There is an island in the North Atlantic Ocean, where people have been searching for treasure, for over 200 years. Oak Island, a 104-acre island located in Nova Scotia, Canada, looks remarkably like a baby elephant when viewed from the air, but allegedly does not appear on any of the early maps of the area created by renowned cartographer Samuel de Champlain. None of the small islands in the immediate vicinity of Oak Island are included on the charts, even though the depiction of the coastline appears to be meticulously done.
Is it possible that Oak Island and its neighbors were left out on purpose? This unlikely spot has been the topic of folklore and intrigue for more than two centuries.
As the story goes, it all began in 1795 when 16-year old Daniel McGinnis noticed some mysterious lights on Oak Island. He and two buddies, Anthony Vaughn and John Smith, later explored the area where he had seen the lights. They discovered a pulley system hanging from a tree in a cleared area. The legend continues that digging in the vicinity unearthed three treasure chests (nice that there was one for each of them!). Subsequent excavation of the “Money Pit” uncovered oak timber platforms at 10 ft depths. At 90 ft, a rectangular stone with strange markings carved into it was discovered. Removal of the so-called 90-ft stone triggered a booby trap that caused the Money Pit to flood with sea water. The theory is that there are box drains in Smith’s cove that connect to the Money Pit. Recent shallow digging in Smith’s cove has uncovered coconut fiber that dates back hundreds of years. Coconut fiber found offshore Nova Scotia, when the nearest coconuts are in Bermuda? Hmmm, that’s a tad askew.
Yes, this is all pretty sketchy and early accounts were more word-of-mouth than anything else. The news of the 1795 discovery spread quickly and by 1801 people were showing up on Oak Island to search for treasure. Word continued to spread, stories varied greatly (and still do), and more and more treasure hunters descended on Oak Island.
Among the notable “searchers” was a young Franklin D. Roosevelt, who visited the island years before becoming the 32nd President of the United States.
And so it went, decade after decade, with various individuals and companies searching for treasure on Oak Island. Six searchers have died in their quest. A creepy legend says that seven men will have to die before the treasure can be found.
But what was the source of the treasure? Early stories were that it was Captain Kidd’s treasure. An Oak Island lot owner was a Captain James Anderson, a privateer (legal pirate) who is also believed to have been a Freemason. No doubt that land ownership by a renowned pirate has fueled the fire that pirates’ treasure is buried on Oak Island. Other theories include treasures brought there by the Knights Templar, Marie Antoinette’s jewels, Shakespearean manuscripts, etc.
Another intriguing early lot owner was Samuel Ball, a former slave, who escaped slavery in South Carolina, fought for the British in the Revolutionary War, and was subsequently granted his freedom. Historical records show that Samuel Ball purchased a lot on Oak Island and was granted four additional acres, where he reportedly took up cabbage farming. Upon his death in 1846, he owned over 100 acres of land (including Hook Island) and was one of the wealthiest men in Nova Scotia. Hmmm, he must have been an extraordinary cabbage farmer to acquire that level of wealth. There were also rumors that he spent some Spanish coins on the mainland, spurring speculation that there were/are shallow caches of treasure buried on Oak Island.
Fast forward to the mid-20th Century.
In 1965, an article on Oak Island appeared in the Reader’s Digest, a very popular periodical in the US at that time. This article sparked the interest of many, including two brothers, Rick Lagina, only 11 years old at the time, and his younger brother Marty. Decades later, these brothers, along with their partners, would purchase a large portion of Oak Island and take up the search. Having spent millions of dollars over the last decade on digging and searching, their highs and lows over the last six years have been captured on “The Curse of Oak Island,” a weekly TV show aired in the US on the History Channel.
Aside from the unquenchable hope of solving the mystery and/or finding treasure, one of the more interesting aspects of the show is the combination of old-fashioned research and cutting-edge technology. Searchers spend time digging into historical records and manuscripts as well as drilling and digging in various parts of the island. Season six’s episodes have featured Seismic technology, LiDAR, drilling holes and examining cores, and constructing a large coffer dam in Smith’s Cove. Metal detection expert, Gary Drayton, is always nearby swinging his arm and looking for more “top pocket finds.” Watch the show online.
The actual location of the Money Pit was lost over 100 years ago and the island bears the scars of wanton digging across the centuries. Whenever a new discovery is made, the first, inevitable question is “Is it pre-searcher?” or “below searcher depth”—meaning, is it from the time before people were digging/searching all over the island for treasurer?
Some of the Lagina’s most interesting finds thus far include an iron cross, whose metallurgy indicates that it is not from North America but most likely Medieval, from the south of France. Also bone fragments from two individuals, dated from the 17th century, one European and the other of Middle-Eastern descent. They have also discovered small pieces of book binding and antique pottery in drilled holes. This is consistent with discoveries by earlier searchers, who found small pieces of pottery and a piece of sheepskin parchment with two letters in India ink, at significant depths.
So what does this all add up to other than millions of dollars spent searching for treasure and the deaths of seven searchers? Well, that’s the heart of the mystery; is there or is there not something unusual about Oak Island? Some say that it is all a well-orchestrated hoax and that the “facts” about Oak Island are more fiction than fact. But why on earth would someone go to all the trouble of building a box drain covered with coconut fiber in a small cove off a small, elephant-shaped island in Nova Scotia? It just doesn’t make any sense.
There are countless articles, books, blogs, etc. written about the island and the alleged treasure. It seems like more discoveries on Oak Island only lead to more questions. And so it goes.