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 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 Fred Blair drilled into what he thought was 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, 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, labeled B37 (164'), 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. And in S4, E5 they 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.

mysteries, commentary, sci-fi

11-10-16, last rev = 11-29-17
2016-17 Dave Conklin