By Doug Crowell -Blockhouse Investigations - Nova Scotia
In the October 13th 1934 issue of the Toronto Star Weekly, a Canadian periodical published from 1910 until 1973, there appeared an article entitled, "Oak Island Mystery." This article was written by Frederick Griffin, recounting his experience while visiting Oak Island in Mahone Bay. He related the events of his visit and what he learned in talking with many of the locals and current treasure hunters. Here is the original article:
Oak Island Mystery
"What is the secret buried deep in back of Smith's Cove on the east edge of this mile-long island in Mahone Bay? What, actually, is the mystery that has baffled generations of treasure seekers?"
A CHURN drill has this year bored nearly a score of holes around the "money pit" on Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. As I write, the umpteenth expedition in the last 149 years to see treasure there pauses with disappointment. The island still guards its secrets. The tide rises and falls with mysterious mocking inconsequence. What is the secret buried deep in back of Smith's Cove on the east edge of this mile-long island in Mahone Bay? What, actually, is the mystery that has baffled generations of treasure seekers? Is it a pirate hoard of old-time implications? Doubloons, pieces of eight, bullion, gold of the Incas, jewels of Peru, spoils of the Spanish Main, loot of caravels ravaged by sea gangsters sailing under the black flag of piracy?
Did Captain Kidd, credited with fabulous exploits, or some other big league buccaneer, actually dig down deep to hide a king's ransom? If so, why did this ocean Dillinger dig so deep a cache? Why did he construct a veritable catacomb? Why did he not scratch a hole by the light o' the moon, so many steps this way, so many paces that, in traditional story book fashion, stick his iron-bound chests down and then draw a map of the place in faded ink or blood, all covered with cryptic references?
Why did he excavate mightily for at least a hundred feet, building a series of sturdy oak and spruce platforms each ten feet up as he filled in the big hole? Why did he, further, excavate tunnels whereby the sea might surge inland - underground - and flood his safety deposit box?
Yo, ho, ho and a whole barrel of rum, but this thing seems beyond the powers of a seventeenth-century sea dog. Why should he dig down deep, apparently to bed rock, as if he were going to build a skyscraper or a pyramid?
Incidentally, as every schoolboy now knows, Captain Kidd was not the great ruffian of myth, but was hanged as the fall guy in some political intrigue. Cross out Kidd, Morgan, Blackbeard, and other knights of the Jolly Roger. What then?
If this treasure was not left by a buccaneer - if truly, there is no treasure - by whom, before the memory of the first Nova Scotian, was this Oak Island engineering done?
That is the mystery of the place which it would be worth while solving. It is a mystery to which a man might well devote his money and his life - as men have devoted themselves to digging up dinosaurs in Alberta, or the Gobi desert or excavating tombs in Egypt or scratching for buried cities of Sumeria or the skulls of paleolithic man. What of history lies buried back of the shore of Oak Island? Was it here the Norsemen made a cache before Columbus came or the Mayflower landed? Did the ancient Irish erect here a subterranean retreat?
Or, more startling thought still - any why not? - was Oak Island the outer fringe of a lost Atlantis?
I have just come back from hearing the man in charge of the present digging expedition suggest that the treasure there, which he does not doubt, either came from an ancient monastery of St. Andrews, Scotland, or was placed there in times long past by the Aztecs. The Aztecs, no les. And why not again?
Lure of Treasure
If I were a millionaire I could imagine no more fascinating idea than to seek to solve the secret of Oak Island, not to earn dividends from some treasure chest of the ancients, but possibly to dig up something more wonderful than coins or gems. History! Human knowledge! I would hire the kind of engineers who build big hydro plants, put up coffer dams or breastworks to keep back that old debbil sea which has beaten a score of treasure-hunting groups in the past and then have them excavate until they found, once and for all, the secret of Oak island.
Even if they found that the whole thing was a joke - that shrewd Nova Scotians of a hundred-odd years ago had planted come-on hints of buried riches to lure the first tourists and money-spenders to these fair shores - I would still think that my cash had been well spent.
Some people calculate exaggeratedly that up to a million dollars has already been spent by treasure hunters digging holes on Oak Island - only to be driven back by the waters of the ocean which pour in through the mystery tunnels, already referred to. Again, who built these tunnels and why? - on this otherwise not very remarkable island, on e of 365 islands, an island for every day of the year, which dot with beauty this beautiful Mahone Bay which lies between Halifax and Lunenburg and of which the lovely town of Chester is the central point of habitation.
By the way, you don't find any of the Chester natives digging for mystery treasure on Oak Island. They leave that to outlanders who spend welcome money in Chester. This year's expedition came, it is said, from British Columbia. On my recent visit to the island, I saw evidences of their faith and work this summer. A drill, described to me as a churn drill, a tall affair which gave the place an oil field look, had, up to that time, bored some seventeen holes in the vicinity of the "money pit" without, I was told, finding as much gold as you would find on a crowned tooth.
Thar's gold in them thar hills of British Columbia, they say - why you can pan it in streams there - but I talked to a man who had come all the way from Victoria, B.C., to bore for mythical riches on Oak Island.
I did not blame him, for the island lures with question marks. As you approach Smith's Cove by heaving motor boat from Chester, with Still Smith at the helm predicting a storm and the need of hurry, you feel as if this might inded be a Treasure Island. an island of the south, it seems, soft, mystic, tropical. You would not be surprised to see in the offing the ghost of a long, low, rakish craft flying the skull and cross-bones - and, on the low spit of shore, to come on a bunch of scoundrels with colored kerchiefs on their heqads, pistols in their belts, rings in their ears and scowls on their black, villainous faces, digging.
Puzzle of the Live-Oaks
Illusion of the Spanish Main and the age when piracy was in flower comes from the presence of half a dozen live-oak trees. You'd swear they were palms on the sand spit. They are without branches or foliage low down and their spreading tops have a palm tree look.
These oaks are a part of the island mystery. Where did they come from? How did they grow here? These live-oaks, it is said, are southern trees, found not north of Texas and Louisiana. Yet here they are on Oak Island. None was ever found on any of the other 364 islands of Mahone Bay which are, in many cases, crested with the trees of the region, including many northern conifers.
"...there is a legend that when that when the last live-oak dies, the island will yield the secret of its treasure..."
Fifty years ago, old Chester people remember, there was a regular little grove of these live-oaks on the spit at Smith's Cove. Most of them have died. Now a mere half dozen hoary and moribund old-timers remain with a kind of struggling majesty. I would like to say that there is a legend that when that when the last live-oak dies, the island will yield the secret of its treasure, but I heard of no such legend. It seems a pity.
What is the significance of those oaks? In back of them lies the spot where men have dug and still dig for buried riches.
To reach Oak Island I hired Still Smith and his motor boat on a somber afternoon and pushed out through the mists, past island after island. Two Nova Scotia ladies. Mrs. W. D. McNeill and Miss May O'Regan, came along to make sure Still Smith did not lose his way among the islands. There are so many of them, Goosebury, Frog, Clay, Quaker, Hume's, and Mrs. Finney's Hat, the last, with its crest of trees, like a tufted toque - and many others. At last we made a landing, four miles out from Chester in Mahone Bay, at Smith's Cove on Oak Island. The top of the drill and a smith's forge were the only signs of recent activity, but the sight of a small tent over by the other shore spelled the presence of men.
Beside the drill was a deep pit, possibly 12 feet wide, dug by a previous expedition two or three years ago. It was boarded over but a hole permitted sight of heavy planking with which it was shored all the way down. A dropped stone went deep before sending up a splash of the sea, which had, as always, come pouring in through those mysterious tunnels, to defeat this as it had defeated other projects.
All around were unspectacular evidences of other earlier diggings. An old fence surrounded a partly filled-in pit in which lay rusted tin cans and junk. Yet other pits showed. Heaps and ridges of earth showed how the place had been tortured by men seeking treasure.
A lean man came strolling over from the tent. He was a pleasant but uncommunicative. He gave his name but refused to let it be printed. He said he was an engineer from Victoria. I pressed him for results of his drilling. "We have seen - and heard - strange things," he said cryptically. I pressed for more.
There was a ghost, it appeared, On Oak Island.
One moonlight night, he related, he and a partner were sitting in the tent when they heard a sound like that of a man dropping an armful of timber from the vicinity of the place where they had been drilling - "money pit" so called. They went out and looked and listened. They saw nothing. But again, distinctly, came the sound of an armful of timber being dropped.
"We ran out," the engineer went on. "I went toward the drill. the other man made a circle and came in over there. Our idea was to hem in whoever was there. We each got to our places and waited. There was nothing to see. But suddenly, right there between the drill and the forge, came the sound as if a man was dropping planks. Yes, sure, we heard it again, five times altogether that night. Then it stopped."
He stopped, too, and his eyes twinkled. A ghost? Sure, and he shrugged. Explanation? Another shrug. Yes, sure, it had been heard again. One night he was away from the camp. An old fellow was left behind. "Anything doing?" asked the engineer on his return. "Somebody," said the old fellow, "has been trying to build a cabin up by the money pit. I looked out, but could see nothing. Guess it's a ghost."
Then he, the engineer, had on a third occasion heard the ghost in action.
"Would Startle the World"
But what of the treasure? Ah, now he was pretty silent. They had, he said, bored seventeen holes. One had gone as deep as 170 feet. That one, right there, went to about 110 feet. No, they had done no digging. His idea was to locate some real evidence before going to the expense of digging. It would cost $125,000, he figured, to get the treasure forth. "Is there treasure?" I asked him bluntly. "A treasure that would startle the world," he said. "I believe that down there in a great vault is a great religious treasure." "Why religious? I thought it was commonly credited with being a pirate treasure. Don't you believe, like so many people, that Captain Kidd buried it there?"
"That's bunk. Captain Kidd was never within a thousand miles of Oak Island. Who buried it then? I think it might be buried by one of two parties. It may be the St. Andrew's treasure or it may have been buried by the Aztecs."
Quizzing brought little further light on his theory. The St. Andrew's treasure, he said came from St. Andrew's monastery in Scotland at some vague time of persecution, possibly the time of Henry the Eighth was spoiling the English monasteries. He did not know about this and I did not press him. I asked him what proof there was that the Aztecs of Mexico had ever come sailing north. Well, at any rate, there was the treasure. He had seemingly no doubt of that.
What proof had he? Were there any charts, maps, evidences in his possession heretofore unknown? No, he said. But he had faith. There was the evidence of the past. He cited the history of the digging: the fact of the oak and spruce platforms every ten feet down to a depth of a hundred feet and evidence of previous digging having brought up a worked stone with hieroglyphics on it which had never been deciphered.
"My belief," he said, "is that that stone had the key to the vault and how to get into it. But it was built into a fireplace and later used by a bookbinder who hammered all the language off of it."
He cited the fact that cement had been found in the "money pit" and that stuff like cocoanut fibre had been disclosed. As he reconstructed it, down deep had been placed the treasure vault, sealed. Above it had been an empty space. Then there was a platform and over this was placed oak, iron bound chests. the purpose of these? To throw any possible discoverer off the scent and make him think he had found all the treasure there was, whereas the real treasure was in the secret vault below. The original pit, he believed had been filled in over these chests, with planking every ten feet up. But the purpose of the planking? To keep the weight of the fill off the vault below.
Yes, he said, there were the tunnels. but why the tunnels? So that the sea might come in and guard the treasure from intruders, as it had , so far, done. But would not these same tunnels and sea prevent the people who buried the treasure from getting it again themselves? No - and he smiled enigmatically. There had originally been gates to the tunnels, he said. He explained further about the tide, but this was beyond my engineering grasp.
But would not the sea, I asked, defeat him - if he found evidences of treasure - as it had defeated previous expeditions? No, he claimed, modern engineering could defeat the sea.
"You spoke of finding something since you started boring," I said. "Has the drill actually brought up anything? Have you any proof that you have struck the hiding place of riches?"
"No, but we have found things." What things? I pressed him and he said that the drill had brought up a piece of oak and a piece of china. what kind of china? Blue and gold china.
"It wasn't," I said, "by any chance, five-and-ten-cent-store china?" He did not answer. In fact, he did not give any further information - though he hinted that some fine day there might be a story that would astonish the world. He repeated his faith that down there was religious treasure that was one of the world's most startling hoards."
What is the Secret?
On my return to Chester I sought out the veteran longshoreman, Clyde Walker. He was resting in his boathouse. The eyes of this white-haired man twinkled at mention of Oak Island treasure. "In my time," he said, "I have moved on and off seven companies seeking it."
"And did any of them ever discover anything?"
"not a one. I was always on the receiving end myself, naturally." And he laughed.
"Some thirty-seven years ago, he forgot the names, but there was an outfit went down, if he remembered, 112 feet. They struck what they thought was coin. they put their drill through what they thought was cement and planking, then into space six inches. "Then," said Mr. Walker, "this man told me with all the faith in the world that the drill seemed to be going for about three feet as if it was going through tin caps or loose metal. That's what they thought was a chest of money or jewelry or whatever it was, left by the Perus or some other people a long time ago."
That expedition failed. Years later, he said, the same outfit came back. There had been a lot of digging in the meantime and the man could not find his original pit. He got down, if he remembered, however, to 160 feet. He was off, he told Mr. Walker, his old line by four feet.
"So," the old man went on, "he starts and tunnels in four by six feet. He built a door six by six to shut so as he wouldn't lose any men, if anything happened. but one morning there was a rumpus. the stuff came running in on them like mortar and they backed out in time. What was it? It was the same stuff as you find on the beach at the island."
"What did that prove - that there was a tunnel such as is spoken of?"
"To my mind it didn't prove anything. The salt water, you can't keep it out. All I know is at low tide the pressure of the water falls off. That goes to show there is an underground drain of some sort, but no man knows what it means. I've known people who make a study of such who can't explain."
"Did people dig elsewhere on the island and not strike salt water?"
"There's been an awful lot of pits dug, but they always fill up."
"Do you yourself think there is treasure on Oak Island?"
"That's a long story, My father - he's dead now twenty years and he was 84 when he died - he always thought there was something but that it was taken out a hundred years ago nearly. He worked as a young lad on the island with a broad axe. The man he worked for sent him off on a vacation and when he came back paid him off. the explanation he had was that the treasure was removed while he was away; a vessel came and took it off."
"Mr. Walker, do you think there is a treasure there now?"
"I tell you, there is supposed to be $17,000,000 there, but I don't see how it could be put down a distance of 100 feet. Besides, how in the devil would they dig a tunnel from the seashore and why would they? That's what I think."
He referred to the presence of the live-oaks, foreign oaks he called them, on Oak Island. Why were they there? His father told him that when he was a boy the island had been all oaks. There was also said to be foreign clover growing there, near what was afterwards called the "money pit." What was the explanation of that foreign clover? Then there was something else. You could dig up cocoanut husk on the island. He had seen it himself, thirty-odd years ago.
But then walnuts have been dug up along the Humber river near Toronto and other evidences that southern Ontario was once a tropical zone. Might it be that Oak Island's mystery may be simply linked with ancient geological chance and that its buried treasure hints are simply relics of another age? There would be a fact to unearth, of folk who put up planking and used cement maybe millions of years ago. Talk about a lost Atlantis! Maybe on Oak Island is the proof, the missing link, with a drowned continent, a buried civilization - maybe. I do wish some millionaire would finance the most extensive sort of engineering and dig it up.
Mr. Walker was not much impressed by the fact that the present expedition had drilled and brought up a bit of blue and white china. "Things have ben brought up," he said, "but this china - that might have been thrown in by some other company."
I asked him how he explained the oak planking which had been allegedly found by the earlier digging expeditions.
"There's a funny thing," he said. "My father told me once that when he was a boy, his grandfather was out on day on another island, not Oak Island, Ann Church's Island, shoveling loading sand on the shore and they came to planks hidden underneath, piled up lumber. they covered it up and went away, thinking maybe they had found something. But when they went back they could never find it again."
So, there's not only Oak Island, but An church's island! Over 75 years ago planks were found there, but never found again. Who put this planking there? What does it denote? Were these merely outposts of early French occupation as in the days of Louisburg? But why on insignificant islands in Mahone Bay? Certainly Oak Island bristles with whys.
Ann Church's Island, Mr. Walker said, is four miles from Oak. On that same island, he went on, a bar of silver had once been found about the size of a plug of tobacco. And gold buttons had been plowed up. No, he had never seen them, but he had heard they were officers' buttons.
All this, so far as I know, is new treasure information. Notice to potential treasure hunters; there is not merely Oak but there is Ann Church's Island as virgin treasure ground.
"The local people play the game," said Mr. Walker smiling. "Naturally we're on the receiving end, not spending. If people want to come down here to Chester on a treasure hunt, naturally we don't want to do anything to discouraged them. Maybe there is. It's all very strange and it's hard to say just what there is."
The fact is that for generations a belief has persisted that a shaft thirteen feet in diameter and 100 feet deep was sunk on Oak Island and treasure buried there, and that this was connected by an underground tunnel with the ocean about a hundred yards distant.
The beginning goes back to 1795, when three men; Smith, Vaughan, and McGinnis, landed at Smith's Cove and strolled among the forest of Oaks then growing there. They came, unexpectedly, to a clearing which denoted the hand of man and, still more unexpectedly, according to the tale generally accepted to this day, came on a block and tackle attached to the stump of a lower limb sawn off a big oak. Beneath was a depression of the earth.
Buried treasure! They began to dig and found the earth loose. At ten feet they came on oak planking. they removed this and digged on. At twenty feet they came again on planking, and again at thirty feet. They quit digging and left the spot. They sought help on the mainland, but the people were a superstitious and tales of ghosts on the island were rife. No one would help. Half a dozen years passed and then men came back, backed by a company of prominent Nova Scotians - and they dug. Every ten feet down marks were found, either planking as at the 10, 20, and 30 foot levels or of charcoal spread over cocoanut fibre or of putty sufficiently good to be used subsequently in the glazing of a number of windows in houses being built in Chester.
At the 90-foot level was found the stone with the curious inscription already referred to. At 95 feet the diggers came on a wooden platform. Then water, not previously encountered, came in on them and arose in the pit. Baling proved useless. they were beaten. They sank another pit alongside, meaning to tunnel across, but again the water came in to beat them.
Such is the tale of the original discovery and digging out of the "money pit" whose secret many expeditions since have tried to solve in vain.
There would be little purpose in reciting details of the succeeding attempts. Always they ended in failure. The sea - for it was proven that the water was sea water - came in on them.
Records show that the digging and drilling was not altogether fruitless. Reference has been made in the interview with Clyde Walker of Chester to the fact that a drill once passed through a chest of coin. This first happened in 1849. The drill struck the oak platform at 95 feet, as recorded by the first diggers. It went through 22 inches of metal in pieces and brought up three gold links resembling an ancient watch chain. Oak splinters and cocoanut fibre were brought up from an even greater depth.
There is a lure to it. you cannot visit the island and not feel it. It's a living mystery story. What is the solution?
The End of Frederick Griffin's 1934 article
We wanted to relate this article to you in full because as far as we have been able to ascertain so far, it is the origin of the idea that the treasure would be found only after the last oak tree died. Even though it was presented as a fanciful legend that he wished he could say it was true, he acknowledged that no actual legend existed at that time (1934). It seems the idea caught people's imaginations regardless, and the idea took root. Frederick Griffin also gave us a look inside the local lore at the time, relating the ghost stories and thoughts of the locals from some 82+ years ago.
As for the second treasure island Griffin talks about, we have tried to determine which island in Mahone Bay, 4 miles from Oak, is Ann Church's island. We cannot find it on current maps, and we have not been able to find it named in property deeds. If the Church family owned an island, perhaps it was known by another name. The only island owned by a Church family that appears in property deeds is an island named Saddle Island. There is a present day Saddle Island between Mahone Bay and St. Margaret's Bay, but it is a little over 12 miles away, and the Ann Church's Island mentioned by Griffin was said to be four miles from Oak Island. Maybe one of our readers might know something about Ann Church's Island? If so, we would like to hear about it.
Goodnight from The Blockhouse!
From The Blockhouse
is published by Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca
in Nova Scotia, Canada
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Kelly W. Hancock, CD
John Wonnacott, P. Eng.
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