The Oak Island Money Pit

Off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia, Canada lies Oak Island a tiny (140-acre) plot of land which has captured the imagination of adventurers for centuries. An excavation that has come to be known as the Money Pit lies near its easternmost point. At its bottom (wherever that might be) an alleged treasure possibly worth millions.

It began in the summer of 1795 when teenager Daniel McGinnis while exploring the island discovered a circular hollow in a forest clearing. Consumed with the idea of buried treasure (pirates were known to have frequented the area) he enlisted the help of two friends and they began digging. Soon exhausted, and finding nothing, they abandoned the dig having reached a depth of 35 feet (approximately 10 meters).

In 1804 the Onslow Company, a consortium of local business and professional men headed by Simeon lynds, Colonel Robert Archibald, Captain David Archibald and
Sheriff Tom Harris attempted to excavate the site. As workers began to dig they found themselves faced by layers of timber, charcoal, a sap-like sealant and coconut shells. At 90 feet they allegedly found a large (and now missing) stone with a strange inscripted code that was believed to read. “Forty Feet Below, Two Million Pounds Are Buried.”

Unfortunately at 98 feet the shaft filled with water bringing the dig to a halt. A second parallel shaft fared little better and the excavation was called off.

In 1849 the Truro Company tried to hold back the water with a cofferdam but failed. Using a mining auger to probe they did, however, find 3 links of gold chain, [1] small consolation for the amount of work. The company was disbanded in 1851. [2]

In 1861 the Oak Island Association was formed. Regrettably after some initial success it too fell by the wayside. A succession of floods, cave ins and an explosion that resulted in the pit's first fatality [3] taking their toll.

Several more attempts followed, some ending in tragedy, some running out of money, all proving fruitless.

Then in the 1890s the Oak Island Treasure Company entered the fray and over the years made a number of  discoveries. First, a piece of parchment with the letter V1 on it, [4] second, gold traces were found on equipment by drill operator William Chappell (who similar to Pitbladdo years earlier hid his discovery from fellow workers), and third, using dye, workers determined the location of various flood channels (but were unable to successfully divert or block them).

In 1897 Maynard Kaiser, an OITC worker, fell down a shaft to his death, the accident contributing to talk of malevolent spirits by several of his crewmmates.

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.

With the 20th century came a new slew of attempts, many dangerous, some tragic.

In 1931 Frederick Blair, previously a partner in the Oak Island Treasure Company, joined with Chappells Limited of  Sydney, Nova Scotia in a new venture, supposedly drawn in by William Chappell's revelation that he had found traces of gold on an auger during an earlier dig.

However, with more enthusiasm than solutions, success continued to evade them and the only things they recovered were an axe, a pick and the remains of an oil lamp. Operations ended after a year.

In August of 1965 an attempt to seal off the flow of water from Smiths Cove ended in disaster with the death by asphyxiation of motorcyclist and former daredevil Robert Restall, his son and two others.

Following Restall's death, investor and geologist Robert Dunfield, who had signed an agreement with Restall, assumed total control, constructed a causeway to the mainland and brought in a modern 70-ton digging crane which when put to work expanded the pit to 100 feet wide and 140 feet deep.

Unfortunately, infighting with the island's owner and crushing debt proved to much and in April of 1966 a frustrated Dunfield left the project and returned to California.

In 1969 the Triton Alliance gave it a try, only to be likewise unsuccessful.

In 2010 the Canadian government revisited the Treasure Trove Act (under the initial act of 1954 a license was granted to treasure seekers whereby 10 percent 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.

Impediments notwithstanding, the current owners of Oak Island Marty and Rick Lagina along with fellow islanders Dan and David Blankenship still search for the fabled treasure.

A number of theories have been put forth over the years concerning the legitimacy of the pit, who constructed it and why:

Pirates: Both Captain William Kidd and Edward “Blackbeard” Teach have been suggested as contenders, but it's unlikely that either they or any other 17th century pirate would have had the wherewithal or time to construct such a complex structure.

Hidden Plunder: It could be the burial site for treasure salvaged by the British from the wreck of the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion,
a Spanish galleon which sank north of Hispaniola after striking a reef in 1641.

Hidden Plunder 2: It could be the burial site for treasure from Fort Louisbourg, an attempt by the French to hide it from the British prior to the fort's surrender in 1758.

Hidden Plunder 3: It could be the burial site for treasure captured by the British following the fall of Havana in 1762.

The Knights Templar: A long shot but thought by some to be the hiding place for Templar treasure, spirited out of Europe to keep it from falling into the hands of Pope Clement V and the French king Philippe le Bel.

Natural Phenomenon: Also possible (some might argue probable) it's a natural sinkhole created by geological forces the artifacts and refuse brought in by storms or seepage.

[1] 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.

[2] As an interesting aside, 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.

[3] An alleged curse claims that seven will die before treasure is recovered {so far the body count stands at six).

[4] 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 feet. It's possible it was planted to inspire investment in the Oak Island Treasure Company which at the time was having difficulties with funding.

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