Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Oak Island Treasure -Ch 7

Chapter VII.
The baffling treasure of Oak Island and the attempts made to secure it. 

From "They Found Gold" by A. Hyatt Verrill
Link to previous chapter - Ch 5-6
Hunting the World's Most Mysterious Treasure

IT was a lovely autumn day. There was a tang of frost in the air, but the sun shone brightly, and the scarlet leaves of oaks and maples, the golden foliage of the white birch trees, and the softer browns of beeches and hickory, barely stirred in the gentle breeze. Overhead, vast flocks of wild pigeons winged southward, and wild geese honked as they dropped in V-shaped formation to ponds and lakes.
It was just the sort of day to send one's blood tingling through one's veins, to lure one into the woods or fields with a trusty gun on one's shoulder and a keen-nosed setter at one's heels. A day with air like old wine, when the call of the wild and the lure of adventure were too strong to be resisted at least by Daniel McGinnis, Anthony Vaughan and Jack Smith, three youths of sixteen or thereabouts, who planned to spend a glorious holiday on Oak Island.
This island—one of many that dot Mahone Bay, on the Nova Scotia coast—was an ideal spot for the boys' outing. It was uninhabited, seldom visited, and its oak and pine forests were the haunt of ruffed grouse, deer and other game, while in its coves and bays geese, brant, ducks, and an occasional swan could be found. So, shouldering their shotguns, with shot pouches and powder horns well-filled, the three youths launched their birchbark canoe and paddled across the bay to the island's shores.
Being young, romantic and imaginative, they experienced a distinct thrill as they stepped ashore on the beach of a little inlet surrounded by the silent forest. Never before had they been on the island; they might almost have been the first human beings to set foot on its shores, and they felt like explorers or discoverers as they glanced about, discussing in low tones where they should start into the woods.
"Let's try over yonder," suggested Jack, pointing to the north. "It's more open over there."
Sure enough, at the spot Smith indicated, there were no large trees but only small secondary growth, and the three started forward.
"Some one must have cleared it here," observed Daniel, as they pushed through the thicket of sweet fern and bracken.
"Indians, perhaps," suggested Tony. "They may have had a village here. I— Hello, look there!"
Near the center of the old clearing was a single gigantic oak standing like a sentinel above the smaller saplings. But it was not the tree itself that had attracted Vaughan's attention. Projecting horizontally from the mighty trunk was a stout limb, the end of which had been sawed or chopped off. And dangling from the stump were the rusty of a chain.
For an instant the three youths stood staring, a strange sensation of uneasiness stealing over them. That stout, outjutting branch with its rather suggestive remnant of chain, hinted at a gibbet, and the boys' imaginative minds pictured a ghastly corpse swinging in the wind.
To be sure, in that year of grace, 1795, hanged men were no novelty, even to the youngsters, and they had seen more than one body dangling in chains.
But it was rather creepy and disquieting to think of such things, there in the silent deserted forest, and the three stepped hastily back and glanced apprehensively about them.
Then they made another discovery. Almost directly under the lopped-off branch was a circular depression, about a dozen feet in diameter, in the earth.
The boys drew farther back, for might not the body of the hanged pirate—somehow they unconsciously assumed the victim of the tragedy to have been a pirate—lie under that sunken patch of soil? Then, suddenly, Vaughan darted forward and gave a triumphant shout.
"Treasure!" he yelled. "Buried treasure! That's what it is. Look, here's an old tackle-block. They never hang men with block and tackle!"
Half -buried in the soil and overgrown with weeds and moss, was an ancient weather-beaten ship's block. With bated breaths the three youths dropped to their knees to examine it.
"They must have used a block and tackle to lower their treasure-chests into the hole," suggested Vaughan. "That's what is in here buried treasure."
"I guess you're right," agreed Dan. "Say, maybe Captain Kidd buried it here." (Like so many others, the boys associated all treasure with the notorious Kidd who never in his life visited Nova Scotia.)
Instantly the three became wildly excited. Here was adventure with a vengeance. Not one of the trio doubted for a moment that a vast hoard of gold was concealed under the oak tree. There was the cut limb, the tackle-block, and the depression in the soil marking the hiding place of the loot.
And any lingering doubts they might have had were dispelled when, on a closer examination of the tree, they discovered the healed scars or furrows made by ropes or chains on the stump, and, on the bark of the trunk, the welts of ancient axe-cuts which appeared to form crude numerals and letters.
All their plans for hunting were, of course, immediately forgotten. They had stumbled on a treasure-cache; that was enough for them!
At that time pirates still ravaged the seas in the West Indies and elsewhere; the story of Captain Kidd was recent history, and, less than one hundred years before, the near-by port of Lunenburg had been the resort of many a pirate, so, quite naturally the boys took it for granted that the treasure hidden under the oak tree consisted of pirates' loot.
And now that they had discovered the hiding place of pirates' treasure they thought only of digging it up. So, abandoning all other plans, they returned to their canoe with the idea of going home, securing picks and shovels, and hurrying back to the island to secure the riches they felt sure were theirs for the digging.
During their sojourn ashore the tide had fallen and now, as the three approached the canoe they made another discovery. Left exposed by the ebbing water was an immense, old-fashioned, rusty ring-bolt let into the seaweed-covered rock. Here was further proof of pirates having landed on the island, and as the boys searched about they made two additional thrilling discoveries. One was a water-worn coin, the other an old-fashioned boatswain's whistle of silver.
The following day the three youths returned to the island and went to work. Within a few minutes they found they were digging in an old, dearly-outlined circular shaft, about thirteen feet in diameter, in which the marks of picks and shovels could clearly be seen. Wildly excited, now that they were certain they were close to treasures, the three worked madly, and Smith uttered an exultant shout when, ten feet below the surface, his shovel struck some solid object.
Dropping on hands and knees the boys feverishly scraped away the dirt, to disclose oak boards. Not one of them doubted that here was the treasure chest. But when, panting and sweating and toiling their hardest, they pried out the wood, their faces fell. It was no chest, merely a roughly-laid platform or bulkhead of planks, and instead of a hoard of gold and silver, only loose earth lay beneath.
Nevertheless, they were far from being discouraged. The presence of the timbering proved that something must be buried in the old shaft, they argued, and again they went to work. Two days later, ten feet below the first layer of boards, the boys came to a second platform of wood. Once more, with fast-beating hearts, they pried the planks free, and once again found only barren soil below.
They had vowed to keep at it, however, until they reached the treasure or the bottom of the old hole—a pledge impossible for them to fulfill, as they eventually discovered—and more encouraged than depressed by the presence of the second bulkhead, they continued to dig. But when at last, at a depth of thirty feet from the surface, the weary youths found a third oak platform with nothing but earth beneath it, they gave up in despair. Not because they had lost faith in their treasure—the very fact that whoever had hidden it had buried it so deeply and had protected it so carefully, convinced the boys that the hoard was a vast one but because it was impossible for them to go deeper without tackles, winches, buckets and men to help them.
They hated to divulge their secret; but as they now felt convinced that the treasure was great enough to make a dozen men rich, they decided to tell of their discovery and to share their find with whoever would join them in excavating the old shaft. But when they told their tale they found that the villagers were not at all enthusiastic over the hidden hoard. In fact their elders did all they could to discourage the boys. They related hair-raising stories of ghostly apparitions, uncanny lights and mysterious sounds that for years had been seen and heard on Oak Island. They declared that the place was well known to be haunted; that for that reason it was uninhabited, and that no man would consent to set foot on the place, much less touch pick or shovel to earth in search of treasure. So, until 1803, no one visited the spot where the youths had made their strange discovery, and gradually the three almost forgot their treasure search. Then, one day, a certain Dr. Lynd arrived from Truro. Rumors of the boys' discovery of a decade earlier had reached him, and being a romantic and adventurous soul, he decided to have a talk with the three youths. Eagerly, now that the subject was revived, they related every detail, and accompanied him on a trip to the scene of their fruitless efforts.
Dr. Lynd was as firmly convinced of the existence of the treasure as the boys had been, and, hurrying back to Truro, he organized a company and raised abundant capital. Then, with laborers and equipment, he returned to Oak Island and established a camp. Soon the dirt began to fly in earnest. Rapidly the brawny diggers opened up the ancient shaft, and regularly at depths ten feet apart, they found stout bulkheads which required immense labor to remove. Many were of oak, others of spruce; one consisted of some kind of fiber covered with charcoal; another was of putty and sail cloth, while one was of some cement-like material. And then, at ninety feet below the surface, the laborers came to a flat slab of stone three feet in length by sixteen inches in width, with an inscription in some strange characters cut in one surface.
Most unfortunately, no one with sufficient knowledge was called upon to decipher the lettering which if correctly read might have solved this greatest of all treasure-mysteries. But the men were interested only in securing the treasure, which all felt must be immense, and when, after lifting the stone, only earth was found under it, the slab was cast carelessly aside. Smith, one of the trio who had originally discovered the place, took possession of the stone as a souvenir, and built it into his fireplace as a hearthstone. Later it was removed and taken to Halifax .where it was used by a bookbinder to beat leather on, with the result that the incised inscription was completely obliterated.
Having gone so deeply, Dr. Lynd did not intend to abandon his search unless positive that there was nothing of value buried there. So he sounded with an iron rod and, at a depth of five feet, struck something solid. Filled with high hopes that the treasure was at last within reach, the men retired fully expecting to lift the riches from their hiding place the next day.
Imagine their feelings of dismay when, upon reaching the excavation the following morning, they found it filled with water to within twenty-five feet of the top!
Every effort to bail out the pit failed, and at last, convinced that the task was hopeless, the first shaft was abandoned and a second started nearby, the idea being that the water in the first pit could be drained into the second by means of a tunnel. Of course, as one may deduce by this, the men lacked all knowledge of engineering. Had they been familiar with even the most elementary laws of physics they would have known that their plan could only result in both pits being filled to the same level which was precisely what happened. So, once more, the treasure hunt was abandoned. The company's funds were exhausted, no more money could be raised, and the hoard remained as mysterious and as safe as in the beginning.
Twenty, thirty, forty years passed. Smith and McGinnis had grown to manhood, had become old and gray, and finally had gone the way of all flesh. But Vaughan and Dr. Lynd still lived, and to wondering grandchildren they told of their youthful search for the treasure of Oak Island.
By 1849 the story had become merely a tradition or legend; and then, to every one's surprise, another company was formed and once again the vicinity of the "Money Pit," as it was called, hummed with activity. Pumps and methods which, forty years earlier, had been unknown, began emptying the shaft of water until it was clear to a depth of eighty-six feet. And then, just as everybody concerned saw success in sight, the flood came back with a rush and for a time put an end to all work.
The new treasure seekers, however, were men who possessed common sense even if they were not engineers. The most important matter, they reasoned, was to discover whether or not there actually was a treasure in the pit before wasting more time and money digging for it. So drills were rigged up, and they proceeded to bore for the cache as they would for a vein of coal or other minerals. A strong platform was built above the shaft and a huge auger-drill placed upon it. Rapidly the drill dropped until it struck the spruce bulkhead which Dr. Lynd had found at a depth of ninety-five feet. Quickly it bored through this, and dropped abruptly for a foot. Then once more it began to bore its way downward, bringing up shavings of oak, until it had penetrated four inches. Then it slowed down, and for a distance of twenty-two inches it moved through loose pieces of metal, bringing up three links of a gold chain.
One may easily visualize the wild excitement that followed this discovery. Here at last was irrefutable proof that treasure was buried in the shaft. Here was actual gold, even if no great value; and where there was some gold there must be more. And, so every one reasoned, the loose metal through which they had bored for nearly two feet must be gold or silver coins or jewelry.
Meanwhile the auger was boring its way through oak eight inches thick; then it once more went churning slowly through loose metal for twenty-two inches. More coins, it was obvious, and just as obviously the four-inch layers of oak were parts of oaken chests in which the treasure was contained. Every one was convinced of this most reasonable and logical deduction, and when at last the drill penetrated six inches of spruce and then entered a bed of clay to a depth of seven feet, all concerned felt that at last the bottom of the shaft had been reached.
Moving the drill to one side, a second boring was made. As before, it dug through the spruce platform ninety-five feet down, then dropped eighteen inches and moved with jerky, irregular motions as if working against the side of a barrel or cask, and brought up splinters from staves and some wads of what appeared to be coconut fiber matting. This continued for six feet when the clay bed was again encountered. Quite plainly there were casks as well as chests in the mysterious shaft.
But, so far as getting at the treasure was concerned, the seekers were as badly off as before, for ninety-odd feet of water separated them from the hoard at the bottom of the pit.
However, the fact that beyond any reasonable doubt the treasure was there, was so encouraging that it was decided to resume work the following summer when a third shaft was dug to the west of the original shaft. But this also became filled with salt water which rose and fell with the tide. The discovery rather pleased the workers than otherwise. If, they reasoned, the seepage was natural, then the men who originally buried the treasure would have been faced with an impossible task, and as it was certain they had accomplished their purpose, it was obvious that the flooding was not natural. In other words, the pirates or whoever the shaft-makers were, must have arranged some sort of a drain or tunnel leading from the sea to the pit designed for the express purpose of flooding the treasure and so protecting it. And although it seemed preposterous that any one should have conceived and carried out such a scheme, it was no more preposterous than that any one should have buried a treasure over one hundred feet below the surface and safeguarded by oak, spruce, cement and putty bulkheads placed at ten foot intervals throughout the entire length of the shaft.
Careful search was made along the island's shores, and, at a spot not far from where the boys had found the ring-bolt, a discovery was made. Here, concealed beneath artificially arranged rocks, was a thick layer of what was thought to be coconut fiber, and beneath this was a bed of small stones not at all like those scattered about the beach. When these rocks were removed the men were astonished to find a series of drains of carefully cut and laid stonework so designed as to lead into a large stone-lined conduit or tunnel.
Of course the proper thing to have done would have been to sink a coffer-dam some distance inland from the shore and so cut off the conduit, or even to have filled the tunnel with stone and cement. But these treasure hunters were almost as lacking in engineering skill as their predecessors of forty years before, and they decided to build a dam outside the drains. Possibly this might have served its purpose; but before it could be completed a storm and high tide destroyed the partially finished structure.
Still undismayed, the treasure seekers began to sink a new shaft with the idea of cutting into the conduit and, by letting this pit fill, prevent the water from entering the treasure shaft. But one disaster after another befell. Shafts caved in or were flooded, and finally the men decided to gamble all on one final effort and spent the last of their funds in purchasing a powerful engine-driven pump. But even with this going full tilt the water came in faster than pumped out, just as might have been expected, for the entire Atlantic Ocean was behind the drain. So once more all work on the money pit was abandoned.
Years passed, the shafts sunk by the seekers of decades gone by had gradually become filled with earth and debris; grass, weeds and small trees covered the mounds of excavated material; and only fragments of timbers and rust-covered scraps of metal marked the wasted work of the many who had vainly endeavored to wrest the mysterious treasure from its cache. All those who had taken an active part in former undertakings had died, but there were records in existence, and many persons were living who recalled the past operations and who still owned shares in the defunct Money Pit companies. Moreover, some of these people had not lost interest in the supposed treasure, and eventually a new syndicate was formed, and having acquired all known outstanding interests, the new company resumed work in 1896.
Again the island took on the aspect of a mining camp. Once more the elusive treasure was being sought; and this time all concerned were confident of ultimate success, for there was no lack of funds, and all the latest devices were to be employed. Only one thing was lacking, the one item that always had been overlooked, and yet the most important item of all—a competent, trained engineer.
This time nearly twenty shafts were sunk in a circle about the original pit, and a network of tunnels driven between them, the idea being to locate the underground inlet from the sea and also to drain the old shaft.
Then, after months of labor and the expenditure of thousands of dollars, with no headway having been made, a brilliant idea occurred to some one. Whoever had tunneled for over five hundred feet from the shore to the pit must have had a vertical shaft to admit air and to afford an entrance and exit to the tunnel. All that was necessary to locate the tunnel was to find the vertical shaft! Why hadn't some one thought of this before?
But when, after a search, the shaft was found, it was discovered that it had long since caved in and had become filled with debris. Next, experiments were made to determine positively if the drains on the shore actually admitted water to the money pit. Distinctively colored clays and paints were thrown into the water at the beach and, shortly afterwards, the water in the pit showed the same colors. Then some brilliant genius conceived the idea of blowing up the drain with dynamite, thus allowing the earth and broken stone to choke the conduit. But as might have been expected, this merely made matters worse, and thereafter the water flowed in faster than before. Finally, to cap the climax of their misfortune, the searchers made the astonishing discovery that there was a second subterranean conduit leading from the other side of the island!
By this time the syndicate's funds were exhausted and the ghostly guardians of the mysterious money pit must have chortled with unholy glee as they saw the latest party of discouraged and bankrupt treasure hunters depart. Of course the shareholders in this venture were bitterly chagrined, but there was some compensation, for more had been learned about the hoard and the pit than had ever previously been known. Ever since they had started work they had been making borings which had revealed some most amazing facts. At a depth of one hundred and twenty-six feet the drill had penetrated oak chips of which were brought up afterwards striking metal on which it made no impression. A smaller drill was then started to one side and at one hundred and thirty-three feet it cut through a layer of cement covering oak timbers, penetrated a chest, passed through more than three feet of loose metal, and brought up two small objects. One was a gold ring and the other a fragment of parchment bearing portions of written words, only a single syllable of which, a "VI" or a "WI" could be deciphered. These, and the other borings, had proved conclusively that there was a rectangular chamber at the bottom of the shaft, a chamber formed of oak timbers coated with cement and which measured fully forty feet from ceiling to floor, and that within this immense strong box were at least seven chests and several casks filled with loose metal.
Beyond any question whatsoever there really was a vast treasure at the bottom of the money pit. Yet during the hundred and thirty-six years that had passed since the youths first discovered the oak tree and the rotten tackle, despite the many attempts and the expenditure of over one hundred thousand dollars, the only gold ever recovered consisted of three small links of a chain, and a ring—which one of the workmen stole.
But so confident were those engaged in the last venture that the treasure could be recovered, so convincing the evidence of the treasure being there, that several other efforts were made to lift the hoard, but with no more success than before. Then, only two years ago, a really serious and, in some ways practical, attempt was launched. By timbering and boarding the shaft, divided into four sections, and meanwhile keeping down the water by powerful electrically-driven pumps, the searchers worked steadily downward until the depth where the treasure should have been was reached. But there was no sign of the subterranean strong-room, no signs of treasure, although ancient lanterns, abandoned tools and implements were found. Feeling that in all probability they had sunk their shaft to one side of the original pit, the men in charge decided to drive a side tunnel at the level of the treasure as determined by the drills of their predecessors. But again the jinx that seems to guard all hidden treasures interfered with their plans. The tunnel caved in, some of the workmen were killed, and with funds exhausted and winter coming on the searchers abandoned their attempts.
But by now the mysterious treasure of Oak Island had become more or less known to the world at large. Accounts of it had been published in books and magazines, and a syndicate of wealthy New York men was formed to make a thorough investigation with a trained and competent engineer in charge. Throughout the summer drillings, surveys and explorations were made, and the results not only confirmed the existence of the treasure but added more than ever to its mystery. And the boring, which brought up traces of gold and silver, solved the puzzle of why the last searchers had missed finding the underground cache and its contents. During the many years of digging, of flooding and of boring, the bed clay at the bottom of the original shaft had been puddled and softened, and the treasure had gradually settled to nearly twenty feet below its original level. Had the treasure hunters of two years ago gone but a few feet deeper they would in all probability be wealthy men today, and the mystery of the Oak Island treasure would have been solved. But even more amazing than any discovery yet made was the fact that the oak trees on the island were not a natural growth, but were set out in regular order, and, most astonishing of all, there were live oaks there. In no other spot north of Virginia do live oaks exist. So still another mystery is added to the many mysteries of the treasure pit. Who could have planted live oaks in that spot? Who would have imagined that they would grow and would survive the northern winters? But, after all, these puzzles are no more baffling, no more unanswerable than the mystery of who could have buried the treasure on the island. Who could have possessed the ability, the engineering skill, the man power and the time to have devised and carried out such an elaborate, complete, ingenious and efficacious means of safeguarding their buried treasure? Who could have dug a shaft for a depth of over one hundred and fifty feet and connected it with the sea by tunnels over five hundred feet in length? Who could have conceived the idea of those concealed drains? and who could have gone to such prodigious labor as to place more than a dozen layers of planks, timbers, and cement across the shaft at ten-foot intervals?
Countless theories have been advanced as to who buried the treasure and carried out such elaborate and perfectly devised feats of engineering. Even though a few pirates did frequent the vicinity of Oak Island in the early part of the eighteenth century, what pirate ever possessed the knowledge, the ability or the genius to have constructed such a cache for his loot? Not one. And hence we may with practical certainty dismiss the idea that the Oak Island treasure is the loot of pirates. For that matter the pirate theory would have been abandoned long ago had it not been for the fiber found which was hastily identified as coconut husk fiber, a product of tropical lands and thereby associated with the buccaneers and pirates of the Caribbean and the Spanish Main. But samples of the material recently submitted to botanical and fiber experts prove that it is NOT coconut fiber, but some coarse sedge or sea growth which might have come from the marshes of Nova Scotia, the mainland or Europe.
In addition to the pirate theory advanced to account for this most mysterious of treasures, many wild and farfetched suggestions have been made as to its possible origin. It has even been linked with the Cocos Island treasure filched from Lima, Peru. But those who sponsored this theory overlooked the fact that the Oak Island money pit was known and had been worked on for years before the Lima treasure was taken to sea. Others have claimed that the Oak Island treasure was a Viking hoard, but there is no evidence, not even legendary traditions, that the Vikings, who undoubtedly visited and formed settlements on the coast of Maine, ever possessed any treasures worth hiding. Certainly they could not have amassed a fortune in precious metals during their explorations of the New England coast, and equally certainly there were no settlements, no ships for them to rob at the time of their visit. Moreover, there is obvious evidence that the treasure had not been hidden for very long before the three youths made their discovery, for the trees that had sprouted on the cleared space were mere saplings, the lopped-off branch of the oak had not grown any to speak of, and the fragment of chain and the old tackle-block would have vanished completely in a comparatively short time. In all probability not more than half a century had passed between the time when the treasure was concealed and that autumn day in 1795 when Smith, McGinnis and Vaughan made their discovery. But no one has ever been able to suggest a theory that will fit all the known conditions and facts and will form a reasonable solution to the mystery.
But the truth may yet be known and very soon. The search for the Oak Island treasure has not been abandoned. Even now a company is being formed to make another attempt to lift it, and this time there will be no blunders, no short-sighted, half-way measures. A steel caisson will be sunk, and whatever is at the bottom of the money pit will be recovered.

At any time, even before this volume is published, the mystery of the world's most mysterious treasure may be solved. If so, will the oaken chests and casks be filled with ancient plate and works of art; will they contain the loot of Incans and Aztecs, or will they be found to contain the minted gold and silver coins, the jewelry and trinkets filched from heaven alone knows where by some freebooter whose very existence has been forgotten? 
They Found Gold -Pt 5 -Ch 8-10

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.