Lets warm up today with an unsolved mystery!
Oak Island is a 140-acre (57 ha) 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.
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. Several documented treasure recovery attempts ended in collapsed excavations and flooding. Critics argue that there is no treasure and that the pit is a natural phenomenon, likely a sinkhole.
There are many 19th-century accounts of Oak Island, but they are conflicting, not contemporary, and not impartial. Further, physical evidence from the initial excavations is absent or has been lost. A basic summary of the claimed history of the pit is as follows:
In 1795, 16-year-old Daniel McGinnis discovered a circular depression in a clearing on the southeastern end of the island with an adjacent tree which had a tackle block on one of its overhanging branches. McGinnis, with the help of friends John Smith (in early accounts, Samuel Ball) 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).
This initial discovery and excavation was first briefly mentioned in print in the Liverpool Transcript in October, 1856. A more complete account followed in the Liverpool Transcript, the Novascotian, British Colonist, and A History Of Lunenburg County (however, the latter account was based on the earlier Liverpool Transcript articles and does not represent an independent source).
About eight years after the 1795 dig, according to the original articles and the memories of Vaughan, another company examined what was to become known as the Money Pit. The Onslow Company sailed 300 nautical miles (560 km) 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, at 80 or 90 feet (27 m), they recovered a large stone bearing an inscription of symbols. Several researchers are said to have attempted to decipher the symbols. One translated them as saying: “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” No photographs, drawings, or other images of the stone are known to have been produced prior to its claimed disappearance circa 1912. The symbols currently associated with the “forty feet down…” translation and seen in many books first appeared in True Tales of Buried Treasure, written by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow in 1951. In this book he claims he was given this set of symbols by Reverend A.T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nothing more is known about Kempton’s involvement in the Oak Island tale.
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.
There has been wide-ranging speculation as to who originally dug the pit and what it might contain. Later accounts claim that oak platforms were discovered every 10 feet, but the earliest accounts simply say that “marks” of some type were found at these places. They also claim there were “tool marks” or pick scrapes on the walls on the money pit and that the dirt was noticeably loose and not as hard packed as the surrounding soil. One expedition claimed to have found the flood tunnel at 90 feet, and that it was lined with flat stones. However, Robert Dunfield (a trained geologist) wrote that he carefully examined the walls of the re-excavated pit and was unable to locate any evidence of this tunnel.
The cipher stone, which one researcher is said to have translated to read “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried”, was allegedly last seen in the early 20th century (exact dates are a topic of controversy). Some accounts state that Smith used it as a fireback in his fireplace, while others claim it was last seen as a doorstep in a Halifax bookbinder’s shop. The accuracy of the translation, whether the symbols as commonly depicted are accurate, or if they meant anything at all, remains disputed.
Man-made structures under Oak Island do in fact exist as discussed in many books, including a book written by Lee Lamb, daughter of Robert Restall. Whether these structures are the remains of prior excavation attempts or artifacts left behind by those who allegedly built the Money Pit are unknown. It is known that several documented post-1860 treasure recovery attempts, as described above, ended in collapsed excavations and flooding.
Some believe the pit holds a pirate treasure hoard buried by Captain Kidd or possibly Edward Teach (Blackbeard), who claimed he buried his treasure “where none but Satan and myself can find it.” Some also hold to the theory that Kidd conspired with Henry Every and Oak Island was used as a pseudo community bank between the two.
Others agree it was dug to hold treasure but believe this was done by someone other than pirates, such as Spanish sailors from a wrecked galleon or British troops during the American Revolution. John Godwin argued that, given the apparent size and complexity of the pit, it was likely dug by French army engineers hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg after it fell to the British during the Seven Years’ War.
Marie Antoinette’s jewels
There is a story that, like most others regarding the island, lacks adequate archival sources, or any quoted sources at all, which places the priceless jewels of Marie Antoinette (which are historically missing, save for some specimens in the collections of museums worldwide) on Oak Island. During the French Revolution, when the Palace of Versailles was stormed by revolutionaries in 1789, Marie Antoinette instructed her maid or a lady-in-waiting to take her prized possessions and flee. Supposedly, this maid fled to London with such royal items as Antoinette’s jewels and perhaps other treasures, such as important artwork or documents, secreted away either on her person (one variation suggests sewn into her underskirts in the case of the jewels, though fails to mention artwork) or as her luggage; it is even said she was perhaps assisted by the remaining officers of the French navy during the uprising at the queen’s behest.
The story then goes on to say that this woman fled further afield from London to Nova Scotia; through the royal connections she would have had during her service to the queen at Versailles, she managed to contract the French navy to help construct the famed ‘pit’ on the island. This theory, as noted, lacks recognized documentation other than that which is folkloric in nature, involves the French navy, which, during the Revolution had an uncertain level of authority, and would place the construction of the Oak Island structure very close to its initial discovery by Daniel McGinnis in 1795. Whether such a complex engineering effort could have been completed in that small space of time is questionable, though no official date of its construction exists. However, other theories do suggest the structure is French and naval in style.
Still others have speculated that the Oak Island pit was dug to hold treasure much more exotic than gold or silver. In his 1953 book, The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit, Penn Leary claimed 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 used in the Norwegian book Organisten (The Organ Player) by Erlend Loe and Petter Amundsen. It has been asserted that the pit might have been dug by exiled Knights Templar and that it is the last resting place of the Holy Grail.
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