Storytime with KBC: Oak Island Money Pit
Do you hear that? No, you don’t! And it’s marvelous! Classes are out for the summer, and the PNU campus has fallen into blissful silence. No more students begging for extra credit. No more interminable faculty mixers. No more TA whining about why I abandoned her somewhere in the Cretaceous era. So melodramatic—I was gone for, like, a week at most. Besides, she’s the one who dropped the Carnotaurus egg in the first place. Anyway, she’s fine. She had this whole Warrior Queen of the Dinosaurs thing going when I came back. Girl’s a survivor. Might want to keep this one around. Anyway, I owe you guys a story, right? Hmm…let’s see. Ah, got one!
Oak Island. It’s a tiny spit of land in Mahone Bay off the coast of Nova Scotia known for one thing: TREASURE! Or rather, the potential for treasure. The Oak Island Money Pit is probably the longest running dig for buried treasure in history. It all started back in 1795, when a kid named Daniel McGinnis found a an old tackle block hanging from a tree over an odd circular depression in the soil. Intrigued, McGinnis grabbed some friends and started digging. This being the just-about-nineteenth century, it’s not like they had anything better to do, so they kept at it far longer than you’d expect. A few feet down they found a layer of flagstones. Beneath that, layers of wooden logs at roughly ten foot intervals. They dug down about thirty feet before calling it quits. They were the first group to be unsuccessful on Oak Island, but they were far from the last.
Fast forward to eight years later. By now, McGinnis and friends have spread the word of their little treasure hunt. It even got a little bit of play in the press. It’s enough to get the Onslow Company to give it a shot. They send a team out to Oak Island to continue the excavation, eventually ending up about ninety feet below the surface. That’s where they find the marker stone. A large, heavy stone, inscribed with cryptic symbols. The company brings in researchers to decode the stone, and they eventually settle on a promising translation: “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” Now we’re getting somewhere!
And that somewhere, is nowhere. Pretty much immediately after finding the marker stone, the pit floods back up to the thirty-foot mark. It’s a hell of a blow, and Onslow ends up pulling out. It takes until 1849 for someone else to try their hand at the pit, and the Truro Company excavates back down to 86 feet, when it floods again. Somewhere down there, there’s a booby trap. They keep drilling, through the water, breaking through several layers of various woods and metals before finally hitting clay at just over a hundred feet down.
The digging continued throughout the 1800s and into the twentieth century. The original pit has long since been lost as the entire area was dug out and drilled beyond all recognition. The deepest dig to date is a 235 foot deep shaft, terminating in bedrock, which quickly collapsed. And the result? Take a guess.
To date, despite countless excavations spanning two centuries, nothing has been found in the Oak Island Money Pit apart from some random garbage—probably left behind by previous treasure-hunters. People have even lost their damn lives searching for a treasure that, as has become painfully clear by this point, doesn’t even exist. The first was back in 1861, when a boiler on a pumping engine exploded and scalded a worker to death. Another died falling into the pit in 1897, and four men died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the early 1960s. This whole thing’s gotten way out of hand. It’s well past time that I shut this mess down, once and for all.
First of all, I’ve gotta shatter your world-view a little bit. Buried treasure? Not a real thing. Generally speaking, humans have never been in the habit of taking perfectly spendable money and chucking it down a hole. Especially pirates. There’s, like, two recorded instances of pirates hiding their treasure. William Kidd buried some stuff on the off chance that he’d need to bribe his way out of prison, and Blackbeard liked to brag about hiding his treasure hoard “where none but Satan and myself can find it.” But that’s it. The seas were full of those parrot-lovin’ rumchuggers, and all we’ve got is two measly claims of buried treasure. But for the sake of argument, let’s say this one’s the real deal. One of Kidd’s stashes maybe. Why in the name of Mike Nesmith’s Locker would he bury it over a hundred feet down? This isn’t The Goonies! The whole point of burying treasure is that you’re planning on digging it back up eventually. Not to mention these supposed pirates would have had to dig this thing by hand! An unprecedented engineering feat accomplished in the seventeenth century by a crew of grog-soaked, illiterate, scurvy-ridden n’eer-do-wells. Looking less and less likely, right?
So what is it then? Who built the Money Pit, and what’s at the bottom?
The answers? Nobody. And nothing. But I’ve got a confession to make. No, I didn’t make the damn thing. But I definitely played my part in the legend.
It started, as most of my adventures do, with me looking to make a quick buck. While brainstorming get-rich-quick schemes, I remembered the Oak Island story. At the time I believed in it. Sure, buried treasure was super rare, but it happened on occasion. Why not there? Still, I wasn’t about to grab a backhoe and start digging my way to a watery grave—that’s not the Blue Clay way. No, I figured I’d work things from the other end. Dial back the ol’ chronoporter and see if I could track down the treasure in the past. Maybe snag it just before the pirates finished building their booby-traps. So I hopped back to just before the McGinnis kid stumbled across the block and tackle, took a look around, and didn’t see anything. So I dialed back a year or so, took another look. Nothing. I kept at it, jumping back a few years at a time, trying to find that damn treasure, until I was well into the tenth century. What’d I find? Bupkis. Nobody ever buried treasure on Oak Island. Not in this millennium.
What the hell, right? What about the flagstones and all of those log platforms? And that ingenious floodwater system. Who built all that crap? Well, I wish I could take credit, but the architect in question is Mother Nature herself. Oak Island is notoriously riddled with sinkholes, and as we’ve discussed before in this column, those angry bastards will suck down anything they can. Rocks, trees, whatever! It all gets sucked down into the dirt. Over the centuries, that stuff can really stack up. Then some day a kid finds a weird looking depression and starts digging. Hits a layer of stone. A layer of trees. Another layer of trees. Then another. Figures it must be manmade and tells a friend. The story spreads, and next thing you know it’s two centuries later and a bunch of engineers with more money than sense have wasted millions of dollars excavating a natural sinkhole.
And that cryptic marker stone? Sure, it was never independently examined and it mysteriously disappeared shortly after it was discovered, but surely that was a clue, right? Well, let’s just say it was pretty convenient how it showed up just as Onslow’s funding was starting to run dry, wasn’t it? The impending promise of millions of pounds did a damn quick job of refilling the ol’ coffers. Just sayin’.
My role in the story’s not quite done though. Sure, there was no treasure, but that didn’t mean I had to go home empty handed. You see, even though I knew there was nothing down in that sinkhole, other people still thought there was, and I’m not one to look a gift hole in the mouth (Note to self: Reword. Gross.) So I headed into the early nineteenth century and took advantage of some strategic, digging-related investment opportunities. Professional pickaxers. Shovelsmiths. Bucketeers. A few years later and it was steam drills and hydraulic augers. Jump to the mid 1960s and I’m the majority shareholder in several companies manufacturing earthmoving equipment. As long as gold-hungry idiots keep excavating that failure pit, business will keep on booming. I mean, they built a damn causeway to transport heavy machinery over to the island. Technically, it’s not even an island anymore because of that! That kind of work don’t come cheap.
Oh yeah, and just to make absolutely sure I’d recoup my investment I made one last jump to 1795 and hung an old tackleblock from a nearby tree. Hey, I had a lot of money in the game at this point. I wasn’t about to risk my fortune on some random act of pulley abandonment.
So that’s my story. I, Kentucky Blue Clay, am the Oak Island mystery. I figure I’ve more than recouped my investment by this point. It’s time to shut it down. So hey there, potential treasure hunters! Hope you stumble across this random blog post before you go out and buy a bunch of my backhoes and dump trucks! It’d sure be a shame if you missed this important confession and kept giving me all of your money.
Whew, feels good to get that off my chest. Been carrying that around too long. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go twirl around with wild abandon in vast, open space of the empty quad. God, I love summer break!