Oak Island is one of 360 islands that dot Nova Scotia’s Mahone Bay. It is unique in that it is the only one blanketed with oak trees…and it has been linked to everything from the Holy Grail to Captain Kidd to William Shakespeare. The island is believed to harbor a fabulous treasure of some sort and it has claimed six lives.
Currently American brothers Rick and Mark Lagina are attempting to decipher the mystery of the island and Prometheus Productions is documenting their efforts for The History Channel in the series The Curse of Oak Island.
Imagine my surprise to get an e-mail from one of the shows producers asking for some advice related to the show. What specific advice is currently confidential but read my Life as a Human article Treasure in Nova Scotia for a hint.
My first visit to Oak Island took place on Sunday, August 24, 2014. I took part with over 200 Masons and their families including members of the Masonic Knights Templar in regalia. This was only fitting as one theory holds that the Templars buried their treasure, possibly comprising the Holy Grail on Oak Island in the 1300’s. In fact Rick Lagina told me he and his crew had just returned form a visit to Scotland and the Rosslyn Chapel, a structure which has figured in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which is dotted with strange symbols and holds an ancient Templar and Grail connection. A new symbol was recently discovered during repairs of the building’s roof which may provide a link to my forebears, the Lairds of Feddal, Scotland.
In brief, the legend of a treasure on Oak Island goes back to 1795 when 18-year-old Dan McGinnis observed lights coming from the island and the next day found a circular freshly dug hole with a block-and-tackle hanging from a nearby oak tree. This was just one of the many which blanket the island, a feature marking Oak Island unique among the myriad of other islands in the bay.
The first written mention of the discovery was in the Liverpool Transcript in October 1856. Attempts to excavate the so-called money pit, all which failed, ensued from 1795 until present times (1866, 1893, 1909, 1931, 1935, 1936, 1959 and later) with various companies formed and failing throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Investors included US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt who often visited and who maintained an active interest in Oak Island all his life.
All told six people have died in the attempts a figure foretold as the number of lives which would be sacrificed before Oak Island opened up its treasure.
Our tour on a bright and sunny day in late August, led by Charles, took us from a parking lot near the causeway along a roadway which passed several unusual, huge boulders which when position is plotted form a huge cross. We passed a triangular shaped swamp which the Laginas believe is artificial and currently are draining. Like true pirates, the crew members have to “walk the plank”, in this case plywood, to avoid sinking into the muck.
Next stop was a replica of a boulder-constructed triangle that appears to be some sort of ancient directional marker. The original fell some years ago into a nearby treasure pit dug along the shore.
We continued on to the original money pit which when excavated revealed repeatedly deeper layers of oak logs, charcoal, putty and coconut fiber. The latter material was the bubble wrap of ancient times and was used to pack everything because it was light, durable and did not decay. It is not native to Nova Scotia nor anywhere within 1500 miles of the province. Yet huge mounds of it are found around the island, perhaps used to pack something large and important for shipping prior to burial?
The money pit also turned up a stone with a mysterious cypher carved into it which according to Edward Rowe Snow, an American historian and explorer, translated as “forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried” (see also Life as a Human “The Mysterious Treasure Island of Isle Haute”, also explored by Snow). The cypher on the stone bears some resemblance to ancient Semitic writing such as that used by the Phoenicians.
Bore holes penetrated through layers of oak and loose metal and a camera placed down the drilled holes showed images appearing to be a dead body and several chests. A mysterious fragment of parchment also turned up in one drilling sample. Among other artifacts an axe, a pick and and anchor fluke were retrieved. One of the problems with the money pit was recurrent flooding, many think is due to flood tunnels engineered to foil treasure seekers. Time and time again these booby traps would foil attempts on the money pit.
Our guide, Charles, explained that the money pit has now been filled in and current exploration had been turned to other areas. We walked on to view spectacular bore hole 10-X and then on to the site of tragedy which killed four men in the 1960’s due to inhalation of toxic fumes. Some think carbon monoxide was the culprit while others think hydrogen sulphide or methane may have caused the deaths in the tunnel. Witnesses smelled a “rotten egg” odor and heard the men gagging and choking. Having been a medical examiner for 15 years I can assure you that this was not the way carbon monoxide causes death. Victims fall peacefully to sleep and their bodies are very pink, something not noted in the Oak Island victims. Hydrogen sulphide on the other hand, from rotting vegetation perhaps, gives a sulphur or “rotten egg” smell and causes horrible gagging and irritation. It is the likely culprit.
Nearby is a stone carved with the Masonic symbol “G”. Many Masonic symbols have been found on the island possibly put their by those who buried the treasure or perhaps by workers over the past two centuries.
Oak Island continues to shield its mystery…for now.
After the tour, Marty and Rick invited me into their private trailer where we conferred for almost an hour. Let’s hope that they can finally solve a mystery which now spans over four centuries…and may take us centuries or even millennia further back in time.
Written by George Burden and Carla DiGiorgio
If You Go
Atlantica Oak Island Resort – a great place to stay if you want to explore Oak Island and Nova Scotia’s beautiful south shore.
The Friends of Oak Island – for tour information
The Curse of Oak Island – for information on the television series
All photos by George Burden – All Rights Reserved