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Authors: Lionel & Patricia Fanthorpe

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There were difficulties and apparent contradictions, however, as far as this theory was concerned. Sea water had caused problems for previous expeditions at much shallower levels than eighty feet. Did the catchment reservoir have other outlets at higher levels? Was there, for example, one tunnel at forty feet and another at fifty as well as the major connection at eighty?

The unknown genius seems to have been a very devious and convoluted thinker. His flood tunnels varied not only in their horizontal turns and branches but may have had additional vertical variants as well. Such a combination would be almost impossible to eliminate in its entirety: which was exactly what the unknown genius seems to have wanted.

If there was only one flood tunnel, and if it was already eighty feet deep when it was less than fifty feet from the beach, how could it have admitted water to the other two shallower shafts at depths of just over thirty feet and barely seventy feet? The only reasonable explanation seems to be a plethora of flood tunnels connected both laterally and horizontally to the main tunnel, as shown in the diagram.

The next course of action was to encase a two-and-a-half inch drill inside a three-inch pipe and make exploratory borings into the earth below the flood water now filling the Money Pit. As far as Blair and his associates could guess, the catastrophic 1861 collapse of whatever supports had been fixed close to the 100-foot level had allowed the treasure to fall into unknown depths. It seemed reasonable to them to assume that if they could establish cast iron evidence of its whereabouts by means of core samples, then further investment would be readily forthcoming.

The proposed drillings were duly carried out, and very curious new evidence was discovered. The drillers encountered wood at just below 120 feet. Five feet further down there was more. At this same level, the pipe encasing their drill struck an iron obstruction and stopped.

Blair's men decided to try something smaller; they put a one-and-a-half-inch drill down without any casing. This got past the iron and ploughed on through clay to just below 150 feet. At that depth it encountered what was either softish natural stone or man-made cement. Samples were later sent to analytical chemists who said that it had the same composition as cement, which is not quite the same thing as saying unequivocally that it actually was manufactured cement. Nevertheless, their comments were very significant: if they did not absolutely confirm that it was man-made, neither did they dismiss it as a natural phenomenon. It was the famous old Scottish verdict of
not proven

The drill went down another couple of feet and struck wood below the “cement.” Blair's men withdrew the drill and down put an auger instead. The auger went through five inches of oak. Then it dropped a couple of inches and encountered something mysterious. None of the drillers was prepared at that stage to hazard a guess as to what it might be.

Further work gave the impression that the auger was struggling to get past bars of soft, loose metal. A sworn statement made by William Chappell, who was present at the time, maintained that whenever the drill was lifted, ready to be dropped again in order to penetrate deeper, this tantalizing loose material immediately slid back into the hole. Because this made the standard drop-and-lift technique impossible, the rods had to be twisted and turned instead, while a constant downward pressure was maintained. This laborious method took the men nearly six hours to drill from the top of the loose metal to its base.

The treasure hunters deduced that they had encountered ingots of gold or silver with coins below them, and that those coins in turn were resting on another layer of ingots.

Their next plan, not surprisingly, was to try to get a pipe down where the one-and-a-half-inch drill had penetrated, and then to attempt to secure samples of whatever the drill had encountered. Either chance circumstances were against them, or the unknown genius had long ago anticipated this eventuality. The encircling pipe was deflected by the ancient but impenetrable iron obstruction, and went off somewhere at a tangent. It never reached the mysterious chests with their enigmatic loose metal contents. The drillers withdrew the pipe and tried the one-and-a-half-inch drill again inside the three-inch pipe. Predictably and frustratingly, it followed the diversionary hole cut by the first, deflected pipe. Blair's team never drilled into the chests again. It was like being allowed to savour the fragrance of delicious tropical fruit ripening on a distant island which you could not reach because there was no boat: so near and yet so far!

Like Gipsy Rose Lee, the Guardian of the Money Pit allowed provocative hints and glimpses — but nothing more tangible!

At about 150 feet down they encountered wood on one side of the drill and the cement-like material below it. This “cement” continued down for seven or eight feet. It seemed to be the side, or wall, of the chamber which the one-and-a-half-inch drill had entered previously. They were now drilling through the inside edge of the wall where the boxes rested against it. At 170 feet the drill struck iron. Hours of work and careful bit tempering and sharpening penetrated this iron by less than half an inch. Magnetic testing of the recovered material produced scrapings of iron which the drill had chipped from the stubborn obstruction 170 feet below.

Careful consideration must be given to what these reported drillings could indicate. Boake Roberts, a reputable and respected industrial chemical company, analyzed samples of the so-called “cement” and said, rather tentatively, that in their opinion it was more likely than not man-made. The most interesting and exciting possibility is that Blair's team located a treasure vault, or repository, nearly 170 feet down. Was this the same vault that had once been supported by the platform that had collapsed years before? Is it reasonable to imagine that it sank — either suddenly or gradually — while at the same time remaining intact and preserving its vital contents? If the original treasure (or sarcophagi) from the ninety-eight-foot level had been smashed and dispersed by the collapse, or diverted, or moved a long distance sideways by the flood water and the counter-productive pumping, then was this a second treasure vault they had located at the 170-foot level?

Suppose that a mere two boxes containing a few thousand gold and silver pieces and some trinkets of jewellery had been left as a decoy at the ninety-eight-foot level to deceive an intruder into believing that that was all the treasure there was? What if the ninety-eight-foot pseudo-treasure was just one more in the long line of subterranean defences created by the unknown genius?

The story of Aladdin and the tale of the Magic Tinderbox both provide interesting precedents for concealing something of immeasurable worth alongside an ordinary treasure of gold and silver.

On one of the drillings a small ball of what at first looked like wood fibre came up. Perley Putnam kept it very carefully in his personal possession until it was publicly examined by Dr. A.E. Porter, who came from Amherst. The doctor subjected the tiny ball to minute examination including the use of a microscope. The ball was slowly unrolled and gently smoothed out flat. It turned out to be a scrap of parchment bearing the letters “V I” or something very similar. Dr. Porter swore an affidavit to that effect on September 6, 1897. On the assumption that Putnam was as honest and honourable man — although it must be noted in passing that his Money Pit investments lost him $20,000 and practically ruined him; and that Dr. Porter and the witnesses were equally honest and honourable — the evidence of the lettered parchment fragment is one of the most significant clues so far discovered.

If it can be taken at face value — and the weight of evidence is for its genuineness rather than otherwise — then a number of conclusions may be drawn:

(a) that several strange and interesting things (other than treasure) are hidden deep below Oak Island;

(b) that they include a mysterious old parchment document, or a number of such documents;

(c) that whatever ancient written material is down there should provide clues to the identity of the mysterious unknown engineer who constructed the system;

(d) that the parchments may also explain the real reason for the Money Pit's existence, and reveal what it was constructed to guard in the first place;

(e) that the real treasure may comprise some arcane secret written on the parchments themselves;

(f) that the parchments may be priceless, long-lost originals, worth infinitely more than conventional treasures of gold or silver.

There are scholarly and reputable historians who firmly believe that Bacon was the real author of the works attributed to Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare. Suppose that they are right, and suppose that to prove his literary claims to posterity Bacon had arranged for his original manuscripts to be preserved in the New World. It remains an undeniable possibility.

Excited by what the parchment might mean, and more convinced than ever that an unimaginable fortune lay below them, Blair's team attacked the island again. Having failed to conquer the sea and the flood tunnels which conveyed it to the Money Pit, they fell back on the old, discredited idea of digging more shafts and getting under the treasure. They tried this again and again, frequently running into one of the tunnels made by the Halifax Eldorado Company, or other earlier explorers. Every attempt failed: shaft after shaft flooded.

Workmen's wages were in arrears. The machine hire company wanted its back rent. The Oak Island Treasure Company was tottering. Blair bought the other shareholders out, and there at the close of the nineteenth century the greatest treasure hunt on earth came to another temporary halt.

- 9 -

Into the Twentieth Century

December of 1900, Fred Blair had very astutely gained complete control of the Oak Island Treasure Company. A fifty-year battle with the Money Pit lay ahead of him. For the time being, however, with insufficient resources to launch another large scale onslaught on the treasure's defences, Fred contented himself with keeping up his $100 annual lease with Sophia Sellers and his Nova Scotian treasure trove licence with the government. His long-term future strategy was to find enthusiastic adventurers with ample financial backing who would take over the Oak Island action and divide the spoils with him when the treasure was eventually recovered.

Throughout the long years until his death in 1951, Fred never doubted that something of immense value lay below the island. Through two world wars, the Great Depression and the rush of technology from horses and buggies to nuclear bombs and computers, Fred Blair was totally dedicated to solving the mystery of the Oak Island Money Pit.

The first of his many partners did not turn out well. Captain Harry Bowdoin was a flamboyant adventurer with a flair for publicity and a background in engineering. His energy and confidence were boundless: his financial resources were not. He founded “The Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company” in April 1909. It had an authorized capital of $250,000 but sold barely $5,000 worth to shareholders.

Bowdoin was widely publicized in an article in the
New York Herald
of March 18, 1909, as a master mariner and pilot. He was said to have wide engineering skills covering machinery, mining, and marine work. His alleged experience included government contracts for harbours and bridges. He was also reported to be licensed as a diver. Bowdoin was brashly confident that he could “… solve in a jiffy the difficulties Captain Kidd had made to guard his treasure …” Bowdoin claimed that he could clear up in a fortnight the problems all the previous treasure hunters had failed to solve over the past hundred years. It would be little more than a casual vacation for him.

There is a particularly relevant line from I Kings 20: 11, “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.”

The Bowdoin offices at 44 Broadway, New York, were prestigious. So were the company's front runners: Bowdoin himself was president; Fred Blair had the vice presidency; the company secretary was an accountant named G.D. Mosher; a New York lawyer, L.H. Andrews, was their treasurer, and the same Captain Welling who had lost $4,000 during his previous entanglement with the Money Pit served on the board of directors. Among the $5,000 worth of shares, a few had been sold to a singularly able young lawyer named Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was then working for Carter, Ledyard, and Milburn of New York.

As a child, F.D.R. had spent many summer vacations on Campobello, an island between Maine and New Brunswick. Already a competent sailor by the time he was six years old, he met and talked to many seafarers in the area about the Oak Island mystery. When he was only sixteen, the young Roosevelt sailed with a friend to Grand Manan Island in search of Captain Kidd's treasure, which legend said lay buried there. Their expedition is strangely reminiscent of the adventure which the youthful Smith, Vaughan, and McGinnis had on their first visit to Oak Island in 1795. Small wonder, then, that F.D.R. was interested in supporting Bowdoin's treasure hunting syndicate in 1909. It was an interest that never died. Even as president, with the New Deal and the Second World War to occupy his attention, Roosevelt was always glad to receive reports about the latest events on Oak Island.

In his wide-ranging and abundantly confident prospectus, Bowdoin outlined his plan to locate the treasure by drilling and then to cut off the flood tunnels by driving interlocking steel sheets into them. Once he'd located the treasure and cut off the water, he intended to excavate with a bucket dredger to get the precious metal to the surface. In addition, he had a contingency plan: if all else failed he would use “Bowdoin's Air Lock Caisson.” This, he proudly proclaimed, would enable the workmen inside it to go down through mud or water, to work sideways as well as downwards, and to send up any interesting or valuable finds via the caisson's air lock.

On August 27, 1909, the ebullient Captain Bowdoin and his entourage set up “Camp Kidd” on Oak Island. If all had gone as he predicted, they were scheduled to have been sailing home with their share of the treasure on or before September 11.

The abject account of their failure makes dismally familiar reading: they couldn't find the Smith's Cove end of the flood tunnel; they made the customary unsuccessful assault on the Money Pit itself; they couldn't afford the big 1,000-gallon-a-minute pump on which so much depended; they drilled almost thirty holes but failed to touch any of the deeply buried, displaced treasure. Predictably, their woefully inadequate $5,000 soon ran out.

Before giving up on November 4, Bowdoin had also used a diver and dynamite without success. He and Blair then had a sharp disagreement: Bowdoin wanted to come back and try again, but Blair wouldn't agree to that unless and until Bowdoin could satisfy him beyond any reasonable doubt that the essential financial backing was available. The dashing captain couldn't and didn't, but he threatened Blair that unless his search contract was renewed, a report would be issued that would discourage any future investment. Blair, commendably, replied as the Duke of Wellington had once replied to a blackmailer: “Publish and be damned!”

On August 19, 1911, Bowdoin's sour grapes duly displayed their verdant acidity in the public vineyard of
magazine. His vituperative article was titled “Solving the Mystery Oak Island.” It formed a curiously contradictory epilogue to his company prospectus of 1909. “… there is not, and never was, a buried treasure on Oak Island …” Fortunately, Bowden's peevish and ill-founded literary outburst did little to discourage those prospective treasure hunters who had already looked objectively at the long array of evidence and decided for themselves that the balance was clearly in favour of something immensely valuable on the island.

Fred had set himself three basic criteria which future treasure hunting partners had to meet: they must have a sensible, logical, practical approach to the problem; they must have at least one competent, qualified and experienced engineer on their site team; and they must have adequate funding available. Previous attempts had almost invariably foundered on the twin reefs of inadequate engineering skills and insufficient money.

Many people approached Blair after Bowdoin's 1909 debacle and his subsequent invective in
in 1911. Some had the hallmarks of charlatans anxious to turn Oak Island investment into another South Sea Bubble. Blair shunned them like the bubonic plague. Others arrived with honest hearts, sensible theories, and empty wallets. They were politely declined. Fred finally placed an advertisement in the
Boston Journal of Commerce
on December 7, 1922.

It was headed “Buried Treasure” and was worded with refreshing honesty and lucidity. Setting the minimum investment level at $50,000 as the price of 50 percent interest in what Blair frankly called a “speculative venture,” it offered “a sporting opportunity” to make millions set against the very real risk of losing most of the stake. Blair made it very plain that this was a venture suitable only for someone who could comfortably afford to lose $50,000.

A fascinating editorial in the
supported Blair's advertisement and suggested that Sir Henry Morgan (1635–1688), the famous Welsh pirate and one-time lieutenant governor of Jamaica, had hidden the treasure he stole during his famous Panama raid somewhere on Oak Island.

It took Blair almost twenty years of careful sifting and frequent disappointment before he found the partners he needed, and significantly, they had already been associated with his earlier activities between 1895 and 1900.

In 1931, William Chappell, who had once been one of the managers of Blair's Oak Island Treasure Company, was a part-owner of Chappells Ltd. with premises in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Chappells was prosperous enough to allow William and three other members of the family, his son Mel, and other relatives, Claude and Renerick or Renwick, to launch an Oak Island project in conjunction with Blair. William himself had been involved in the drilling work over thirty years before, when the parchment fragment had been recovered.

Mel was a qualified engineer and a member of the Canadian Institute. He talked through the problem with professional colleagues, and the consensus was that a well-cribbed shaft would be the best approach. An electric pump capable of shifting between 400 and 500 gallons a minute was brought to hold down the water level. The Chappells' first problem was the exact location of the Money Pit. Bowdoin had butchered most of the older structures, including the cribbing and drilling platforms. With the passing of twenty years and more, most of the earlier re-excavations had collapsed. The Chappells had William's memory and Fred's memory as their main guides: and, unfortunately, the two veterans disagreed by a crucial six feet. They compromised by digging their shaft twelve feet by fourteen, in the hope that at least part of it would overlap the original Money Pit of 1795.

This generously proportioned Chappell shaft went down over 160 feet, and the team then drilled exploratory holes another ten or twenty feet deeper. In all that distance they found no cement chamber, no wooden boxes, no iron obstructions: nothing, in fact, which had been drilled through in 1897. They did, however, dredge up an ancient anchor fluke which probably dated from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, and an Acadian axe of a slightly later pattern. Between the 120- and 160-foot levels they also encountered tools and timbers, apparently relics from earlier expeditions, but these were as much as twenty feet lower than the recorded working depths of the nineteenth and early-twentieth-century shafts. Quite how they had sunk down that extra distance remained a mystery to Blair and the Chappells.

Several possibilities might account for their failure to strike anything significant. Their shaft could have missed the vault by a few feet; even one foot would have been enough — and Blair himself thought the Chappell shaft was at least six feet away from the original Money Pit. Another strong possibility was that a combination of Bowdoin's clumsy dynamiting and the constant pumping of millions of gallons of flood water had eroded so much of the original workings that the former chamber had collapsed or was filled with waterborne debris.

The sinister and mysterious “guardian” envisaged in the Money Pit legends was apparently working overtime during the Chappell expedition's activities in 1931. George Stevenson, the foreman, was almost crushed to death when a tunnel caved in. The weather was foul. Storms knocked out the electrical supply to the pump. Work on the drainage system and flood tunnel from Smith's Cove was also an expensive failure. Dynamite was tried once more — and once more it failed. Further samples of coconut fibre were unearthed, but no significant progress was made towards cutting off the flood water.

Then Mel Chappell made one very important rediscovery: in 1897 Captain Welling had found a curious stone triangle in the shape of a sextant. One marker line of that triangle pointed unerringly towards the Money Pit. Welling had shown it to Blair during the 1897 workings, but for some reason it had not been regarded as important at the time, and had subsequently been forgotten. One theory current among the Chappell team was that the stone triangle had been constructed by a previous treasure hunting expedition for some purpose of their own — perhaps to mark the exact position of the Money Pit. Later researchers have given rather more thought to the stone triangle and its possible significance. Tragically, like other important clues such as the inscribed porphyry block, the stone triangle was obliterated, victim of the high-powered stop-at-nothing approach of a later researcher armed with a multi-ton earth mover!

By the end of October, $40,000 and six months' hard work had produced almost nothing for the Chappell team. Then a new problem arose for them. Sophia Graves, Anthony's daughter, had married Henry Sellers. They had owned and farmed the eastern lots on Oak Island — including the notorious Cave-in Pit into which Sophia's ploughing team had fallen in the spring of 1878. Henry had already been dead for some years before the Chappell team started work in 1931. Sophia died while the work was in progress. When the legal formalities cleared there were no fewer than a dozen heirs who all adamantly refused to renew Fred Blair's $100 a year lease on the island, on which the Chappell deal depended. The problem with Sophia's heirs did not affect Fred's licence from the government, but it seriously limited access to the site.

Curiously enough, the Sellers heirs did grant permission to Miss Mary B. Stewart, who led a group of investors. In 1932 they hired John Talbot, an engineer from New York, to do the actual site work. His team drilled for two months, reaching depths of 150 feet, but found nothing.

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