel. They are attempting to find the treasure.

There are also books and websites that can give you more information. I relied heavily on Oak Island Gold by William S. Crooker that I found at my local library. It was published in 1993 but it was an easy read and very interesting so I can recommend it.

These iron scissors were found on the island and are from the Spanish Exploration periods. How do they figure in along with the Spanish coins.

The questions are obvious:
Are these discoveries somehow natural or man made?
If man-made, who made them?
Why was this complex, labor intensive, time consuming project done?
Is there something stored down there?
If there is, what is the treasure?
What is so important that they booby trapped it?
Who was suppose to come back for it and how were they to reach the treasure? They had to have planned a way of retrieval.

Of course, pirate treasure is what everyone first think of because the 1600-1700's were the pirate heydays. But they were generally on the move, unskilled in engineering and probably undisciplined enough to have followed through something to this extent. Another thought is it may have been built by the Knight's Templar to hide their riches and the holy grail. Aliens are whispered to have done it. The original manuscripts for such well known writers as Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser may be hidden there.

One theory some people are accepting as the solution to the mystery is the possibility of a huge Viking longship having landed on Oak Island. At the time the waters were higher and the ship may have been beached. For some reason the crew couldn't un-beach it so it was left there. It would have taken at least 100 men to row a large ship like that. So maybe they died in a storm, of disease, or killed by native peoples and just didn't have the manpower to un-beach the ship and get back home. According to this theory, eventually a sink hole opened up and it tilted the ship vertically into the sink hole. So that the layers are the ribs of the ship, the coconut fiber was used in their seat pillows and for packing material. This is an interesting theory but I'm not convinced. I don't think it takes into account the flood tunnels, etc. And the largest longship discovered was a little over 100' long, were there any as long as this seems to be? And why would the excavators not have been able to figure it out considering all the shafts and drilling. Wouldn't something have clued them in that this was a ship?

The Dragon Harald Fairhair is the largest Viking longship to be built in modern times at 114 ft long and 27 ft wide.

1 comment:

JO said...

Great summary of the history of Oak Island! The coins look like the ones found by the Lagina brothers-is that so? Also, when the brothers found coconut fibers in the cove, it appeared to be "new" news to them. Such fibers were found many decades earlier. Really like the show and hoping they find something. Haven't the previous digs negatively manipulated the site? Hope you add more as the mystery deepens!

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