Reader's Digest: Treasure Hunt
For 200 years, the promise of a pirate's payday buried deep in a pit off Nova Scotia's coast has attracted schemers and dreamers from around the world. Every last one has gone home empty-handed. Is Oak Island cursed?
Just off the rugged southeast shore of Nova Scotia lies a tiny
island fashioned somewhat like a question mark. The shape is
appropriate, for little Oak Island is the scene of a baffling whodunit
that has defied solution for over two centuries. Here, since 1795—
not long after pirates prowled the Atlantic coast and left glittering
legends of buried gold in their wake—people have been trying
to find out what lies at the bottom of a mysterious shaft dubbed,
hopefully, the Money Pit.
Using picks and shovels, divining rods and drilling rigs, treasure hunters
have—as of the current date, 1965—poured about $1.5 million into
the Money Pit. Despite more than 20 attempts, no one has yet reached
bottom: each time a digging crew has seemed close to success, torrents of
water have surged into the shaft to drown its hopes. Although it’s now
known that the Money Pit is protected by an ingenious system of flood tunnels
that uses the sea as a watchdog, no one knows who dug the pit, or why.
One legend makes the pit the hiding place for the plunder of Captain
Kidd, who was hanged for piracy in 1701. Other theories favour the
booty of Blackbeard and Henry Morgan, both notorious buccaneers; or
the French crown jewels that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were said
to be carrying when they attempted to flee during the French Revolution;
or Shakespeare’s missing manuscripts. Whatever the pit may contain,
few other treasures have been sought so avidly.
The long parade of searchers began one day 170 years ago, when
Daniel McGinnis, a 16-year-old from Chester, N.S., paddled over to uninhabited
Oak Island to hunt for game. On a knoll at one end of the island,
he noticed an odd depression. Above it, on a sawed-off tree limb, hung an
old ship’s block and tackle. McGinnis’s heart raced, for in the nearby
port of LaHave, once a lair for pirates preying on New England shipping,
he had heard many legends of buried treasure.
The next day, he came back with two other boys, Anthony Vaughan and
John Smith, and began digging. Three metres down, they hit a platform of
aged oak logs; at six metres, another; at nine metres, a third. In the flinty
clay walls of the shaft, they could still see the marks of pickaxes. As the work
grew harder, they sought help. But no one else would go near Oak Island. It
was said to be haunted by the ghosts of two fishermen who vanished there in
1720 while investigating strange lights. So the boys gave up, temporarily.
The Curse of Oak Island
Season 4 premieres November 20 at 10 E/P
This is an RD Classic from the December 2014 issue of Readers Digest. This story originally appeared in the pages of Readers Digest in 1965. It was written by David MacDonald, reprinted from The Rotarian.