Dave’s Oak Island theory

Here is another subject that has peaked my interest in the past and present. Like the Lagina brothers, who currently star in a reality series titled The Curse of Oak Island, my own grandmother had a subscription to Reader’s Digest, and I remember reading the 1965 Oak Island article at an early age. Then, in 1976, my grandfather received a Sept, 76 issue of Popular Mechanics that had a brief article—still have it, to this day. Sometime in the 1980s I discovered D’arcy O’Connor’s book The Big Dig in a bookstore, so when the reality series premiered, I had a little bit of a head start on the subject.

This spring (2016), after doing a Google image search, I discovered some of the old survey maps and diagrams that have been posted on the Internet  (I looked for such things once before using Google’s normal search box, and nothing came up of much interest!). So with all the new info at hand, I drew up the following diagram in an attempt to form a mental picture of what the underground structure around the money pit might be like, and in doing so, arrived at a theory as to what might have happened on Oak Island during the big collapse of 1861.

As the new season of Curse approaches (season 4), I decided to post the diagram—just for kicks—and see if I get anything right. I do not claim it to be fact; just a guess and nothing more. Of course, I’m sure something will go wrong, and they will never get far enough to settle the issue anyway, but . . . Obviously, I am skeptical that there was ever anything more to the construction of the money pit other than a 150' deep pit and a flood tunnel: I am of the opinion that the amount of labor involved in excavating the money pit and constructing a cofferdam at Smith’s Cove was probably an intentional deterrent for any particular individual returning and digging up the “loot” for himself.

12/23/16 Note: I would point out that the limestone layer could have collapsed sometime prior to 1861, creating a void and thus causing all of the material above to be supported by timbers, which then gave way during the collapse. If the natural caverns below were indeed connected to the ocean even better than the flood tunnel, it would explain why water became such a problem for treasure hunters, while the original depositors were able to dig the money pit in relatively dry conditions.

2/07/17 To give it a cleaner look, I retraced and reannotated the sketch that I posted for the first time on 11/10/16. (When I drew up the original diagram, the notion of posting it on the Internet never crossed my mind, so it was a rather sloppy affair). I think the 1897 position of the vault (or whatever it was that that Fred Blair's company drilled through in 1897) was actually about two feet higher than depicted in my diagram, but I did not want to reposition anything and stayed true to the original sketch.

More below image

2/25/17: What I have gotten right, so far: So after three years (of the show), the Laginas and company finally begin taking a serious look at the actual money-pit area. And you have to hand it to them, they really gave it heck last season. While they didn’t find any priceless treasure, it does look as though they found features in the cavern resembling those in my diagram.| In hindsight, the whole vault at 140' thing was probably too good to be true, when you consider the fact that something like 200 holes have been drilled in the money pit area since 1897, with none having rediscovered the vault. However, in the fourth-season finale, they did find some pretty interesting stuff about twenty feet (if my calculations are correct) below the level where William Chappel drilled into what he thought could be a vault in 1897.

What I didn’t get right: Seems every time I do an Internet search on Oak Island, I find something new—some new information or diagrams. Recently, I found some drilling records indicating the deep pit in the bedrock that I thought was thirty feet wide and under the Heddon shaft is actually estimated to be sixteen feet in diameter and under the Chappel shaft (oakislandcompendium.com). Apparently, it was the southern half of the Heddon shaft that was deepened to about 176' below the original SL before hitting solid bedrock. And to the best of my knowledge, the pit bottoms out about 200' below the present surface level, where it possibly extends into lateral tunnels. This news defies two books I have read on the subject, both of which report the Chappel shaft having bottomed out on solid bedrock, which would, of course, be impossible.

I don’t think my surface levels are too far off in my diagram. Perhaps one of these days, I will draw up a new diagram containing some of the new stuff I have learned. For now: The following is my current thought process on the surface levels and such for anyone with a deep interest in the whole Oak Island thing.

So if the Laginas expected to find a vault at 140' (Curse season 2, episode 4), that would put the present surface 14' below the SL used by Fred Blair, which must have been the same as the original SL, given the fact Blair rediscovered the flood tunnel at 111'—exactly where it was supposed to be. However, when it comes to surface levels after the turn of the twentieth century, they seem to vary wildly from source to source. The inference I get is that at some point (1932?) the ground level was lowered to about 10' below the original SL, but no book I have read, or any other source, has explained the circumstances surrounding the 10' drop. It has been noted that the Chappels found the ground in the money pit area somewhat sunken when they began digging in 1931, but it hardly seems like the entire area could have sunk 10', so they must have removed some soil, perhaps to search for the remnants of other shafts, but I am only speculating.

So I think Thomas Nixon was likely using the lowered SL when he did his drilling in 1934, which leads me to the following . . .

The limestone layer: Thomas Nixon reported drilling through a bulkhead of cement and oak about 14" thick at 136', after which his drill dropped to 169', where he brought up some severely decayed pieces of oak until hitting bottom at 176'. [These holes were presumably north of the money pit shaft – The Big Dig, O’Connor 1988, PB page 72] Now imagine that by 1955, the existing SL was about two feet higher due to fill. George Greene mentions drilling through a limestone layer at 140', followed by a 40' void to 180'. Skip to 1965; Robert Dunfield locates what he thinks is the original money pit situated 15' north of the Chappel shaft and about 10' west of the NW corner of the Heddon shaft. He does some drilling and reports a limestone layer about 2' thick from 140' to 142' followed by a void extending to 182'.

So if, by chance, I do have the proper surface levels for the three (Dunfield, Nixon and Greene), it appears there is a dip in the lower bedrock somewhere north of the Chappel shaft that is about 10' lower than where the Heddon shaft bottomed out, which is also about the same level where the Laginas struck solid bedrock with the caisson known as C-1. And it (the dip) may very well contain well-decayed oak as far down as 180' from the original SL (166' from present SL).

Now, the Curse of Oak Island season 4 finale: Unfortunately, the show will not provide any landmark to use as a reference point for the holes they have dug, the most obvious one being the Heddon shaft. This is almost as annoying as those herky-jerky historical flashbacks with all the strobe flashes and odd noises, but I digress. True, a person might get some idea of their location from fleeting shots of working diagrams being shuffled around the table, but I guess a decent map shot would be too much to ask. At any rate, my best guess is that the first caisson (V-3) was put down at the center of Dunfield’s money pit, and the last caisson (GAL-1) was put down on the west perimeter of Blair’s money pit. If my calculations are correct, the Laginas and company made it down to about 174' from the original SL in the season finale. If they resume digging in the hole next season and hit bedrock soon, it means that any possible treasure they may have run into is flanked by one depression to the north with a possible fissure leading to the cavern under C-1, and a very deep hole to the south possibly leading to natural tunnels. I hate to suggest it, but if they find anything at all, they may end up having to go even deeper to find the rest of it.

4/22/17: A new diagram (#2), based more on what is known rather than theory. If the following diagram differs from everything else on the web, it is in the fact that it at least depicts everything to scale from top to bottom. While based on a certain amount of educated guesswork, I will admit, of special note is the dip in the bedrock about 15' north of the Chappel shaft, which—I think—is directly under the caisson known as V-3 (looks like a very good place, to me anyhow, to look for loose coins or gold bars).

As you will note, I included a few things learned from the last season (season 4) of Curse, such as the general size and shape cavity found by C-1 north of the money pit. As mentioned, I am not 100% certain as to the exact location of the holes that the Laginas and company have dug, and although the show did describe features in the cavern similar to my diagram, I don’t know the N-S E-W orientation of those features, at present, so that part is complete guesswork. The distance of the money pit from the Chappell shaft is based on Blair’s money pit.

Studying the Becker drilling records posted by John Wonnacott and Les MacPhie on oakislandcompendium.com, there is one hole that Becker drilled in 1969 labeled B37 (164' from -20' level), that supports my hunch that there is indeed a significant dip in the bedrock under Dunfield’s money pit.

More below image.

Misc: I should mention that there is another mention of what was probably the limestone layer, in the logs of Henry Bowdoin, who drilled some 28 holes in the money pit area in 1909. Bowdoin reported striking cement 6-10" thick at depths ranging from at 146-149'. The surface level must have been close to the original SL as they reportedly found the water level in the pit at 30' below grade. However, he apparently never went deeper than 171'.

Misc 2: The positions of the various drillings (C-1, V-3 etc.) are based on where the drill heads broke the surface, and do not take any possible deviation into account. The vertical line marked Gal-1 is intended to represent the centerline of the Gal-1 caisson.

While it is often said during the show (Curse) that Oak Island seems to raise more questions than answers, the television show seems to be pretty good at raising questions itself, at times: For one thing, I have no idea why they didn’t go ahead and send the caisson known as Valley-3 down to the bedrock. If I have the correct location for V3, it is quite possible they were drilling in an area where some very deep decayed oak was found. And on top of that, the solid bedrock seems to me like the most obvious place to look for any loose treasure from a destroyed treasure vault—given the level of water action there seems to be in the money pit area, and all the pumping that has been done over the years.

There have been a few other things “left open” over the course of the show, a few things I might even deem slightly “fishy”:

1: In season 2, episode 4, the Laginas Drill into what they think might be the Blair vault. In S4, E5 they further investigate the find and act surprised when they bring up a piece of one of the Chappels' tunnels. Now, granted, carbon dating stuff less than 500 year old can be unreliable, but unless I missed something, there was never any mention of what the wood found in S2, E4 carbon dated to, and surely they had it tested.

2: In S3, E12, a six-inch hole is drilled about 20' north of V3, and is dubbed “C1.” The drill operator reports the drill as having dropped into a cavity approximately 21' from top to bottom. Skip ahead to season 4, episodes 9 and 10: The same cavity is described as about 8' high, with several feet of sediment on the bottom. So if the bottom is at 11', how did the drill end up dropping another 10'?

3: Also in S3, E12, a small piece of metal is found by Jack Bagely in the spoils from C-1. It was never mentioned again—type of metal? probable origin?

4: At the beginning of S4, E5, the show’s narrator states that “bits of gold” were brought up in 1897. Could have been a honest mistake, but I have never read anything conclusive about bits of gold being brought up from the money pit—gold links perhaps in 1850, but no “bits.” I did find a brief anecdote on page 110 of Oak Island Gold, Willima S. Crooker 1995, in which Blair reported many years after the fact of seeing faint traces of yellow on the bit that was cleaned off in 1897 by T. Purley Putnam. According to Blair, it was the same spoils that later produced the tiny piece of parchment—but what became of the gold?

5: In S4, E7, a large chunk of unusual rock is brought up by the hammer-grab. It was also never mentioned again. I used to own some mining claims, and the chunk looked suspiciously like some large chunks of pyrite I have seen, which can have a dull surface due to oxidation. However, if it was indeed pyrite, it should have had a shiny gold color where it had been fractured.

3/14/18: Since I’m already in the business; yet another diagram (#3). Given all the holes the Oak Island team drilled in the money pit area last season (S5) the Laginas and company should probably have a better understanding of the subsurface topography than anyone. But when you study something long enough, you are bound to gain a better understanding, so perhaps there are a few insightful things I can offer. I came to the realization that the various layers, or levels, of rock under the money pit area are probably much flatter than I first surmised. About 23’ below the upper limestone layer, there appears to be a layer of shale (or shale-like rock) at 165’ from the 1795-1909 surface level. And in places, this shale is either thin or weak, allowing drill heads to pass through and drop about 11.5 feet or so through a silty layer to a relatively flat surface of sound anhydrite.

But under the flat surface, the so-called sound anhydrite is obviously riddled with natural cavities; and it stands to reason that in places, the roof of these cavities must be thin. The jest of my original theory was that the weight of the collapsing debris from the 1861 collapse caused a cascade that broke through the upper limestone layer, depositing the vault lower than its original location. But now I’m not so sure that the collapse did not involve deeper layers of rock. I am also wondering if a second collapse might not have occurred somewhere deep in the money pit sometime between 1909 and 1931, perhaps involving the roof of a water-filled void.

At any rate, the layers appear to be flat and solid except for an area with a roughly pear-shaped outline extending from under Dunfield’s money pit over to and under the Chappel shaft’s onetime surface location. As too just how far down the money pit was originally dug, it is anyone’s guess, of course. Some contend that the deep cavern (referred to as the deep-rock area by MacPhie and Wannacott) located under the Chappel shaft’s surface location was part of the original work, but I just cannot imagine why someone would purposely dig such a wide hole into the bedrock—even if the original entrance was much smaller than it is now. So if indeed ever occupied by man, my bet is, it was a discovered cavern that was taken advantage of.

Other: For this diagram, I chose Dunfield’s location for the original money pit for two reasons: one, it gets it out of the way, and two, it may explain what the Chappels were thinking as they were digging their shaft back in 1931, although--beyond all the interesting finds made there last year--there are compelling reasons why the money pit might have been farther south. Who knows?, perhaps there were two shafts about six feet apart, one used to ventilate the other. | I am no longer certain that the south portion of the Heddon shaft was eventually dug to 167’. A field sketch drawn on August 28, 1968, apparently by Robert Dunfield, is the only source of info I have found depicting such a depth for the south end. | My diagram depicts the Chappel shaft as it was constructed. But my understanding is, the top portion collapsed when Dunfield did his excavating in 1965. | While the show did get a little more technical last season (S5), with better map shots and so forth, good descriptions of exactly where they were drilling at any give time were sporadic and occasionally misleading. Poor resolution video captions of spaghetti-mess diagrams not much help either. Anything I was not certain of is annotated with a question mark. | I had assumed that Dunfield drilled his holes inside of what he believed to be the original money pit, and I included that assumption in my diagram; but, as you can see, it’s a really tight fit between the C-1 cavern and B-37 to arrive at the depths he recorded. I believe the present search team has drilled several holes in that location, so they would know more about it than I.| And I’m sure nothing in the money pit was ever as neat and tidy as my pencil lines would suggest, but anyhow . . .

More below image.

One more thing regarding the money pit: Not being personally involved in the dig, there are a lot of technical details I am missing, of course. For example, although the show is constantly giving depth assessments, the depth of fill added in 2016 has never been mentioned on the show, and the money pit ground water level mentioned—I believe for the first time in the series—in S5, E18 does not jive with the notion that the original ground level was 10 feet higher than the 1930s level. But here is something interesting that I doubt the Oak Island team even noticed: The Chappels reported running into a layer of shale-like rock at 155’ back in 1931 while searching for the vault. In season 4 episode 14, the T-1 caisson hits the same thing at 156’. And in season 5, episode 3, a hole is drilled near the Chappel shaft (H-3.5) that hits an iron obstruction at 162’. Now, assuming for the sake of argument that ground level was indeed 10 feet higher in 1897 than in 1931, and the shale layer is relatively flat (as one would expect), then the iron obstruction at 162’ (as well as the human bone fragments) would be at precisely the same depth—to the inch—as the iron or steel obstruction William Chappel struck at 171’. 

The Curse of Oak Island, Season 5, A.K.A. How many goofy questions can be posed in an hour’s time: I was a bit dumbfounded when it was announced in the first episode that a series of 38 holes would be drilled in the money pit area before anyone bothered to send the GAL-1 or V-3 caisson farther down. Then there was a bit of an “oh, crap,” moment during the second episode when I realized what they were referring to as the “Geo-tech system” was my idea. I’m referring to a brief email I sent to Marty Lagina and the Oak Island team back on Feb 10th, 2015.

Excerpt: [Just a thought I had: I will have to pose the first part of it in the form of a question: First of all, is there any sort of plastic pipe strong enough to be used as well casing, such as schedule 30 PVC, for example? Next, if that were possible, seems like there should be a way--by lowering separate emitter and collector coils down separate holes--of getting a three dimension cross section of the metal content of a sizable area of earth, down to considerable depth--as far as the casings will go. The process would no-doubt require the creation of an entirely new computer algorithm, but seems feasible to me, anyway. Stu Auerbach is probably the person you would want ask about all this, of course.]

(I meant schedule 40 PVC, of course, although I recently learned that they make a schedule 80, with walls about twice as thick. Plumbing is not really my area of expertise, anyhow.)

My initial thought was, how unfortunate they implemented my idea after they had sunk a series of huge metal objects into the ground. And this, after old accounts of drill pipes breaking off deep in the money pit area, to complicate matters. I personally would have focused more on the area from the Chappel shaft to Dunfield’s money pit, but that is all “water under the money pit” now, I suppose.

The show, of course, attributed the Geo-tech system to everyone but the person who actually suggested the concept—namely me—and that is plagiaristic. I realize that the Laginas and company do not produce the TV show, and I sympathize with their disappointments and personal tragedies, but I would hold them responsible for its content to a degree; and they could at least have mentioned that the concept was sent in by a viewer. Even so, I will refrain, for the time calling them names, and give them a chance to put things right.

So, Dave where is the treasure? Well, it’s unfortunate that drill pipes tend to deviate, and it remains to be seen if my pvc pipe idea is going to lead to treasure, but the fact that the new caissons sent down last season found so little is foreboding: It makes one wonder if whatever (and whoever) was buried there is not scattered over a wide area and range of depth, and just how things ended up that way (cave ins and water circulation are at the top of my list).

One last thing: An episode of “Curse of” every now and then that got away from the dig, the usual hype, and the fifty goofy questions and focused more on the technical aspects of the dig would be a definite “groove.” I am referring to the various historic reasons why the money pit might be in this or that location, the present theory as to where the original surface level was located, and a much more detailed look at what the underground topography probably looks like based on all of the exploration to date.

mysteries, commentary, sci-fi

11-10-16, last rev = 3-16-18
2016-18 Dave Conklin