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The Secrets of Oak Island

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Author Topic: The Secrets of Oak Island  (Read 345 times)
Christiana Hanaman
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« on: June 02, 2012, 12:35:54 am »



Figure 2. Offshore view of Oak Island showing site of Borehole 10X. The “Money Pit” lies just beyond.

A local fisherman responded to my proposal to walk over and talk to Mr. Blankenship, “He won't shoot you, but he will probably turn you back.” In fact, although Blankenship was at first stand-offish, having read a Canadian Press article about the “professional skeptic” who was heading to Oak Island (see Nickell 2000), I soon mollified him, and he graciously invited me to his home. I was there until nearly 11 p.m., being shown artifacts, photos, papers, and a video made by a camera lowered into a borehole-the fruits of almost thirty-five years of treasure hunting that had earned Blankenship the title of “Oak Island's most obsessive searcher" (O'Connor 1988, 145). The video reveals the interior of a “tunnel," graced with an apparent upright timber and what some imagine to be “chests,” a “scoop,” and other supposed artifacts. Blankenship (1999) told me he had located the site of the borehole by dowsing. The next day Jim Harvey took me on our prearranged boat trip, permitting me to view the remainder of the island (see figure 2).

The more I investigated the Oak Island enigma, the more skeptical I became. Others had preceded me in supplying what I came to regard as the two main pieces of the puzzle, although apparently no one had successfully fitted the pieces together. One concerned the nature of the “money pit” itself, the other the source of certain elements in the treasure saga, such as the reputed cryptogram-bearing stone.
Man-made or Natural?

Doubts begin with the reported discovery in 1795 of the treasure shaft itself. While some accounts say that the trio of youths spied an old ship's pulley hanging from a branch over a depression in the ground (Harris 1958, 6-8), that is “likely an apocryphal detail added to the story later” and based on the assumption that some sort of lowering device would have been necessary in depositing the treasure (O'Connor 1988, 4). Nevertheless some authors are remarkably specific about the features, one noting that the “old tackle block” was attached to “a large forked branch” of an oak “by means of a treenail connecting the fork in a small triangle" (Crooker 1978, 17). Another account (cited in Finnan 1997, 28) further claims there were “strange markings” carved on the tree. On the other hand, perhaps realizing that pirates or other treasure hoarders would have been unlikely to betray their secret work by leaving such an obvious indicator in place, some versions of the tale agree that the limb “had been sawed off” but that “the stump showed evidence of ropes and tackle” (Randle 1995, 75).

Similarly, the notion that there was a log platform at each ten-foot interval of the pit for a total of nine or eleven platforms, is only supported by later accounts, and those appear to have been derived by picking and choosing from earlier ones so as to create a composite version of the layers. For example the account in the Colonist (1864) mentions that the original treasure hunters found only flagstones at two feet ("evidently not formed there by nature") and “a tier of oak logs” located “ten feet lower down” (i.e., at twelve feet). They continued some “fifteen feet farther down,” whereupon-with no mention of anything further of note-they decided to stop until they could obtain assistance. James McNutt, who was a member of a group of treasure hunters working on Oak Island in 1863, described a different arrangement of layers (Crooker 1978, 24).

In 1911 an engineer, Captain Henry L. Bowdoin, who had done extensive borings on the island, concluded that the treasure was imaginary. He questioned the authenticity of various alleged findings (such as the cipher stone and piece of gold chain), and attributed the rest to natural phenomena (Bowdoin 1911). Subsequent skeptics have proposed that the legendary Money Pit was nothing more than a sinkhole caused by the ground settling over a void in the underlying rock (Atlantic 1965). The strata beneath Oak Island are basically limestone and anhydrite (Crooker 1978, 85; Blankenship 1999), which are associated with the formation of solution caverns and salt domes (Cavern 1960; Salt Dome 1960). The surface above caverns, as well as over faults and fissures, may be characterized by sinkholes.

Indeed, a sinkhole actually appeared on Oak Island in 1878. A woman named Sophia Sellers was plowing when the earth suddenly sank beneath her oxen. Ever afterward known as the “Cave-in Pit,” it was located just over a hundred yards east of the Money Pit and directly above the “flood tunnel” (O'Connor 1988, 51).

Geologist E. Rudolph Faribault found “numerous” sinkholes on the mainland opposite Oak Island, and in a geological report of 1911 concluded there was “strong evidence” to indicate that the purported artificial structures on the island were “really but natural sink holes and cavities.” Further evidence of caverns in the area came in 1975 when a sewage-disposal system was being established on the mainland. Approximately 3,000 feet north of the island, workmen excavating with heavy machinery broke through a rock layer and discovered a 52-foot-deep cavern below (Crooker 1993, 144). Fred Nolan insists that, earlier, in 1969, while drilling on Oak Island, Triton broke into a cavern near the fabled treasure shaft at a depth of 165 feet. “Blankenship and Tobias figured that the cavern was man-made,” said Nolan, “but it isn't, as far as I'm concerned” (Crooker 1993, 165). And Mark Finnan (1997, 111), writing of “the unique geological nature of Oak Island,” states as a fact that “naturally formed underground caverns are present in the island's bedrock.” These would account for the flood “booby-traps” that were supposedly placed to guard the “treasure” (Preston 1988, 63).

Today, of course, after two centuries of excavation, the island's east end is “honey combed with shafts, tunnels and drill holes running in every imaginable direction” (Crooker 1978, 190), complicating the subterranean picture and making it difficult to determine the nature of the original pit. In suggesting that it was a sinkhole, caused by the slumping of debris in a fault, one writer noted that “this filling would be softer than the surrounding ground, and give the impression that it had been dug up before" (Atlantic 1965). Fallen trees could have sunk into the pit with its collapse, or “blowdowns” could periodically have washed into the depression (Preston 1988, 63), later giving the appearance of “platforms” of rotten logs.

Just such a pit was in fact discovered in 1949 on the shore of Mahone Bay, about five miles to the south of Oak Island, when workmen were digging a well. The particular site was chosen because the earth was rather soft there. Reports O'Connor (1988, 172-173): “At about two feet down a layer of fieldstone was struck. Then logs of spruce and oak were unearthed at irregular intervals, and some of the wood was charred. The immediate suspicion was that another Money Pit had been found.”

The treasure seekers and mystery mongers are quick, however, to dismiss any thoughts that the “shaft” and “tunnels” could be nothing more than a sinkhole and natural channels. Why, the early accounts would then have to be “either gross exaggerations or outright lies,” says one writer (O'Connor 1988, 173). For example, what about the reported “pick marks found in the walls of the pit" (O'Connor 1988, 173)? We have already seen-with the oak-limb-and-pulley detail-just how undependable are such story elements. Then what about the artifacts (such as the fragment of parchment) or the coconut fiber (often carried on ships as dunnage, used to protect cargo) found at various depths? Again, the sinkhole theory would explain how such items “worked their way into deep caverns under the island” (Preston 1988, 63).
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