This originally appeared on Ms. Jodi Lee’s blog, but for those of you who missed Oak Island Money Pit Mystery then, here it is once more.
Oak Island Money Pit Mystery
While Dad and Mom told me the Maritimes were rich in history and folklore, I never really learned any of the stories until I moved here about five years ago. The Money Pit of Oak Island, located in Mahone Bay off the southern shore of Nova Scotia, is one of those Maritimes’ locations rich in folklore and a strange, sketchy history.
The fable of the pit’s discovery goes as such: A young man by the name of Daniel McGinnis was walking through the oaks one day, when he came across an oak with a block and tackle dangling from a sturdy branch. Beneath the block and tackle, he found a round indentation in the earth, indicating someone had dug up the ground in this spot before. With two friends, Daniel set to work digging up the earth within this depression.
Just below the surface, the young men found flagstones blocking their excavation. Daniel and his small crew set about removing these and went back to digging. At ten feet, they found a layer of oak logs jammed into the walls of the pit. They continued to find these log layers at ten foot intervals, as the pit grew into a deep shaft with no end in sight. The young men soon realized they would require more than a three man crew and some picks to uncover what waited below. Abandoning their excavation, they sailed back to the mainland, promising they would return when they had the funds and manpower.
Eight years after his 1795 discovery, Daniel McGinnis is said to have returned to Oak Island with his three friends. This time, they accompanied The Onslow Company, according to some accounts as hired hands, according to others as part of the company. This excavation would unearth more layers of logs, as well as a layer of charcoal at forty feet, a layer of putty at fifty feet, and a layer of coconut fiber at sixty feet. At ninety feet, they uncovered a cryptic stone, not native to Nova Scotia, that served to heighten the mystery surrounding this strange pit. However, the pit would flood not long after discovery of this stone, and the company was forced to leave the island none the richer, when their efforts at bailing the water from the pit proved fruitless.
The symbols on the stone were eventually cracked and translated. The stone cipher is purported to read: “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.” However, the cipher stone, much like the Oak Island Money Pit, is shrouded in mystery. No one really knows what happened to the stone, although the symbols are recorded, in part, in a book by Edward Rowe Snow, entitled True Tales of Buried Treasure. Some accounts say one of the young men involved in the initial discovery of the pit, a John Smith, took the stone and used it as a back for his fireplace. Other reports say the stone now resides in front of a Halifax book binding shop, used as a doorstep. The symbols inscribed on the stone are recorded in full in the Nova Scotia Archives. This full inscription was sent to author Barry Fell, and he revealed a different translation behind the symbols. He found the symbols resembled those used by an early sect of Christians called the Copts, and he translated the message as a religious one, saying “the people needed to remember their god, or else they would perish.”
For over 200 years, treasure seekers have journeyed to Oak Island, seeking the mystery buried in the elusive money pit. Fortunes have been squandered, and six lives have been lost in this quest to find what lies at the bottom of the Oak Island Money Pit. Digs continue to this day, but, after December 31, 2010 the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources/Tourism, Culture and Heritage will repeal the Treasure Trove Act, replacing it with the Oak Island Act. It is speculated this act will end all treasure hunting for commercial purposes on the island.
Theories abound about Oak Island and what lies at the bottom of the money pit. Some believe the pit is not a manmade structure at all, but rather a natural sinkhole connected to underground caves, as the island does lie on a glacial tumulus system. In 1995, the only scientific study of the pit was conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. They concluded the flooding of the pit, purported by theorist to be the result of elaborate, man-made flood tunnels, was a natural occurrence resulting from an interaction between the island freshwater reservoir and tidal pressures in the geologic structure beneath. However, photos taken via underwater camera, and man-made artifacts found on the island, make treasure seekers question the natural phenomenon theory. Although, these artifacts could have been left by prior treasure seekers over the years, and, according to some skeptics, the photos taken underwater remain inconclusive.
The purported treasure has been speculated to be everything from the French crown jewels, to Sir Francis Bacon’s buried manuscripts, to a vast booty hidden by Captain Kidd. Many of the theories lack proper records and archival research to be supported, and many rely on folklore and circumstantial evidence to support their hypothesis, but they are fun to entertain nonetheless. The theory Marie Antoinette sent a portion of the French crown jewels to be hidden in the pit on Oak Island goes like so:
Marie gave some of the precious collection to a lady-in-waiting, who fled when the Palace of Versailles was overtaken by revolutionaries. It’s speculated the lady-in-waiting fled to London, with the help of French officers still under the queen’s service. From there, the story takes her to Nova Scotia, with the jewels hidden on her personage, perhaps sewn in her skirts or secreted in her luggage. Here, on the small island, the theory goes that soldiers could have constructed the pit and stored the precious loot. Since this would have occurred in approximately 1789 or just after, the soldiers would have had no more than five years to construct the elaborate pit and alleged flood tunnels. With 16th century technology, that would have been an incredible feat, but there is some evidence to suggest the pit’s structure could be French, and it resembles a naval style.
There is some interesting circumstantial evidence to show Sir Francis Bacon could have hidden manuscripts in the Oak Island pit, and some theorize these manuscripts would reveal Bacon as Shakespeare. Bacon was granted land in Newfoundland in 1610 by King James I, and he did have the knowledge to preserve manuscripts using mercury. A discovery of flasks containing mercury, along with some parchment inside the pit, does lend a shred of credence to this theory. Bacon also would have had the contacts necessary to travel to the island and construct such an elaborate pit to hide his valuable works.
Based on an account from a dying sailor who claimed to be part of Captain Kidd’s crew, a theory the Oak Island Money Pit held booty stashed by the famous pirate was born. It is said the dying sailor told a witness Captain Kidd buried a sizeable treasure stash on an island “east of Boston.” But the sailor did not give an exact location before he died, and skeptics who refute this theory say Captain Kidd did not spend enough time near Nova Scotia to build such an elaborate pit and booby trap system.
The island is also steeped in spooky folklore. Hounds with fiery eyes are said to roam the island, guarding it and possibly its treasure. Orbs and other strange apparitions have been spotted, and a spirit who comes in the shape of a crow is also whispered about. The Natives say that the treasure will be found when seven people have died and no oak trees remain standing on the island. As of 2010, no oaks remain on the island, and one more treasure hunter’s death would fulfill the grim requirements of the legend.
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