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. Read More
The Curse of Oak Island
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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.