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Over the centuries tales of lost treasure have spurred the imagination and the greed of many a treasure hunter. Thanks to the diligence and oftentimes the perseverance of these same treasure seekers, sunken galleons filled with chests of Spanish gold and other priceless artifacts have been discovered in the waters of the Caribbean and along the coasts of Florida and the Carolinas. Egyptian tombs buried in the Sahara and Mayan ruins deep in the jungles of Mexico have given up their mysterious secrets. Yet there are still some treasures whose secrets cannot be unlocked. One of them is Nova Scotia’s mysterious money pit.

The world first learned about Oak Island and its hidden treasure in 1795. A young lad named Daniel McGinnis left his small home town of Chester, Nova Scotia, and paddled across to uninhabited Oak Island to scare up some game for supper. Over the years Daniel had heard many tales of ghosts and pirate treasures buried on the tiny, windswept island. These legends fired his imagination and his fear when he spotted a ship’s tackle block hanging from a gnarled tree. Yet he didn’t hesitate to investigate an odd-looking depression directly underneath the block.

The next day Daniel and two friends began digging. After about a metre they hit a layer of carefully laid rocks. The boys removed them and kept digging, only to hit a layer of oak logs, and then two more layers after that. By now the boys were convinced of two things: a) someone had put a lot of work and ingenuity into burying this treasure and b) they needed more help. Unfortunately most of the superstitious townsfolk either branded them liars or were too afraid to go to Oak Island, convinced that the pit was guarded by vengeful pirate ghosts and their devil dogs.

Seven years passed before Daniel and his two friends returned, along with a small crew of men. Again they encountered more obstacles: additional layers of logs, some of which were covered with a charcoal-like substance, others with something resembling resin or putty. Still further down they found layers of coconut fiber, which they knew was a common packing material on ships leaving the tropics. But they kept digging.

Next the crew unearthed a flat stone with odd writings on it. Half the men decided it was an ancient curse and fled. They’d barely gotten off the island when the pit began filling with sea water. No matter how much Daniel and his team bailed, it continued to fill. Their only
recourse was to tunnel alongside and dig a new shaft but it flooded as well and the treasure hunters barely escaped with their lives.

It took 50 years before anyone returned to Oak Island. Daniel McGinnis had died. His two colleagues, John Smith and Anthony Vaughn, now old men, got the financial backing and the modern equipment they needed. Augers chewed through more layers of wood and rock and this time came back with small links of a gold chain. The treasure hunters were convinced they were minutes away from breaking into an underground treasure room. But their bad luck continued. Again water gushed in and the men barely escaped with their lives.

No less than five other crews attempted to breach the money pit between 1861 and 1950. Ultimately they all failed. The shaft either collapsed or flooded and further attempts were abandoned until 1959. Bob Restall took over the hunt but in 1965 tragedy struck. Bob, his son and two other men drowned when pumps failed.

In 1976 remote cameras were lowered into the money pit through a new shaft and an amazing and eerie discovery was made. Lying in the murky water were what appeared to be three treasure chests. Slumped against one of them was a human skeleton and floating on the water, a severed hand. Before experts could be consulted, bad luck struck yet again. The shaft collapsed.

Who built Oak Island’s ingenious money pit, and why? Is there really a treasure buried there or is the story simply an elaborate hoax? These questions are the topic of endless speculation ever since Daniel McGinnis first set his eyes on the ship’s tackle block that day in 1795. Nova Scotians believe it’s Captain Kidd’s treasure, others swear the money pit contains plundered Viking riches, stolen Aztec gold, or the French crown jewels. Some people even believe the pit holds the original works of Shakespeare - written by the real author, Sir Francis Bacon. Whatever the theory, experts agree that neither pirates, the Aztecs or the Viking had the engineering knowledge needed to craft such a cunning-built chamber.

Determined treasure hunters keep trying to crack the engineering riddle of Nova Scotia’s money pit. Someday one of them is going to succeed. But for now Oak Island still refuses to give up its secrets.