by Danny Hennigar
When all the oaks are gone and seven have died the treasure will be found, or so goes the legendary curse of Oak Island. No one knows for absolute certainty where the curse came from, who first penned it or even if there is any truth to it. One thing we do know, all the original, unusual looking oaks that gave the Island its present name are gone and six men have perished in the centuries old treasure hunt.
Over the years local people were hired at Oak Island as labourers, drillers, helpers and many people still have close connections. I worked there as a tour guide, both my grandfathers were involved in one way or another and my father, a writer, wrote a poem about the famous Island. I only learned of my two grandfathers participation long after their passing and my awakening to the history of Oak Island. My maternal grandfather was a hard rock miner in the Chester Basin gold mines, he later worked for Gilbert Heddon driving shafts and tunnels in the late 1930s. My paternal grandfather owned and operated a saw mill and many a board foot of wood cut by grandad’s mill must surely lay deep under Oak Island’s surface.
So it was, men looked to Oak Island for a chance to make a few bucks, feed their families and work at a job very much unlike anything available locally in fish plants, Christmas tree yards, barrel manufacturers, fishing on sea-going trawlers and a smattering of other small business opportunities. Word of mouth spread to those who wanted a job close by and to be paid a fair wage, one of the men who answered the call was Jim Kaizer from Robinson’s Corner, very near the Village of Chester.
Jim was a short-statured, handsome man, powerfully built and used to a hard day's work for an honest dollar. He worked odd jobs, had his own dump truck at one time, had a beer bottle recycling business and worked on and off with a cement contractor from Chester Basin, Hilliard Cameron. He was also a Mi’Kmaq who was very proud of his heritage.
He had a big family of eight boys to take care of and he snagged a job with Oak Island treasure hunter Robert Restall. Oak Island offered work such as digging holes, shoveling muck, moving boulders, repairing things, burning brush, moving heavy equipment and other jobs that would break an ordinary man's back, but to the Restalls and Jim Kaizer, it was all in a day's work. Later, after the tragedy, Jim was hired as a night watchman for Dunfield. I have often said, treasure hunting is not as glorious as it looks on TV or is portrayed in books and as general romanticism portrayed it. One of Jim's last pay days August 6th to the 13th 1965 grossed him a whopping $41.90. By today's standard that is not much, but back in 1965 even a five dollar bill went a long way.
By the time it was over, four had died at the bottom of the pit and two were rescued.
By all accounts, the afternoon of August 17th 1965 was a hot muggy day. A small crew of labourers was busy burning piles of brush while Robert Restall and his wife Mildred readied themselves for a short boat ride to the Village of Chester where a multitude of chores awaited them. Robert went down to Smith's Cove to check how the gasoline pump was working at the head of a shallow shaft they had been working on. What happened next will never be known for sure, but what we do know is that Robert Restall fell into the shaft, possibly overcome by carbon monoxide gas, an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas that may have accumulated at the top of the shaft head due to a present air inversion that day. If you have ever seen smoke from a chimney fall back down toward the ground instead of rise to the sky, you have seen an air inversion. Restall landed into approximately six feet of water, and as others nearby saw him fall, they followed with the hopes of a quick rescue. His son Bobby went down the shaft for his father as did Cyril Hiltz, Carl Graeser, Leonard Kaizer and Andrew DeMont. By the time it was over, four had died at the bottom of the pit and two were rescued. The autopsies declared the deceased had died by drowning. Much speculation and heated debate has developed over the years about why Restall fell in the hole. Leonard and Andrew were heroically rescued by a visiting fireman on vacation from New York State who happened to be there at the time of the tragedy and with the assistance of others at the scene, they were kept alive. These two men later made a full recovery.
Witnesses at the scene reported that the smell of rotten eggs permeated the air (possibly dangerous, heavier than air hydrogen sulfide) around the hole and no one had the desire to immediately descend the shaft. Fire departments from Chester and Western Shore who responded to the tragedy devised a plan to recover the bodies. It was considered too dangerous to send a man down the shaft to recover the bodies so they intended to use a sharp grapple hook, it was the safest way and most agree, it was a tough decision made by practical men.
Jim Kaizer's widow Beulah told me Jim was working around home while the tragedy unfolded on Oak Island and all day long had an odd burning desire to leave what he was doing and head for the Island even though he was not scheduled to work that day. When his Uncle Maynard came to give him the horrible news, wild horses could not keep Jim away and he sped off to the Island.
A sobering and solemn scene confronted Jim as he arrived at the site. Firemen clad in black coats, helmets and rubber boots told Jim what had happened as best they knew and the heart wrenching plan was unfolded before him. By all accounts, the Restalls liked Jim a great deal and he thought the world of Robert and Bobby. Armed with a World War II vintage gas mask on loan from the Chester firemen on scene, Jim went down the shaft with a rope tied around his waist and recovered the four bodies of his friends and co-workers. Jim later said he could not live with himself if the recovery went ahead as previously planned, it just was not going to happen, not on his watch. He felt they deserved better care, even in death.
Jim later told his wife a little about his experiences but he was hard to pry details from. The coveralls he wore the day of the tragedy smelled so bad of rotten eggs, even after repeated washing, Mrs. Kaizer could not wash the smell out of them. They were hung in the mud room and were never worn again. It did not end there for Jim Kaiser. Jim got hired on with treasure hunter Robert Dunfield shortly after the tragedy and continued with his Oak Island employment.
Jim said he saw a pair of red eyes staring at him and was told to leave and never come back.
One night, months after the tragedy, Jim stayed overnight alone in the tiny cabin once the home of the Restall family. Late in the evening, Jim was awakened by the sounds of the cabin rattling violently and experienced the sensation of having a heavy weight on his chest. Upon opening his eyes, Beulah told me Jim said he saw a pair of red eyes staring at him and was told to leave and never come back. Not being a believer in ghosts and the supernatural, he bolted from the tiny building to see nothing that could explain the noise, he was sure someone was having him on. But, next morning, to his utter shock, he found he was covered with bruises. He told Beulah one set of bruises in particular looked like four fingers and a thumb had gripped him tight around his arm.
Jim was also a playful practical joker as often happens when men work together. One day he and another man, Murray, were in the Restall cabin and Jim being the senior guy on site directed him to light the propane stove. He didn’t tell him about a small build-up of gas in the oven and when Murray lit it, the stove exploded, singed his hair and being off balance, he stumbled across the cabin scaring the living daylights out of him. Next day, he and Jim were on their way to do something in Smith's Cove and Jim got caught in the fresh mud and muck created by Earl Armstrong's bulldozer and started to sink in, quicksand style. Murray told him he was going to let the Island swallow him whole but came back and threw him a rope and pulled him out after he was sure Jim was taught his lesson
Jim's end of life in 1976 did not go well and it was premature but before I end my story there is another detail you should be aware of with regard to this remarkable man. Because Jim had such a long involvement with Oak Island he can fairly be credited with making a discovery of his own. On the southern shore of the Island, very near where Dunfield dug hole 10G over 100 feet deep looking for a strongly suspected second flood tunnel, he found a rock with strange markings. Some describe the rock's carving as depicting a ship, others say it is the letters AC H or AT H. The rock was broken into pieces by a treasure hunter and a section of it was placed on his fireplace hearth where it remained for decades.
As a young man, I knew Jim, his wife and all of his eight boys, I attended school with some while others were too young to enter my circle of acquaintances until later in life. I have great respect for his whole family and he remains one of Oak Island's lesser known treasure hunters and dare I say, a hero.
From The Blockhouse
is published by Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca
in Nova Scotia, Canada
Editors and Chief Correspondents
Kelly W. Hancock, CD
John Wonnacott, P. Eng.
All material and images published herein, unless otherwise credited, are copyright of Blockhouse Investigations and oakislandcompendium.ca and may be reproduced by permission only.
Views expressed in these blog posts are our own. The views of those that comment are their own.