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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 15: Surely Templar

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 15: Surely Templar

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 15 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

In light of Gary Drayton’s discovery of an iron bracket in the swamp in the previous episode, the Oak Island crew members return their attention towards the so-called Ship Anomaly, hoping once again that this feature might be the site of a buried ship. The narrator reveals that the depth of the Ship Anomaly is not uniform, with the northern end lying at a depth of 15 feet and the southern end lying at a depth of 55 feet. Accordingly, the crew decides to dig a fifteen-foot-deep exploratory trench at the Anomaly’s northern end. Several feet below the surface, they discovers an axe-cut wooden stake similar to those discovered in Season 7, Episode 11.

Meanwhile, in Traverse City, Michigan, Marty Lagina and Craig Tester have a Skype meeting with Vanessa Lucido of ROC Equipment, during which they ask the CEO the dimensions of the largest caisson ROC is capable of sinking. Lucido replies that, although the previous custom-made caisson used on Oak Island throughout Seasons 5 and 6 measured 50 inches in diameter, the ROC oscillator is capable of handling 8-foot (96-inch) caissons. The treasure hunters arrange for Lucido to bring the larger caisson to Oak Island.

Back in the swamp, while heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt is busy digging the trench at the tip of the Ship Anomaly, Gary Drayton conducts a metal detecting operation in the surrounding area. He quickly comes across a metallic object buried beside a cone-shaped rock. This artifact proves to be a pointy metal cone in which a broken wooden dowel appears to be embedded. “Initially,” says Rick Lagina in a later interview, “it looked like a spear point… or a lance point, rather. But then we turn it about, and it appears hollow…”

Meanwhile, Gerhardt is precluded from digging his trench to the planned depth of 15 feet due to the hardness of the clay. Fearful that they might damage their backhoe if they persist, the crew decides to terminate the operation.

That night, the crew congregates in the War Room, where they meet with author James McQuiston, who presented his Oak Island theory back in Season 6, Episode 20. In his previous War Room meeting with the Oak Island team, McQuiston had put forth the theory that members of the Knights Baronets of Nova Scotia- a 17th Century Scottish chivalric order associated with the short-lived Scottish colony of Nova Scotia- had buried the treasure of the Knights Templar on Oak Island sometime in the 1630s. In this episode, he expands on that theory by claiming that Sir William Alexander, the founder of the Nova Scotian colony, was the leader of a secret proto-Masonic society. “The bottom line,” he summarizes, “is that it’s more than apparent that the Scottish clan leaders who became the Knights Baronets of Nova Scotia had a lot of links to the Freemasons,” Freemasonic symbolism having been associated with a number of discoveries made on Oak Island over the past two centuries. McQuiston goes on to point out that John Smith, one of the co-discoverers of the Money Pit, was related to one James McLean, whom he claims succeeded William Alexander as the leader of aforementioned secret society. He further suggests that John Smith knew about the existence of the Money Pit through his connection to James McLean and deliberately searched for it on Oak Island.

The next day, Marty Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Laird Niven, Steve Guptill, and Peter Fornetti head to the foundation of the McGinnis family home on Oak Island’s Lot 21. The narrator informs us that the team has acquired a permit to excavate the anomalies surrounding the foundation, these anomalies having been discovered by GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston back in Season 7, Episode 5. Under Niven’s direction, the treasure hunters use pins and string to mark off the locations of the test pits which they plan to dig and begin to excavate these sections with trowels. Each load of earth removed is then filtered on a sifting screen and minutely scrutinized. “Under Laird’s supervision,” Rick explains in a later interview, “we will conduct a proper archaeological dig of the foundation and the surrounding area…”

Later, Billy Gerhardt, Jack Begley, and Gary Drayton resume the excavation of the trench in the Uplands area between Smith’s Cove and the Money Pit area, in which several large timbers were discovered in the previous episode. They soon intersect what appears to be the collapsed remains of a wood-shored shaft or tunnel. Near the structure, Jack Begley discovers a wad of what appears to be coconut fibre. The treasure hunters find more of the substance nearby and collect it for future analysis.

The next day, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Gary Drayton drive to the Ross Farm Museum in New Ross, Nova Scotia. There, they show blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge the conical metal object they discovered in the swamp near the northern tip of the Ship Anomaly. “Well,” says Legge while turning the object over in his hands, “it’s a hollow point. Two rivets on each side. Obviously it would have a wooden handle inserted in there and riveted into place.” After dating the artifact from 1710 to 1790, the blacksmithing expert identifies the object as the tip of a pike pole and declares that it must have come off a sailing ship. “I know that they use a lot of these on ships,” he explains, “to maneuver ships in really, really close spaces.” Following Legge’s analysis, some of the treasure hunters take the artifact as evidence of the theory that a ship, burnt or otherwise, lies interred within the Oak Island swamp.

Following their meeting with Carmen Legge, the treasure hunters resume their excavation of the trench in the Uplands. While incrementally picking away at the recently-discovered wooden structure with his backhoe, Billy Gerhardt intersects a vein of water. Immediately, the trench begins to flood. The water flow quickly slows to a trickle, allowing the treasure hunters to examine the area from which the water erupted. Curiously, the water appears to have issued from the space between two large boulders which, as Jack Begley remarks, bear great resemblance to those discovered on Smith’s Cove in Season 6, Episode 10, which Doug Crowell suspected might be the remains of one of the box drains. Rick Lagina inserts the end of his shovel into the cavity and finds it to be oriented vertically, and to be deeper than the shaft of his spade. Jack Begley voices his opinion that the boulders might constitute the remains of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, and that the wooden structure nearby might constitute the remains of a searcher shaft called Shaft 5. The narrator then explains that Shaft 5 was sank by members of the Truro Company in the summer of 1850 about 100 feet from the Smith’s Cove beach for the purpose of intersecting the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. At depth of about 35 feet, labourers had encountered a boulder. When they removed it, water began to flood the pit. The 19th Century treasure hunters, suspecting that they had indeed intersected the flood tunnel, promptly clogged the booby trap with clay and wood pilings before fruitlessly attempting to bail water from the Money Pit.

The next day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room and calls up Dr. Ian Spooner, who has had a chance to examine the supposed coconut fibre found in the Uplands trench. The geoscientist confirms that the substance is indeed coconut fibre, as suspected.

 

Analysis

The Pike Pole Point

In this episode, Gary Drayton discovered a conical metal object buried beside a cone-shaped rock near the northern tip of the Ship Anomaly in the Oak Island swamp. Embedded within the object was a broken wooden dowel held in place by two rivets. Later, blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge examined the artifact and identified it as the tip of a pike pole- a tool used maneuver large wooden objects- and dated it from 1710 to 1790, similar to the bracket found in the previous episode. He further opined that the object was used to finely maneuver a sailing ship, bolstering the theory that the remains of a ship lie buried in the swamp.

The Uplands Structure: Shaft 5?

Near the end of this episode, members of the Oak Island team resumed the excavation of the trench in the Uplands area between Smith’s Cove and the Money Pit area which commenced at the end of the previous episode. The treasure hunters uncovered the remains of some sort of shaft or tunnel. Nearby, the came across several wads of what was later determined to be coconut fibre. Further below, they uncovered two large boulders between which issued a stream of water. Following that discovery, some of the treasure hunters theorized that the wooden timbers in the trench constitute the remains of Shaft 5- a shaft dug by members of the Truro Syndicate in 1850 for the purpose of intersecting the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. At a depth of 35 feet, the Truro treasure hunters encountered a boulder which, when removed, allowed water from below to rise up and flood the shaft. Believing that they had indeed intersected the flood tunnel, they attempted to clog the supposed booby trap with clay and wood pilings. That accomplished, they tried to bail water from the Money Pit, but to no avail, leading some of the treasure hunters to believe that they had not completely plugged the flood tunnel, and others to suspect that there might be more than one flood tunnel feeding the Money Pit.

 

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Nautical Mysteries of Canada’s Great Lakes

Nautical Mysteries of Canada’s Great Lakes

For centuries, North America’s five Great Lakes have served as the setting for a host of legends, folktales, and nautical mysteries. The local Ojibwa First Nations, for example, tell stories of fabulous monsters which inhabit the depths, shores, and skies of these inland seas, from the Mishipeshu, a huge horned aquatic creature imbued with mystical powers; to the Thunderbird, the enemy of the Mishipeshu, responsible for the creation of lightning storms; to the Memogovissiouis– long-haired sirens who reside within the coldest, deepest recesses of these freshwater oceans. French-Canadian voyageurs who paddled their birch-bark canoes across these waters during the days of the North American fur trade had their own tales of haunted spots and curious locales, like the Pictured Rocks on the shores of Lake Superior- a series of colourful sandstone bluffs pitted with dark caverns which were said to be home to a mischievous spirit called Menni-boujou; and La Cloche– a strange rock on an island in Lake Huron which, when struck, rang like a bell across the water. More modern Michigan lore is replete with stories of bottomless subterranean outlets which connect these massive bodies of water with smaller adjacent lakes and waterways. Legend has it that underwater currents draw the corpses of drowned fishermen into these outlets, engendering another popular folktale which contends that the Great Lakes never give up their dead.

 

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Of all the strange stories and legends surrounding the Great Lakes, perhaps the most chilling are those pertaining to the host of ships and sailors that the Lakes have swallowed over the years. Undoubtedly, the most famous of these is the tale of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a massive Great Lakes freighter whose mysterious and untimely demise was immortalized in Canadian folksinger Gordon Lightfoot’s 1976 hit song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The story of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald begins in 1957, when an American insurance company called Northwestern Mutual commissioned the ship’s construction and named it after its president. With a length of 729 feet (222 metres) and a gross registered tonnage of 13,632, it was, at the time of its launch, the largest vessel to ever ply the waters of the Great Lakes.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald began its career on an ominous note. During its christening in Detroit, Michigan, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the wife of the businessman after whom the freighter was named, tried three times to smash a champagne bottle over the ship’s bow, succeeding on the last. When the ropes securing the ship to the shore were subsequently severed, the freighter slid down a ramp into the Detroit River and hit the water at an awkward angle, sending up an enormous wave that doused all who attended the ceremony. The shock of the cold water sent one of the onlookers into cardiac arrest; the fifty-eight-year-old attendee, who had travelled from Toledo, Ohio, to witness the launch, died on the scene.

Despite its inauspicious inauguration, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald went on to enjoy a brief but prosperous career hauling taconite (processed pellets of iron ore) across the Great Lakes. Due to its speed and cargo capacity, the freighter routinely set hauling records during the 748 trips it completed throughout its lifetime.

On the afternoon of November 9, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin, for a steel mill near Detroit, its cargo hold filled with 26,000 tons of taconite. She was captained by Ernest McSorley, a heavy-weather Canadian-born mariner known for his quiet stoicism and his willingness to sail through rough waters, and was crewed by 28 veteran sailors. About three hours into her voyage, she overtook and was subsequently trailed by another taconite-laden cargo ship called the SS Arthur M. Anderson whose captain, Jesse “Bernie” Cooper, agreed to accompany the Edmund Fitzgerald across Lake Superior.

At that time, a winter severe storm was making its way across the lake. Fueled by the collision of cold Arctic winds with warm fronts from the Gulf of Mexico, these ferocious cyclonic gales are referred to colloquially as the “Witch of November”. Trusting in the experience of their crews and the integrity of the vessels they commanded, neither McSorley nor Cooper thought twice about steering their freighters into the heart of this rapidly-intensifying tempest.

The prudent captains adopted a course along Lake Superior’s northern Canadian shore, which would offer them some protection from the storm, and kept in regular contact with each other via radio. The Edmund Fitzgerald and the Arthur M. Anderson pushed on throughout the night, weathering what Captain McSorley described as “the worst sea [he had] ever been in”. The freighters were whipped by 60-mile-per-hour winds and battered by ten-foot-tall waves which gradually wore down the Edmund Fitzgerald. By 3:30 A.M., the freighter had begun to lean to one side. By 5:30, the ship had lost both its radars to the wind and was taking heavy waves over her decks.

At 7:10 that evening, when the Edmund Fitzgerald was about fifteen nautical miles from Whitefish Bay and the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie beyond, Captain Cooper’s first mate, Morgan Clark, radioed Captain McSorley to inform him of the presence of a ship which lay ahead of him. He concluded the transmission by asking how the Edmund Fitzgerald was faring. “We’re holding our own,” was McSorey’s reply.

That was the last anyone ever heard from Ernest McSorey or his crew. Mere moments later, the Edmund Fitzgerald suddenly and mysterious plummeted 530 feet down to the bottom of Lake Superior, twisting in half in the process and entombing Captain McSorey and his crew of 28 in a frigid watery grave. There were no witnesses of the disaster; the crew members of the Arthur M. Anderson only realized that something was amiss when McSorey failed to respond to their radio queries and when they found that they were unable to see any of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s lights in the distance when the fog cleared.

When the enormous freighter failed to appear on his radar screen, Captain Cooper called the Canadian Coastguard and informed them of the situation. An hour later, the American and Canadian Coast Guards launched a joint aerial search for the missing vessel and its crew. The rescue team’s efforts were soon supplemented by those of the crews of the Arthur M. Anderson and the William Clay Ford, the latter a freighter anchored nearby, which left the relative safety of Whitefish Bay and joined the search for the Edmund Fitzgerald. Despite a thorough and concerted search, the only trace of the freighter that the rescue team managed to find that day were the remains of a lifeboat shattered beyond repair.

The following day, as news of the missing freighter began to circulate throughout the Great Lakes region, Father Richard Ingalls of the Mariner’s Church of Detroit rang his church’s bell 29 times, each toll representing a lost crewmember of the Edmund Fitzgerald. For thirty one years, the reverent of the Mariner’s Church would continue to perform this ritual on the anniversary of the freighter’s disappearance.

Three days later, a U.S. Navy aircraft equipped with a metal detection device discovered the wreck SS Edmund Fitzgerald lying to two pieces at the bottom of Lake Superior about fifteen nautical miles from the mouth of Whitefish Bay. Subsequent diving operations, one of them conducted by marine explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau (the son of the celebrated French explorer Jacques Cousteau), failed to recover any of the bodies of the 29 sailors who went down with the ship.

Throughout the next two decades, many different theories were put forth as to the cause of the freighter’s demise. Some believed that the Edmund Fitzgerald had sustained fatal damage while bottoming out on the Six Fathom Shoal northwest Caribou Island, not far from its final destination. Others maintained that the freighter had been buried by twin rogue waves measuring about 35 feet in height, which the crew of the Arthur M. Anderson had encountered at 6:40 A.M. on the morning of November 10th. Others still suggested that the ship’s cargo hold was flooded due to the crew’s failure to properly close that hatches that sealed it from the elements. To date, authorities disagree on the specific factors which contributed to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and to this day, the true cause of the freighter’s capsizal remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the Great Lakes.

In the summer of 1995, Canadian explorer Dr. Joseph B. MacInnes led a series of dives on the sunken ship, during which he salvaged the freighter’s bell- an artifact which some writers have described as the symbolic heart of the ship. MacInnes later replaced the bell with a replica on which was inscribed the names of the 29 sailors who went down with the freighter- a headstone marking the final resting place of the sailors who lie interred within the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

 

Le Griffon

Although the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest ship ever claimed by the Great Lakes, she was neither the first nor the only. Over the past four centuries, over 6,000 ships have come to rest beneath the waves of these five inland seas. Notwithstanding the scores of native birch bark canoes and French bateaus which must have foundered in these freshwater oceans in centuries past, the first real ship to disappear in the Great Lakes was a French barque called Le Griffon, or “The Griffon”.

Le Griffon was constructed in the year 1679 by Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, an ambitious French adventurer remembered today for his establishment of a vast bygone province known as French Louisiana. Trained in France as a Jesuit priest, La Salle left the Jesuit Order in 1667 to pursue fame and fortune in Canada- at that time, a French colony called New France. After acquiring some land on the Island of Montreal, he had led an unsuccessful expedition in search of the Northwest Passage- the legendary waterway through North America connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific. In 1672, he allied himself with Louis de Buade, Compte de Frontenac, the newly-appointed Governor of New France. Frontenac hoped to expand the colony westward from its confines in the valley in the St. Lawrence River and bring the fur trade to the Great Lakes- a wild region populated at that time by warring native tribes, a handful of Jesuit missionaries, and independent fur traders called coureurs des bois, or “runners of the woods”. In 1673, La Salle helped the Governor establish Fort Frontenac at the junction of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario- the colony’s first real incursion into the Great Lakes.

In 1677, La Salle sailed to France for the purpose of convincing King Louis XIV to grant him permission to establish two more forts on the Great Lakes- one of them at the mouth of the Niagara River, and the other at the southern end of Lake Michigan. He also requested a license to build a sailing ship on Lake Erie, at the end of the Niagara River opposite Lake Ontario. The king granted his request, and La Salle sailed for Canada with thirty shipwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths, and soldiers, as well as an abundance of supplies.

La Salle began his enterprise by splitting his party into three groups. One disembarked in canoes and paddled ahead to Lake Michigan to establish a trading relationship with the natives there. Another, headed by a Recollect friar named Father Louis Hennepin and a French Royal Army officer named Dominique la Motte de Luciere, set out in a small sailing vessel for the Niagara River, where they were to choose the location of a new fort. La Salle himself, accompanied by a French maritime pilot and a one-handed Italian soldier named Henri de Tonti, took a small sailing ship to a native village on the shores of Lake Ontario to secure winter provisions for his crew.

The enterprise began with a rocky start. Unbeknownst to La Salle, most of the men sent to Lake Michigan squandered their trade goods and deserted. The ship headed by Hennepin and La Motte became encased in ice near present-day Toronto, and had to be liberated with axes before its occupants could make their way across Lake Ontario to the mouth of the Niagara River. And although La Salle and Tonti managed to obtain provisions at a native village, they lost everything in an accident on Lake Ontario.

The party headed by Hennepin and La Motte managed to reach the mouth of the Niagara River and choose a suitable building site for the fort, which was to be named ‘Fort Conti’ after one of La Salle’s aristocratic Parisian friends. A few of them decided to head further up the river to the base of what is now Queenston Heights. Excepting, perhaps, a few earlier Jesuit missionaries who failed to write about the experience, Hennepin and his companions thus became the first white men to see the Niagara Falls.

That accomplished, Hennepin, La Motte, and company struck out westward through the forest to a newly-established Seneca Iroquois village, where they hoped to have their enterprise sanctioned by the local chief. Back in the 1640s and ‘50s, the warlike Iroquois Confederacy had left their haunts in the forests of upstate New York to launch a massive offensive against the Huron, Erie, Neutral, and Petun Nations of the Great Lakes. Armed with muskets and steel tomahawks supplied by their Dutch and English allies to the southeast, they wiped out entire nations and drove others from their traditional hunting grounds. In the 1660s, the colonists of New France found themselves drawn into the conflict, obliged to defend their allies from the Iroquois invaders. After a series of bloody skirmishes and counteroffensives, New France made a tentative peace with the Iroquois Confederacy in 1666, allowing the invaders to settle the lands of the First Nations they had conquered. Ever since, a shaky tranquility had reigned over the eastern Great Lakes. Eager to maintain the status quo, Hennepin and La Motte were dismayed when the Seneca chief failed to give his blessing to their enterprise.

Fortunately, La Salle had better luck than his subordinates. Upon arriving from his misadventure on Lake Ontario, the explorer personally paid a visit to the chief and convinced him that the Iroquois would benefit from their undertaking. Finally, with the chief’s tentative approval, the Frenchmen commenced the construction of Fort Conti. In addition to the fort, they also began building a 45-ton barque, or sailing ship, above the Niagara Falls.

The construction of this vessel was an unpleasant task for La Salle’s men, who began the project by hauling deck spikes, rigging, and other equipment up the portage trail to the riverbank above Niagara Falls. Throughout the winter, spring, and early summer, they labored with frozen fingers and empty stomachs, all the while wary of the sullen Iroquois braves who often loitered around the worksite, fingering their tomahawks and war clubs. While his men worked on the ship and the fort, La Salle himself, accompanied by two of his employees, travelled by snowshoe through the forest and across Lake Ontario to Fort Frontenac, where he hoped to replenish the provisions he had lost in the lake.

During La Salle’s absence, the men on the Niagara River completed both the fort and the 45-ton ship. The latter was christened Le Griffon, or “The Griffon”, that mythical monster being the primary ornament on Count Frontenac’s coat of arms. Its prow bore a wooden carving of the legendary half-lion/half-eagle for which it was named, and its decks bristled with seven small cannons which were fired at its christening.

La Salle finally returned to the Niagara River in early August, this time accompanied by three Flemish friars. Eager to make use of the new ship, he and all his men embarked on Le Griffon and set out on her maiden voyage across Lake Erie.

For three days, the explorers sailed down the length of the lake. On the fourth day, they turned north and sailed up the Detroit River. They crossed Lake St. Clair beyond and proceeded up the St. Clair River into Lake Huron. There, the explorers were beset by a ferocious gale which threatened to capsize their vessel. Praying to St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of mariners, the sailors managed to make their way up Lake Huron to the Island of Michilimackinac, home to Indian villages and a Jesuit mission, and a haven for coureurs des bois.

La Salle and his crew received a cool welcome from the Jesuits, in whose chapel they celebrated mass. They explorers were also greeted by the local Huron and Ottawa Indians who were amazed at the size of their ship. During their visit, they received the disheartening news that most of the fifteen men whom La Salle had previously sent to establish a trading relationship with the Indians of Lake Michigan had squandered his trading goods and abandoned their mission.

In early September, La Salle and the crew of Le Griffon sailed west from Michilimackinac into Lake Michigan and further southwest into Green Bay. There, on an island, he found the few members of his advance party who had remained loyal to him, discovering to his pleasure that they had acquired a small fortune in furs from their trade with the natives. La Salle then had these furs loaded into the cargo hold of Le Griffon and ordered a handful of his men to transport them to Fort Conti, asking the ship’s pilot to return to Lake Michigan as soon as the cargo was unloaded. Le Griffon departed on September 18th, 1679, just as a storm began to brew.

Aside from the vessel’s own crew, La Salle and his explorers were the last men to set eyes on Le Griffon. The vessel disappeared on her homeward voyage somewhere in the waters of Lakes Michigan, Huron, or Erie. Most assumed that the ship had foundered in a storm and was lost with all hands. This theory is supported by the discoveries of Albert Cullis, who manned the Mississagi Strait Lighthouse on Manitoulin Island in the 19th Century; in the late 1890s, Cullis reputedly discovered a watch chain, three 17th Century coins, and five human skeletons in and around a cave on Manitoulin Island. Another theory regarding the fate of Le Griffon contends that the ship was boarded by hostile Indians who murdered her crew before setting her ablaze; La Salle and his crew certainly had their fair share of rivals who would stop at nothing to protect their own interests in the fur trade. La Salle himself suspected that the ship’s occupants had intentionally scuttled Le Griffon and made off with the furs she contained; in letters to Count Frontenac, the explorer wrote about an Indian rumour which held that, in 1680, white men matching the description of the crew of Le Griffon had been captured by Indians on the Mississippi River paddling canoes filled with valuable goods. The natives killed every crew member but the captain, whom they took prisoner. La Salle believed that these unfortunates constituted his ship’s crew, who had intentionally sank his vessel and made off with his furs with the intention of joining a famous coureurs des bois named Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut. Whatever the case, Le Griffon’s undiscovered wreck is considered today to be the Holy Grail of Great Lakes shipwreck hunters.

 

The Hamilton and the Scourge

Over a hundred and thirty years after Le Griffon’s disappearance, half a century after France ceded Canada to Great Britain and nearly four decades after Britain ceded her Thirteen Colonies to the United States, the Great Lakes resounded with the thunder of cannons and the rattle of musketry in a conflict known today as the War of 1812.

Angered by the British Royal Navy’s practice of impressing American citizens into service, and insulted by King George III’s attempts to prevent American merchants from trading with Napoleonic France, with whom Britain was at war, the United States Congress declared war on Great Britain, initiating the War of 1812. Throughout the summer and autumn of that year, the Great Lakes bore witness to a number of deadly clashes between American and British-Canadian forces, including the successful British Siege of Detroit and a failed American invasion of Upper Canada- the Canadian side of the Great Lakes.

On April 27, 1813, the U.S. Army and Navy launched an attack on the British city of York (present-day Toronto), situated on the western shores of Lake Ontario. The American soldiers successfully captured the city, only to be killed and maimed by the detonation of the fort’s powder magazine, this tremendous explosion having been orchestrated by the retreating British. The Americans avenged this act by plundering the town and setting many of its buildings on fire.

The U.S. troops went on to attack and capture the southeasterly Fort George, situated at the mouth of the Niagara River. Later that summer, they attempted to besiege a British garrison at present-day Burlington, Ontario, southwest of York. The British Royal Navy sailed out to stop them, and thus, on the morning of August 7th, 1813, the British and American Great Lakes fleets found themselves face to face, just beyond cannon range of one another, unable to engage due to an uncharacteristic absence of wind which settled over Lake Ontario.

One of the vessels in the U.S. fleet during this spell was a Canadian merchant schooner-turned-American war ship called the USS Scourge, and one of the sailors aboard that vessel was a Canadian expat named Ned Myers. Many years later, Myers would tell his story to celebrated American novelist James Fennimore Cooper, who put his tale into print in his 1843 biography of him entitled Life Before the Mast. Myers, via Cooper’s book, wrote:

“It was a lovely evening, not a cloud visible, and the lake being as smooth as a looking-glass. The English fleet was but a short distance to the northward of us; so near, indeed, that we could almost count their ports. They were becalmed, like ourselves, and a little shattered.”

After having their supper, Myers and the crew of the USS Scourge bedded down next to the cannons. Myers wrote:

“I was soon asleep, as if lying in the bed of a king. How long my nap lasted, or what took place in the interval, I cannot say. I awoke, however, in consequence of large drops of rain falling on my face… When I opened my eyes, it was so dark I could not see the length of the deck…”

As Myers snuck away from his post to retrieve a bottle of grog, the schooner on which he served was suddenly beset by a violent storm. The Scourge quickly took on water and, in less than a minute, began to sink.

“The flashes of lightning were incessant, and nearly blinded me. Our decks seemed on fire, and yet I could see nothing. I heard no hail, no order, no call; but the schooner was filled with the shrieks and cries of the men to leeward, who were lying jammed under the guns, shot-boxes, shot and other heavy things that had gone down as the vessel fell over…

“I now crawled aft, on the upper side of the bulwarks, amid a most awful and infernal din of thunder, and shrieks, and dazzling flashes of lightning; the wind blowing all the while like a tornado… It now came across me that if the schooner should right, she was filled, and must go down, and that she might carry me with her in the suction. I made a spring, therefore, and fell into the water several feet from the place where I had stood. It is my opinion the schooner sank as I left her.”

Myers began to swim for the first time in his life. By chance, he bumped into a lifeboat, into which he managed to climb. Through an oppressive darkness punctuated by blinding flashes of lightning, he searched for survivors and managed to drag seven fellow soldiers into the tiny craft. Myers and his shipmates were later rescued by American sailors whose ship had survived the tempest.

In addition to the Scourge, the storm claimed another U.S. Navy schooner called the USS Hamilton.  Of the 102 sailors aboard these vessels at the time of the squall, only sixteen survived their capsizing, many of them having been trapped inside the ships during their 300-foot descent to the bottom of the lake.

Legend has it that on foggy nights in the waters outside Burlington, Ontario, sailors sometimes spy two old-fashioned square-sailed vessels, with their gun ports open and their decks illuminated by the eerie glow of lanterns hanging in the rigging. As soon as they are spotted, these phantasmal vessels shake as if buffeted by unearthly winds before sinking beneath the surface, all the while accompanied by the faint shrieks of drowning sailors whose skeletons lie below, entombed within the wrecks of the USS Scourge and the USS Hamilton.

 

Old Whitey and the Ghosts of the SS Kamloops

Another of the thousands of ships devoured by the Great Lakes over the past four centuries is the SS Kamloops, a steam-powered freighter which sank with all hands off Isle Royal in Lake Superior just south of Thunder Bay, Ontario, in 1927. What distinguishes the SS Kamloops from other Great Lakes wrecks are the crewmembers, both corporeal and ethereal, who are said to still wander its decks at the bottom of the lake.

The SS Kamloops began her life in 1924, in a shipyard in North East England. Commissioned by the Montreal-based shipping company Canada Steamship Lines, she had a length of 250 feet and a gross tonnage of 2,402, making her one of the smaller freighters on the Great Lakes at that time. Her limited size allowed her to traverse the Welland Canal, an artificial waterway connecting Lake Ontario with Lake Erie.

After steaming across the Atlantic Ocean and up the St. Lawrence River to her home on the Great Lakes, the SS Kamloops was put to work hauling manufactured goods, many of them destined for the rapidly-developing Prairie Provinces, from the St. Lawrence to Lake Superior. Due to the hazardous Great Lakes freighting practice of shipping as late as possible prior to winter freeze-up, the steamer and her crew had a few close calls. In 1926, for example, the freighter became trapped in ice in the St. Mary’s River, the waterway which connects Lake Huron with Lake Superior.

In late November, 1927, the SS Kamloops, under the command of Captain William Brian, was tasked with hauling a mixed cargo from Montreal to Fort William, Ontario- a district of what is now Thunder Bay. On this journey, it trailed the wake of the SS Quedoc, an empty grain carrier also bound for Fort William. The Kamloops passed through the Soo Locks, a water lift on the St. Mary’s River, on December 4th, when it was beset by a howling northern gale.

On the night of December 6th, in the waters off Isle Royale, the captain of the SS Quedoc spied a dark misshapen mass looming before him through the fog. He and his crew frantically maneouvered their vessel to avoid the mysterious obstacle and narrowly avoided what promised to be catastrophic collision. They sounded their foghorn to warn Captain Brian and the crew of the Kamloops and continued onto Fort William. Disturbingly, the SS Kamloops failed to make it into port that night.

In the days that followed the storm, search and rescue crews scoured the surrounding area for a number of different ships that had failed to arrive at their destinations. Most of these were found stranded in different areas of the lake, having been blown off course during the gale. Only the SS Kamloops remained unaccounted for.

Canadian winter hit the Great Lakes shortly after the freighter’s disappearance and the waters of Superior began to freeze. It soon became apparent to even the most hopeful friends and family members that there was virtually no chance that any of the SS Kamloops’ crew of twenty-two had survived the mysterious calamity that befell their ship.

In the spring of 1928, fishermen plying their trade off the coast of Isle Royale discovered two half-frozen corpses washed up on the island’s shore. The bodies were identified as crew members of the SS Kamloops. Several months later, in early June, fishermen found six more bodies on the island, five of them huddled together as if for warmth. One of the corpses was identified as 22-year-old Alice Bettridge, one of the two women serving aboard the SS Kamloops on the night of its disappearance. Half a year later, a trapper discovered a handwritten note in a pickle jar near the mouth of the Agawa River, across Lake Superior from Isle Royal, which Alice had apparently scrawled in her final moments. The message reads, “I am the last one left alive, freezing and starving to death on Isle Royale. I just want mom and dad to know my fate.” The letter was signed, “Al, who is dead.”

On August 21st, 1977, Minneapolis-based recreational diver Ken Engelbrecht discovered the wreck of the SS Kamloops while searching for the vessel off the northern shore of Isle Royale. The steamboat lay on her starboard side 270 feet below the water’s surface. Inside the ship’s engine room floated two human corpses with snow-white skin, both of them in excellent condition due to the preservative effects of the ice-cold water in which they were immersed and the relative absence of aquatic life at that depth. One of these bodies evidently belonged to Netty Grafton, the ship’s stewardess and Alice Bettridge’s only female companion during the SS Kamloops’ final voyage. The other was an unidentified man wearing a wedding ring, whom future divers nicknamed “Grandpa” and “Old Whitey”.

A number of divers who have explored the wreck of the SS Kamloops following her discovery in 1977 have reported an eerie phenomenon endemic to that underwater graveyard. The body of Old Whitey, they say, moved about the ship throughout the course of their aqueous escapades as if on its own accord. Some divers swear that they were approached by the chalk-white corpse while examining the perfectly-preserved candy wrappers that lay about the wreckage. Others claim to have witnessed the colorless cadaver float towards their hapless diving partners while the latter’s attention were diverted. Many of those who have written on the subject have dismissed Old Whitey’s alarming antics as the result of underwater currents unconsciously produced by the divers themselves. Others have ascribed the corpse’s uncanny animation to the spirit of the sailor who once inhabited it, doomed to wander the decks of ship whose violent and untimely demise coincided with his own. Whatever the case, the nature of Old Whitey’s activity remains one of the many secrets held by the SS Kamloops, which sank quickly and mysteriously nearly a century ago.

 

SS Bannockburn– The Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes

No compilation of the nautical mysteries of Canada’s Great Lakes would be complete without a nod to the SS Bannockburn, a steamship which disappeared somewhere in Lake Superior on a snowy November day in 1902. To this day, the wreck of the SS Bannockburn remains undiscovered despite, some say, the efforts of her ghostly crew, who are said to appear to sailors from time to time on the decks of their phantom vessel, perhaps in the vicinity of their final resting place, before vanishing into thin air.

The SS Bannockburn was constructed in 1893 by the British shipbuilding magnate Sir Raylton Dixon. The 245 steamer was designed to fit through the Welland Canal and equipped with a steel hull for added protection. She was launched that same year and sent across the Atlantic and up the St. Lawrence to her new home on the Great Lakes.

Throughout the course of her life, the SS Bannockburn was plagued by misfortune. In April 1897, she ran into a cluster of sea rocks near the Snake Island Lighthouse on Lake Ontario southwest of Kingston. She began to take on water, forcing her crew to dump much her cargo onto the lake in order to keep her afloat. The ship was subsequently patched up and put back into service, only to suffer another mishap several months later. In October 1897, while hauling a load of grain from Chicago to Kingston, the SS Bannockburn hit the wall of the Welland Canal and foundered in that shallow waterway.

The SS Bannockburn began what would be her final earthly voyage on November 20th, 1902, leaving Fort William with 85,000 bushels of wheat in her hold. While leaving port, she grounded in shallow water. Although the accident did not appear to damage the ship in any way, it was decided that the voyage would be postponed until the following day.

On November 21st, the SS Bannockburn set out once again for Georgian Bay, at the eastern end of Lake Huron, skirting the northern shores of Lake Superior. Her 21-man crew sailed her without incident to a point about 40 miles northeast of Isle Royale, where she was spotted by the captain of another Great Lakes freighter named James McMaugh. Using his binoculars, the captain checked on the ship periodically as he passed her. After attending to some business on his own vessel, McMaugh raised his binoculars once again and discovered, to his surprise, that the Bannockburn was nowhere to be seen. Before he could relocate the ship, a heavy fog rolled in and obscured his vision. Captain McMaugh supposed that the mist must have shrouded the Bannockburn and continued on his way.

That night, the Witch of November reared her ugly head and swept across Lake Superior, whipping up waves and buffeting boats. At about 11:00 p.m., through a haze of windblown snow, the crew of a passenger steamer called the SS Huronic spied a pattern of ship lights which they recognized as the Bannockburn’s. The freighter did not appear to be in distress, and the two vessels passed each other without incident.

The crew of the SS Huronic were perhaps the last men to set eyes on the SS Bannockburn, at least in physical form. When the freighter missed her appointment at Soo Locks, few were overly concerned, assuming that her crew had taken shelter somewhere to wait out the storm. When the Bannockburn failed to show up the following day, it became clear that some mishap had befallen her. When a week and a half had elapsed, the ship was presumed lost with all hands. As the Kingston-based newspaper the British Whig put it in their December 2nd, 1902 issue:

“It is generally conceded that the missing steamer is not within earthly hailing distance, that she has found an everlasting berth in the unexplored depths of Lake Superior, and that the facts of her foundering will never be known. It is asserted by mariners that the Bannockburn’s boilers must have exploded, causing her to sink immediately, without giving those aboard a moment in which to seek escape. If this theory is correct, then the big steamer quickly sank beneath the waves of that great lake, carrying down her crew to a quick and sure death. It is sad to know that so many lives were lost, but the sorrow strikes home the deeper when it is known that the greater part of the crew were well known in this city.”

The only trace of the steamer to ever surface was a blood-stained life preserver made from cork, which washed up on the shores of Grand Marais, Michigan, at the western end of Lake Superior, on December 15th, 1902. Throughout the winter, divers searched in vain for the wreck of the SS Bannockburn. To date, the ship’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Legend has it that, every so often, sailors will spot the ghost of Bannockburn ploughing her way through the waves of Lake Superior, her lamps flickering and her pilothouse dark, before vanishing into the spray. This legend has become so well-known throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Northern Ontario that the ghost of the Bannockburn has acquired the nickname “The Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes”, the Dutchman being a legendary ghost ship doomed to perpetually sail the turbulent waters off South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Some say that the crew of the Bannockburn willingly endures a similar fate, routinely returning from the Great Beyond to sail the frigid waters of Lake Superior in the hope that their final resting place will one day be discovered and accorded the respect it deserves.

 

Sources

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

  • Mighty Fitz: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald (2005), by Michael Schumacher
  • Shipwreck: The Mystery of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1995), by Christopher Rowley and the Discovery Channel

 

Le Griffon

  • The Discovery of the Great West (1869), by Francis Parkman
  • The Fighting Governor: A Chronicle of Fronenac (1915), by Charles William Colby
  • Cavelier de la Salle, Rene-Robert (1966), by Celine Dupre in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume I
  • The White Whale for Great Lakes Shipwreck Hunters: Inside the Consuming Obsession with Finding the 300-year-old Griffon, by Sarah Kramer, Bryce Gray, Lizz Giordano, and Anne Arnston in the May 30, 2017 issue of AtlasObscura.com

 

The Hamilton and the Scourge

  • Haunted Lakes: Great Lakes Ghost Stories, Superstitions and Sea Serpents (1997), by Frederick Stonehouse
  • Life Before the Mast (1843), by James Fennimore Cooper
  • http://www.hamilton-scourge.city.hamilton.on.ca

 

Old Whitey and the Ghosts of the SS Kamloops

  • The History of the Kamloops, on SuperiorTrips.com
  • All Hands Lost: Kamloops, by Curt Bowen in the August 13, 2010 issue of the Advanced Diver Magazine
  • Meet Old Whitey, the Preserved Corpse of the SS Kamloops, Lake Superior’s Most Haunted Shipwreck, by Greg Newkirk in the November 27, 2016 issue of WeekInWeird.com

 

SS Bannockburn- The Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes

  • Likely Lost: No Tidings of the Steamer Bannockburn: Sorrow Here, in the December 2nd, 1902 issue of the British Whig
  • Halloween on the Great Lakes: The Ghost Ship S.S Bannockburn, on JaysSeaArchaeology.Wordpress.com
  • “The Great Lakes Triangle”- Season 3, Episode 8 of In Search of… (1978)
  • SS Bannockburn: The Flying Dutchman of the Great Lake, by Jess Carpenter in the April 2018 issue of GreatLakesBoating.com
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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 14: Burnt Offerings

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 14: Burnt Offerings

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 14 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

In a continuation of the last scene of the previous episode, this episode begins in the War Room, where Craig Tester has just revealed that the 106-foot-deep wood found in Borehole FG-12 in Season 7, Episode 11 was carbon dated from 1626-1680. The crew members agree that this discovery warrants the sinking of the first caisson of the season overtop of FG-12. In an aside, the narrator informs us that FG-12 is located 25 feet northwest of Borehole H8, which yielded fragments of parchment and human bone back in Season 5.

Later that day, several members of the Oak Island team meet at Smith’s Cove with Laird Niven. The archaeologist tells the treasure hunters that the box-like structure discovered in the bump-out area back in Season 7, Episode 9 is probably not of cultural significance, implying that it was likely built by previous treasure hunters rather than the builders of the slipway, and gives them the green light to excavate the structure as they please. Billy Gerhardt proceeds to expose one side of the structure with his backhoe while Craig Tester and Jack Begley strip away the remaining dirt by hand. During this process, Jack has a brush with the island’s curse when a large rock breaks free from some nearby dirt and slams into his shoulder. Shortly thereafter, half of the structure collapses.

The next day, Rick Lagina and Jack Begley stand by as Gary Drayton conducts a metal detecting operation in the northern section of the swamp. After finding a modern nail, Gary comes across a hefty strip of iron with a sharp 90 degree bend at one end, which he tentatively identifies as some sort of bracket or a strap “that went around a chest or a box”. The artifact reminds Rick of the wrought iron hinge which Gary discovered near the Smith’s Cove slipway back in Season 6, Episode 16. The treasure hunters phone up Laird Niven and inform him of the discovery. Shortly thereafter, the archaeologist arrives on the scene and examines the piece. “It is old, isn’t it?” he remarks. He goes on to suggest that it might have been used to reinforce a large timber, and advises the treasure hunters to show it to blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge.

Later, Marty and Alex Lagina accompany Gary Drayton to the so-called Uplands- the area between Smith’s Cove and the Money Pit, beneath which the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel is believed to lie. Hoping that they might intercept the flood tunnel, the treasure hunters begin to excavate and examine the area, Marty removing earth with a backhoe and Alex assisting Gary as he sifts through the spoils with a metal detector. Several feet below the surface, the boys discover a handful of square timbers which appear to be part of some sort of shaft or tunnel.

The treasure hunters are soon joined by other members of the team. While Steve Guptill determines the coordinates of the newly-discovered structure, Marty Lagina remarks that the find evokes the wooden shafts discovered nearby, beneath the erstwhile Smith’s Cove crane pad, in Season 6, Episodes 19 and 20. These structures are believed to be the exploratory shafts which Robert and Bobby Restall sank at Smith’s Cove in the mid-1960s.

The following day, Marty Lagina shows Rick Lagina and Laird Niven the structure he unearthed. There, the treasure hunters meet with Gary Drayton, Billy Gerhardt, and Alex Lagina, who have since excavated more of the structure, uncovering a log which bears some resemblance to those which comprised the U-Shaped structure. The boys keep digging, unearthing an old square nail which Drayton tentatively dates to the early 1800s. Charles Barkhouse then appears on the scene and, when shown the nail, suggests that the structure might constitute undocumented work by the Truro Syndicate. Below the nail, the treasure hunters come across a massive log which rivals the diameter of any of the logs discovered at Smith’s Cove.

Later that day, Marty Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Gary Daryton drive to the Ross Farm Museum, where they meet with Carmen Legge. The treasure hunters show the blacksmithing expert the metal strap they found in the swamp, as well as the pick and spade head that Jack Begley and Gary Drayton discovered near the Eye of the Swamp in the previous episode. Legge opines that the spade head is not a spade head at all, but rather a piece of sheet metal which might have been used to cover the inside of a wall or box. He declares the pickaxe head to be hand-wrought, says that it was intended for mining or tunneling, and dates it form the mid to late 1700s. Finally, Legge identifies the metal strap as a piece of a sailing ship used to hold timbers together, much to the pleasure of Gary Drayton. He measures the artifact and finds it to be nine inches long- a length, he says, which was common for such items between 1710 and 1790. He concludes his assessment by declaring that the strap was subjected to a hot sustained fire, finding charred material embedded in the fibre of the iron. The treasure hunters take this as potential evidence that the ship which they hope lies in the swamp was burned in an effort to conceal its presence.

Later, the Oak Island crew meets at the Mug & Anchor Pub in the town of Mahone Bay. There, Marty, Alex, and Gary inform their fellow treasure hunters of Carmen Legge’s assessment of the artifacts they discovered. In light of the blacksmithing expert’s interesting analysis, the crew members discuss the theory that the Oak Island treasure consists of the contents of a treasure ship which ran aground at the site of the Oak Island swamp. According to this theory, the ship’s crew hastily constructed the Paved Wharf, unloaded their treasure, and buried it on the island. In order to hide the evidence of their work, they either burned or blew up their ship.

 

Analysis

The Bracket

In this episode, Gary Drayton discovered a wrought-iron metal bracket in the northern section of the Oak Island swamp. Blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge later measured this artifact, found it to be nine inches in length, and subsequently identified it as a strap used to hold together the timbers of a ship. He dated the artifact from 1710 to 1790, and added that it bore evidence of having been subjected to a hot and sustained fire.

Following Legge’s interpretation, several members of the Oak Island team took this artifact as potential proof of the theory that a ship once existed in the swamp. Legge’s statement that the bracket was subjected to fire implies a new twist on this theory, namely that the ship in the swamp was burned, perhaps in an attempt to conceal evidence of its existence.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 13: Bromancing the Stones

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 13: Bromancing the Stones

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 12 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

Rick Lagina takes Tom Nolan to Oak Island’s recently-drained swamp and shows him the stones that make up the Paved Wharf. “Oh, there’s no way that’s natural, Rick,” Nolan says. “Look at it. It’s just layered right on top… It’s like you’re standing on a paved road in the middle of a bog.”

Later, the Oak Island crew congregates in the War Room. There, Rick Lagina and Doug Crowell show their fellow treasure hunters photos of the casements and the countermine tunnel at the Fortress of Louisbourg, which they visited the previous episode, and discuss their evocation of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel. Crowell then shows the crew an old photo given to him by a Louisbourg historian which depicts a stratum of rocks lying on top of a layer of earth. This structure, which Crowell says is an original piece of Louisbourg flooring, bears remarkable resemblance to the Paved Wharf in the swamp.

Later, Rick Lagina and Billy Gerhardt meet Dr. Ian Spooner at the Paved Wharf. Upon examining the formation, the geoscientist finds a stick crushed between two rocks, which he claims to be an indication that the feature could not have been formed by a glacier. When Rick asks Dr. Spooner to estimate the date at which the stones were laid down, the geoscientist suggests that the carbon date the stick he found between the rocks.

The next day, Billy Gerhardt excavates more of the swamp in the area of the Paved Wharf in an effort to define the extent of the structure. As the heavy duty equipment operator goes about his work, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton search for metallic objects in the spoils that he removes. After digging through dirt and detritus for some time, Gerhardt uncovers another layer of rocks nearby, which Gary suggests might constitute an extension of the Paved Wharf. The treasure hunters are then joined by Rick Lagina, Craig Tester, and Steve Guptill, the former of whom task the latter with determining the depth of this new rock layer and comparing it with that of the Paved Wharf. The new rocks prove to lie one foot below sea level- a foot higher than the Paved Wharf.

Later that day, Craig Tester, Charles Barkhouse, the Terry Matheson meet at the Money Pit area, where the Choice Drilling crew is busy sinking exploratory boreholes in the area at which the team now believes the original Money Pit once lay. While extracting a core sample from a depth of 109-119 feet, drillers Mike Tedford and Colton Robinson claim that their drill fell into some sort of subterranean void. The core sample appears to contain undisturbed soil and crumbly limestone, which Craig interprets as an indication that the drill failed to intercept the original Money Pit. Craig suggests that they sink another hole about a foot and a half away.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Billy Gerhardt, and Laird Niven drive to the Dartmouth Heritage Museum in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, having acquired a permit to excavate the museum’s yard in search of the supposed 90-foot stone which they learned might be buried there in Season 7, Episode 7. Billy Gerhardt begins digging 20’x20’ hole in the yard with a backhoe. Despite finding a number of bricks and a large boulder, he fails to unearth anything resembling the legendary 90-foot-stone. The boys are then joined by Kevin Rideout, the area local who had previously informed them of the stone’s existence, a tour guide having pointed it out to him decades before. Rideout says that he believes the treasure hunters are looking in the right place, but notes that the surrounding area is more elevated than he remembered it to be in the past, suggesting that the stone may have been covered up in some sort of landscaping project carried out years ago. Accordingly, Billy Gerhardt digs the hole a little deeper, yet fails to unearth anything of interest.

Meanwhile, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley go metal detecting on the shores of the Eye of the Swamp. The treasure hunters quickly unearth the iron head of a pickaxe, which Gary suggests is an old pick used for tunneling. Several feet away, they find what appears to be the rusted head of a round point shovel.

Later that night, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room to learn the results of the carbon dating of the 106-foot-deep wood found in Borehole FG-12 in Season 7, Episode 11, which some of the crew members suspected might be a fragment of the original Money Pit. Craig Tester reveals that the wood was dated from 1626-1680- a date range which roughly corresponds with many of the artifacts discovered in the Money Pit area throughout Season 5. Marty Lagina remarks that the upper range of the wood’s carbon dating is also consistent with that of the twigs which Dr. Ian Spooner and his graduate students discovered in core samples taken from the Eye of the Swamp in Season 7, Episode 9.

“I wonder what was happening in the area [in the] late 1600s, early 1700s,” muses Gary Drayton.

“Yeah, that’s the question,” Marty replies.

 

Analysis

Follow-Up on the Stone at the Dartmouth Heritage Museum

In this episode, Rick Lagina, Billy Gerhardt, and Laird Niven followed the lead introduced by Kevin Rideout introduced in Season 7, Episode 7, indicating that Oak Island’s legendary 90-foot-stone might lie in the yard of the Evergreen House in Darmouth, Nova Scotia- now the home of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum. Despite digging a deep 20-foot by 20-foot hole in the spot at which Rideout believed the stone once lay, the treasure hunters were unable to unearth anything of interest.

Carbon Dating of the Wood from the Money Pit

In this video, we learn that the wood brought up from Borehole FG-12 in Season 7, Episode 11, which some of the crew members suspected might be a piece of the original Money Pit, was carbon dated from 1626-1680. This date range corresponds with a number of Oak Island theories, including the French theory, the English theory, the Spanish theory, and the notion that New English treasure hunter and later politician Sir William Phips is the man behind the Oak Island mystery.

The Acadian Theatre of the Nine-Years-War

In this episode, the wood from the Money Pit area brought up from Borehole FG-12 in Season 7, Episode 11 was carbon dated from 1626-1680, prompting Gary Drayton and Marty Lagina to wonder aloud what was happening in the area in the late 1600s. The answer is that the Atlantic Northeast was teetering precariously on the precipice of war- namely the Nine Years’ War, known as King William’s War in Canada and the United States, the outbreak and early stages of which I outlined in the following articles: Setting; the 1689 Acadian Theatre; and the 1690 Acadian Theatre.

The first few years of King William’s War were characterized by Wabanaki and French-Canadian raids against New English settlements, many of these led by Jean Vincent de Saint-Castin and a French Sulpician missionary named Father Louis-Pierre Thury. In 1690, the New Englanders began to hit back, launching their own counteroffensives into Acadia. The first of these campaigns was led by Benjamin Church, a veteran of King Philip’s War who trained his own soldiers in the guerilla tactics of the East Coast Native Americans, forming his own united of special light infantrymen who constituted the first regiment of what would one day become the U.S. Army Rangers. Church’s first expedition into Acadia culminated in a battle near what is now Portland, Maine.

The second New English offensive against Acadia was led by Sir William Phips, a character who features in an interesting Oak Island theory presented by engineers Graham Harris and Les MacPhie in their book Oak Island and its Lost Treasure.

William Phips was considered something of a homegrown hero in New England. A lowborn shipwright and lumber merchant from the colony of MAssachussets, he had allowed his hard-won livelihood to literally go up in flames in order to save the lives of the residents of a particular village during a Wabanaki raid that took place during King Philip’s War. More recently, he had been awarded a knighthood from King William III for salvaging the contents of a sunken Spanish treasure galleon in the Caribbean, a portion of which Harris and MacPhie contend lies at the bottom of the Money Pit. Despite Phips’ complete lack of military experience, the Massachusetts militia promoted him to the rank of Major General in the spring of 1690 and gave him command of the naval expedition against New France.

First, Phips launched an attack against Port Royal, the capital of Acadia, situated on the southwestern shores of the Acadian Peninsula. To his delight, Phips found that Port Royal’s ninety soldiers were actually in the process of dismantling their fortifications so that stronger ones could be built in their place. None of the fort’s cannons were presently functional, and to top it off, the village’s armory housed a total of nineteen muskets at that time. The garrison surrendered without a fight.

About a month after his capture of Port Royal, Sir William Phips tasked one of his officers with raiding the Acadian village of Chedabucto, situated at the tip of the Acadian Peninsula just across the Chedabucto Bay from Ile Royale, or Cape Breton Island. In addition to housing a French military post called Fort Saint Louis, Chedabucto served as the headquarters of the Company of Acadia, an important French fishing company.

On June 3rd, 1690, Phips’ captain and eighty-eight New English soldiers stormed Fort Saint Louis. Although they were heavily outnumbered, the twelve Acadian soldiers who manned the fort put up a fierce six-hour defense. When the New Englanders began to firebomb the fort, the French defenders realized that future resistance would be futile. They surrendered to the New English captain, who allowed them to retreat across the Gulf of St Lawrence to the French colony of Plaisance, on the island of Newfoundland.

That fall, Phips launched a third offensive against the French, this one targeting the city of Quebec, the heart of New France. Accompanied by 2,300 Massachusetts militiamen, Phips sailed from Boston up the Atlantic Coast and further up the St. Lawrence River. The New English army reached the New French capital on October 16th, 1690, whereupon Phips sent an envoy into the city to deliver his terms of surrender. The French commander, Governor Frontenac, had the emissary blindfolded and brought to his residence, the Chateau St. Louis, where his war council was assembled. There, the envoy delivered Phips terms of surrender, telling Frontenac that he had one hour to reply. The enraged Governor famously retorted that the only reply Phips would receive would be from the mouths of his cannons.

That evening, the New Englanders launched their assault on Quebec. From the very start, it was clear that their enterprise was doomed to fail. Members of the 1,200-man landing party were prevented from disembarking on the wooded shores outside the city by French-Canadian soldiers and First Nations warriors who fired at them from concealment in the trees. Meanwhile, Phips’ three main warships barraged the city with cannon fire, only to be pounded in turn by Quebec’s shore batteries which exceeded them in firepower. Following a futile attempt to overcome the French shore defensives, the besiegers returned to Boston in defeat.

In the years that followed Phips’ failed assault on Quebec, a number of battles between the French and the English and their respective First Nations allies took place in the borderlands between Acadia and New England. Benjamin Church launched two more offensives into what is now Maine, New English sailors made another assault on Port Royal, and French and English mariners engaged in a naval battle in the Bay of Fundy.

In 1696, the French and their native allies captured Fort William Henry, a large stone fortress situated near what is now Bristol, Maine, which had been built on the orders of Sir William Phips. The attackers returned up the Atlantic Coast and preceded to destroy nearly every English settlement in Newfoundland. In response, Benjamin Church led a number of brutal raids on Mi’kmaq and Acadian settlements throughout what is now the province of New Brunswick.

The Nine Years War finally ended in 1697, and its belligerents signed the Treaty of Ryswick- a document which, among other things, restored the pre-war borders in North America. Peace would reign in Acadia for another four years, until the death of the heirless Spanish king and the subsequent War of Spanish success, but that’s a story for another time.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 12: Fortified

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 12: Fortified

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 12 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

Rick Lagina and Chris Barlow pay a visit to the Oak Island swamp, which Hurricane Dorian refilled with water the previous episode. Rick estimates that it will take two or three days to re-drain the swamp and resume their excavations of the areas of interest therein, and suggests that they ought to prioritize the excavation of the Paved Wharf.

Later that day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room. There, Craig Tester reveals the results of the dendrochronological testing of the wharf in Smith’s Cove, samples from which were extracted in the previous episode. According to dendrochronologist Dr. Colin Laroque, who analyzed one of the samples, the wharf is made of red spruce felled in 1741. The treasure hunters express some surprise at this result, as many of them had expected the wharf to be contemporaneous with the nearby slipway, which is believed to have been constructed around 1769. Doug Crowell observes that the most momentous event to take place in the area proximate to the year 1741 was the first Siege of Louisbourg, which lasted throughout the spring and summer of 1745. This prompts Marty Lagina to remark that the wood’s date evokes Naval historian Chipp Reid’s theory, introduced back in Season 7, Episode 5, that the wooden structures beneath Smith’s Cove constitute the remains of an early 18th Century French artillery battery. The treasure hunters all agree that, in light of this most recent piece of evidence, a trip to the Fortress of Louisbourg is in order.

The next day, Rick Lagina and Doug Crowell drive to the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island. On the way, the treasure hunters discuss the tunnels which run beneath Louisbourg, which evoke the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, and the fact that the body of the Duc d’Anville– a French military leader associated with another Oak Island theory- lies buried beneath Louisbourg, having been moved from its previous resting place on an island in Halifax Harbour.

Meanwhile, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton go metal detecting on Oak Island’s Lot 27, where the three of them discovered a rusted iron chisel back in Season 7, Episode 5. In this episode, the treasure hunters unearth a lead artifact which Drayton identifies as scrap metal from a sprue- a channel by which molten metal enters a mold. In this case, the sprue appears to be from a musket ball mold. The treasure hunters work their way from the forest down to the beach, where they unearth what appears to be an axe head encased in an agglomerate of rocks and sediment. Drayton suspects that the artifact might be the remains of a rigging axe, or a hatchet with a hammer on the blunt end, and dates it to the 18th Century or earlier.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina and Doug Crowell arrive at the Fortress of Louisbourg- a living history museum revolving around a reconstruction of a quarter of the original French fortress. There, they meet with historian Sarah MacInnes, who takes them to the Louisbourg chapel, the final resting place of the Duc d’Anville. Inside the chapel, MacInnes explains that in 1749, following the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle which returned the fortress to the French, d’Anville’s corpse was exhumed from its grave on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour and reinterred beneath the altar in the Louisbourg chapel.

MacInnes then takes the treasure hunters to Louisbourg’s bomb-proof casements, one of the only original French structures that survived Britain’s systematic destruction of the fortress from 1760-1768. Inside one of the casements is a stone drain system which reminds Doug Crowell of Oak Island’s flood tunnels.

MacInnes proceeds to show Rick and Doug the countermine tunnel, another original French structure consisting of an underground tunnel with stone walls and a vaulted stone roof, which was intended to intercept any British mines that were dug beneath the fortress’ walls during an invasion. The historian informs the treasure hunters that the tunnel was dug through marshy terrain, and that its builders would have needed to manipulate the surrounding water during its construction.  “Could it be,” the narrator asks, “that the same engineering knowledge used to build the countermine tunnel in the surrounding swamp at Louisbourg was also employed in the construction of Oak Island’s elaborate network of booby-trapped flood tunnels?”

At Doug Crowell’s suggestion, Sarah MacInnes and her associate, Ruby Fougere, show Rick and Doug the blueprints of the Fortress of Louisbourg. They point out the plans for the countermine tunnel, which is revealed to be 180 feet long and shaped like a cross. Doug then draws a parallel between the cross-shaped tunnel and Nolan’s Cross on Oak Island, suggesting that there might be some sort of connection between the two. MacInnes then shows the treasure hunters a photo taken inside the tunnel, revealing a perfectly straight arched passageway lined with rough masonry.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Billy Gerhardt resume the excavation of the Paved Wharf in the freshly re-drained swamp. After uncovering the boulders of which the structure is comprised, the crew is joined by Terry Matheson. The geologist identifies the boulders as clastic rocks, making a point to distinguish them from limestone and gypsum bedrock. “I’m surprised,” he says, “to see what I think I would not encounter until about 120 feet down in the Money Pit area”.

The following day, Rick Lagina, Alex Lagina, and Dr. Ian Spooner stand by as Billy Gerhardt washes the Paved Wharf with buckets of swamp water. Dr. Spooner states that the mass of rocks of which the feature is composed is not characteristic of wetland environments, suggesting that “it’s almost as if the rocks were brought in.” The geoscientist later elaborates on his analysis, saying “There’s these layers of stone above the till that have no clay around them and yet have swamp sediment around them. It has to be manipulated. I can’t find a natural process that would have led to this. It’s a manipulated site.” The treasure hunters are then joined by archaeologist Laird Niven, who states that the rocks do not seem to be naturally arranged, and appear to have “been introduced”. Rick phones up Marty Lagina and informs him of the find. When Marty asks what purpose might have been fulfilled by such a structure, Dr. Spooner observes that the Eye of the Swamp, the Paved Wharf, and the deepest part of the swamp all align, suggesting that the swamp was once an inlet connected to the ocean, and that the Paved Wharf was a work surface used for unloading material from ships which entered this inlet.

 

Analysis

Dendrochronological Dating of the Wharf

In this episode, we learned that the wood from the wharf discovered at Smith’s Cove in Season 7, Episode 9 was dendrochronologically dated to 1741, predating the wood from the nearby slipway by about three decades. Interestingly, this date corresponds best with the theory that the Oak Island treasure consists of the contents of a French pay ship bound for the Fortress of Louisbourg around the time of the First Siege of Louisbourg in 1745.

The Rigging Axe

In this episode, Jack Begley, Peter Fornetti, and Gary Drayton discovered a rusted axe head on the beach of Oak Island’s Lot 27, which Drayton suggested might be the remains of a rigging axe.

This is not the first axe to be found on Oak Island. In 1931, Chappells Limited discovered an axe in the Chappell Shaft at a depth of around 116 feet with a wide blade and a three-foot-long wooden handle. Treasure hunter Frederick Blair observed that this artifact resembled a 17th Century Acadian axe head that he had seen at the museum at Annapolis Royal. Others identified the artifact as an “old Anglo-American felling axe”. On his website, Gary Drayton claimed to have discovered the heads of two early 18th Century iron trade axes in the Money Pit area in the summer of 2014. In Season 5, Episode 1, Gary Drayton and Peter Fornetti discovered a woodcutter’s axe at Isaac’s Point, at the easternmost end of Oak Island.

Louisbourg Connections

In this episode, Rick Lagina and Doug Crowell paid a visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg, where they learned about several feats of French engineering which prove that the 18th Century French Royal Army were capable of constructing Oak Island’s supposed underground workings. The first of these are stone casements, or bomb-proof storage rooms, which contain a stone drainage system evocative of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

Another structure reminiscent of the flood tunnel is Louisbourg’s stone countermine tunnel, which was intended to prevent British sappers from tunneling beneath the fortress. Interestingly, this tunnel was built through marshy terrain, evoking the Oak Island swamp and the alleged construction projects associated with it. Even more intriguingly, the tunnel was built in the shape of a cross, evoking Nolan’s Cross.

Another interesting piece of trivia imparted in this episode is that Jean-Baptiste de la Rochefoucault- a French military commander connected with a related Oak Island theory- is buried beneath the altar of the Louisbourg chapel.

Paved Wharf Analysis

In this episode, the Oak Island crew fully uncovered the Paved Wharf in the Oak Island swamp. Geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner, geologist Terry Matheson, and archaeologist Laird Niven all agreed that the rocks of which the feature was comprised must have been placed there by man.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 11: The Eye of the Storm

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 11: The Eye of the Storm

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 11 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the freshly-drained swamp, where Marty Lagina and Billy Gerhardt are using the swamp excavator to dig up the “paved wharf”– a pattern of stones on the swamp floor discovered by Tony Sampson in Season 7, Episode 1. While the treasure hunters work, the narrator informs us that Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, is expected to hit Oak Island in several days.

Marty and Billy uncover a large boulder with the swamp excavator and decide to leave it where it lies. Rick Lagina, who had been hitherto observing the operation, asks his younger brother to stop digging in order to allow him to search through the spoils that Marty has already removed. Rick quickly discovers a wooden stake lying in the muck and finds that its point had been sharpened with six cuts. The treasure hunters agree that this artifact must be one of the line of wooden survey markers which Fred Nolan found during his own swamp excavation in 1969. Marty resumes the excavation and unearths another wooden stake nearly identical to the first.

Meanwhile, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton do some metal detecting in the area surrounding the wharf-like structure at Smith’s Cove, where Drayton discovered a lead tag the previous episode. The pair soon uncovers a thin wrought-iron rod which Drayton tentatively identifies as a crib spike on account of its resemblance to similar artifacts found nearby in Season 7, Episode 8, and Season 6, Episode 16. Despite this interesting find, the treasure hunters both express some disappointment at the relative scarcity of artifacts in the bump-out area.

Meanwhile, at the Money Pit area, various members of the Oak Island team stand by as Choice Drilling sinks borehole FG-12 in search of a third piece of the Shaft 2 tunnel. The treasure hunters inexplicably decide to inspect a core sample taken from a depth of 18.5 feet. As might be reasonably expected, the core sample contains disturbed earth interspersed with bits of wood.

Back at the swamp, Rick and Marty Lagina, Craig Tester, and Scott Barlow, in order to allow the swamp excavator (operated by Billy Gerhardt) access to another section of the ‘paved wharf’, remove a succession of plywood sheets which had previously served as a walkway from the swamp shore to that particular area of interest. That accomplished, Gerhardt drives the excavator into the area and proceeds to dig a large hole in search of the rocks that Sampson had discovered. Since the bottom of the hole is obscured by a rapidly-growing puddle of muddy water, Rick and Craig decide to examine it manually; they slide into the hole and find that its bottom is indeed lined with what feel like flat rocks. In order to remove the water so that they might better observe the rocks beneath, the treasure hunters dig a trench nearby, create a channel connecting the two holes, and begin pumping water from the trench.

Back at the Money Pit area, the treasure hunters dissect several more core samples from FG-12, finding large chunks of wood at depths of 74 and 106 feet, respectively. The 106-foot-deep wood appears to be older than the other, and bears markings which appear to have been made with an axe. Although its depth roughly corresponds with that of the Shaft 2 tunnel, Doug Crowell and Marty Lagina speculate that the 106-foot-deep wood might be a part of the original Money Pit.

The next day, Alex Lagina and Gary Drayton drive to the Ross Farm Museum in New Ross, Nova Scotia. There, they show blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge several of the wrought-iron rods they discovered in the area of the Smith’s Cove slipway, including the artifact they found earlier this episode, the tapered spike unearthed in Season 7, Episode 8, and the mysterious curved artifact unearthed in the same area in Season 7, Episode 6. Legge identifies the artifacts as pins which would have been “inserted near a post or a heavy rod to make a heavy, thick wall”, and dates them from 1600-1820. He then elaborates on the artifacts’ function, saying that they would have been formed around anchor pins driven into bedrock and then covered with clay, limestone, or cement, serving as primitive rebar for the concrete base of a dry dock at which ships would have been repaired. “Best guess,” he concludes, “is it’s for reinforcing a wall that was built along the edge of the water.”

Later, various members of the Oak Island team dismantle and dismember the newly-discovered Smith’s Cove wharf for the purpose of subjecting it to dendrochronological testing.

Meanwhile, the Fellowship of the Dig heads to the ‘paved wharf’ hole in the Oak Island swamp, which is now relatively dry and exposed. Marty Lagina examines the stones which lie on the hole’s floor and decides that they are too round to be flagstones, as some of the treasure hunters had hoped they might be. The stones are still too deeply buried in the muck for the treasure hunters to confidently diagnose their nature, and Marty Lagina laments that it seems unlikely that the crew will be able to adequately uncover them before Hurricane Dorian reaches Oak Island. Resigned to this reality, the treasure hunters begin gathering up plywood and moving pieces of equipment in preparation for the upcoming storm.

By 6:05 P.M., Hurricane Dorian has arrived at Oak Island. Footage of the Island beset by high winds and pouring rain is interposed with clips of Global News Halifax’ coverage of the storm. In an interview, Marty Lagina suggests that the inopportune timing of the hurricane brings to mind the supposed curse said to hang over Oak Island and its treasure.

Two days after the storm, Rick Lagina, Scott Barlow, and Billy Gerhardt drive to Oak Island to assess the damage. They find that the edge of the causeway connecting Oak Island with the mainland has been severely eroded, precluding the transportation of any heavy equipment to the Island until its repair. Further down the road, they find that the swamp has refilled entirely with water. Mercifully, the hurricane appears to have inflicted minimal damage on Smith’s Cove and its cofferdam. Rick tasks Billy with clearing some of the damaged trees and assigns Scott and himself the task of re-draining the swamp. The episode ends as the clean-up operation commences.

 

Analysis

The Stake in the Swamp

Near the beginning of the episode, Rick Lagina, Marty Lagina, and Billy Gerhardt discovered two wooden stakes in the ‘paved wharf’ area of the Oak Island swamp. The stake bore six cut marks which appeared to have been made with an axe. The crew agreed that these artifacts must be members of the line of survey markers discovered by Fred Nolan in 1969. Nolan had one of these stakes carbon dated to 1550, while Dan Blankenship had another carbon dated from 1490-1660.

This is not the first time that Oak Island Tours Inc. unearthed a wooden stake matching the description of the mysterious survey markers that Nolan first discovered in 1969. Back in Season 5, Episode 13, while metal detecting in the northern section of the swamp, Rick Lagina discovered a similar axe-sharpened wooden stake. Although it likely has little connection with the stakes in the swamp, it is interesting to note that, back in Season 3, Episode 7, Marty Lagina discovered a thick, saw-cut spruce stake about 10 feet underground at a point dubbed the ‘Nolan Site’, where Fred Nolan had previously discovered what he believed to be a subterranean cave.

Primitive Rebar

In this episode, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley unearthed a thin wrought-iron rod near the wharf-like structure discovered in the bump-out area of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam back in Season 7, Episode 9. Later, Drayton and Alex Lagina presented this artifact- along with the tapered wrought-iron spike discovered at Smith’s Cove in Season 7, Episode 8; the mysterious curved artifact unearthed in the same area in Season 7, Episode 6; and other similar artifacts presumably discovered nearby off-screen- to blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge. Legge identified the artifacts as piece of primitive rebar used to reinforce the cement base of a dry dock at which ships would have been repaired.

Borehole FG-12

At the Money Pit area, the Fellowship of the Dig stands by as Choice Drilling sinks borehole FG-12 in search of a third piece of the Shaft 2 tunnel. The treasure hunters dissect a number of core samples and find large chunks of wood at depths of 74 and 106 feet, respectively. The 106-foot-deep wood appears to be older than the 74-foot piece, and bears markings which appear to have been made with an axe. Although its depth roughly corresponds with that of the Shaft 2 tunnel, Doug Crowell and Marty Lagina speculate that the 106-foot-deep wood might have been a part of the original Money Pit, namely a piece of one of the wooden platforms which lay in the Pit at 10-foot intervals or undiscovered cribbing which initially lay below the 100-foot level. If the wood is indeed a part of the original Money Pit, then its depth and precise location are irrelevant; since treasure hunter Robert Dunfield destroyed the Money Pit while digging his infamous 140-foot-deep crater in the area, any fragment of the Money Pit found at a depth of 106 feet would constitute loose backfill.

Hurricane Dorian

At the very beginning of the episode, we were informed of the impending arrival of Hurricane Dorian, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of the episode was punctuated by clips of Global News Halifax’ coverage of the storm’s progress. The hurricane finally hit the Island near the end of the episode, flooding the swamp and damaging the causeway, yet failing to do any serious damage to either the Money Pit area or the Smith’s Cove cofferdam.

Hurricane Dorian is the second major storm to hit Oak Island during the lifetime of this TV show. In the winter of 2016/17, which separated Season 4 from Season 5, the Island was ravaged by a series of violent windstorms which uprooted trees and all but obliterated the South Shore road which skirts the Oak Island swamp.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 10: Gary Strikes Again

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 10: Gary Strikes Again

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 10 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at the bump-out area of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam, where the boys discovered the wharf-like structure the previous episode. Rick Lagina, Gary Drayton, and Peter Fornetti make a cursory examination of the partially-uncovered structure and fail to find any Roman numerals carved into it, Roman numerals being the markings that were found inscribed on the U-shaped structure. Archaeologist Laird Niven then arrives on the scene and examines the object. “My initial impression,” says Niven, “is that I would associate that with the slipway.” The archaeologist gives the treasure hunters the green light to hand-excavate the structure and search for any artifacts that might be found on top of or around it.

Before proceeding with the excavation, Gary Drayton scans the structure and its vicinity with his metal detector. In doing so, he comes across a strip of metal, which he suspects might be silver, perforated by a single hole. “It looks like some kind of silver tag,” he ventures, before suggestion a potential connection between this object and the lead cross he discovered on the Smith’s Cove beach back in Season 5, Episode 10.

Meanwhile, Craig Tester, Jack Begley, and Scott Barlow begin draining the Oak Island swamp, having obtained permits from the provincial government to excavate certain areas of interest within the wetland. The next day, Rick Lagina and Tom Nolan meet at the swamp with John Skierka of Great Excavations Inc. We learn that the treasure hunters are considering hiring Skierka to excavate their areas of interest in the swamp, apparently having disposed of the services of contractor Shawn Wilson, whom they invited to perform a similar job through the use of a “trench cage”, or “dig box”, back in Season 7, Episode 3. Skierka informs the team that he plans to excavate the areas of interest with a “swamp excavator”- a specialized piece of heavy equipment specifically designed for use in swamp-like environments.

Later, the Oak Island team meets in the War Room and calls up Dr. Christa Brosseau of Halifax’s St. Mary’s University, who has analyzed the silver tag that Gary Drayton found near the wharf-like object in Smith’s Cove. Dr. Brosseau informs the crew that the object is not composed of silver or pewter as Gary Drayton initially suspected, but rather of impure lead alloyed with small amounts of tin and antimony. She further states that tin and antimony are commonly found in ancient lead objects, and suggests that the trace metals might have been added intentionally in order to improve the lead’s durability. Dr. Brosseau then advises that, if the team wants to learn more about the artifact, they ought to subject it to a laser ablation test (similar to that carried out on the lead cross by Dr. Chris McFarlane of the University of New Brunswick back in the Season 6 premiere), which will determine its isotopic signature.

Meanwhile, Dave Blankenship, Dan Henskee, Doug Crowell, and Terry Matheson meet at the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is busy sinking an exploratory drillhole called FG-13 in search of a second piece of the Shaft 2 tunnel. Sure enough, while examining a core sample taken from a depth of 98.5-108.5 feet, the treasure hunters find a large piece of hand-sawn lumber, which they hope constitutes the coveted second piece of the tunnel in question. Matheson also points out layers of sand and clay within the core sample, which he says would make a perfect conduit for water from the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel to the Shaft 2 tunnel. The narrator then reminds us of the sand the crew discovered in a 99-109-foot core sample taken from a hole drilled in the Cave-In Pit area back in Season 7, Episode 5, and of the theory introduced in that episode that the sand might constitute the remains of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel.

The treasure hunters are soon joined by Rick, Marty, and Alex Lagina, who congratulate them on their success in determining the orientation of the Shaft 2 tunnel. In a later interview, Marty remarks upon the layer of sand that Terry Matheson identified in the FG-13 core sample and explains that the geologist believes the sand to be naturally-occurring material which facilitated the flooding of the Shaft 2 tunnel back in 1805. Marty also expresses his own opinion that the sand may have been placed intentionally by the creators of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel, as “sand will transmit a lot of water”. Back at the Money Pit site, the treasure hunters agree to sink one more hole in order to further confirm that they have indeed determined location and orientation of the Shaft 2 tunnel.

Later that afternoon, Rick and Marty Lagina, Tom Nolan, and Dave Blankenship watch as representatives of Great Excavations Inc. transport John Skierka’s swamp excavator across the Oak Island causeway.

The next morning, the Fellowship in the Dig meets in the War Room with Dr. Chris McFarlane, the geochemistry professor who conducted the laser ablation test of the lead cross back in the Season 6 premiere. McFarlane, who has conducted a similar test on the lead tag recently discovered beneath Smith’s Cove, informs the team that the tag has the highest tin ratio he has ever seen in a lead artifact. He then discloses that “the slipway artifact is clearly not of North American origin,” and suggests that the lead of which it is comprised was probably mined somewhere in the Mediterranean regions of Italy, France, or Spain.

Later, the boys head to the Oak Island swamp, which is now almost entirely drained. Heavy equipment operator Billy Gerhardt gets into the driver’s seat of John Skierka’s swamp excavator Marty Lagina comes along for the ride. Gerhardt drives the excavator to the so-called “paved wharf”- a pattern of stones which Tony Sampson discovered on the swamp floor back in Season 7, Episode 1. The episode ends as the treasure hunters begin excavating the area.

Analysis

The Lead Tag

In this episode, Gary Drayton discovered a tag-like strip of metal in Smith’s Cove near the wharf-like structure discovered the previous episode. Although Drayton initially suspected the artifact to be made of lead, Dr. Christa Brosseau determined that it was made of impure lead alloyed with 2% tin and 2% antimony.

Dr. Chris McFarlane later conducted a laser ablation test on the object and determined that the lead from which it is comprised was likely mined somewhere in the Mediterranean regions of Spain, France, or Italy. McFarlane also stated that the artifact possessed a higher concentration of tin than any other lead object he has analyzed.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 9: An Eye for an Eye

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 9: An Eye for an Eye

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 9 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room to discuss their next course of action in light of their recent discovery of Shaft 2. The treasure hunters agree that they ought to search for the remnants of the 14-foot-long tunnel said to have connected Shaft 2 with the original Money Pit. In a later interview, Rick Lagina elaborates on their reasoning, saying, “Now the critical piece of missing information is ‘what is the orientation of the tunnel?’. Does it go west by southwest, or does it go west by northwest? Where does it lie?”

Doug Crowell and Steve Guptill proceed to the Money Pit area, where they mark a location at which they suspect that Shaft 2 tunnel might be located. Colton Robinson and Mike Tedford of Choice Drilling then prepare to sink a hole at the prescribed location.

Meanwhile, Gary Drayton, and Peter Fornetti head to the bump-out of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam, where they search for metallic artifacts in earth that has been freshly turned by Billy Gerhardt. First, Drayton unearths a clump of earth which appears to contain iron. “[There] might be a goodie hidden inside,” Drayton suggests, before putting the object to the side.

While the treasure hunters work, Billy Gerhardt points out a cluster of flat rocks which he unearthed, which evoke the flat rocks of which the Smith’s Cove box drains were said to be comprised. The heavy equipment operator digs in the area with his excavator and unearths what appears to be a fragment of a vertically-aligned timber. The treasure hunters show the find to Rick Lagina, Doug Crowell, and Terry Matheson, the latter of whom expresses his opinion that the large rocks surrounding the timber lie in such profusion that they must have been placed there by man. Gerhardt removes more rock and earth surrounding the timber, revealing a wooden structure which Doug Crowell suggests might be the remains of a wharf or pier. In a later interview, Rick Lagina puts forth the notion that this new structure might simply be an extension of the slipway, or perhaps a much older structure on top of which the slipway was constructed.

Later that day, Terry Matheson and Dave Blankenship head to the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is busy sinking Borehole F-14 in the hope of intersecting the Shaft 2 tunnel. Matheson explains that they hope to encounter the tunnel somewhere between 89-105 feet below the surface. The drill reaches a depth of 89 feet without encountering anything other than in-situ soil, just as expected. The treasure hunters then examine a core sample taken from a depth of 99-105 feet- their target depth. Sure enough, the sample contains a large chunk of wood at the 100-foot depth, which Matheson suggests must constitute a piece of either the floor or ceiling of the Shaft 2 tunnel. Elated, the treasure hunters agree that they must locate at least one more piece of the Shaft 2 tunnel in order to fully determine its orientation, and subsequently the location of the original Money Pit.

The next day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room with Corjan Mol, who presented his own Oak Island theory the previous episode, and his fellow researcher, Chris Morford. Mol and Morford show the treasure hunters a 1650 self-portrait of classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin and point out an illustration of a painting in its background. This painting depicts a lady wearing a hat in which is set the image of a human eye. Mol and Morford propose that this lady is the shepherdess who features in Poussin’s 1637 rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego.

In the previous episode, Mol demonstrated that Poussins 1637 painting Et in Arcadia Ego appears to have been modeled on a portion of a pentagram, and showed the treasure hunters a map of Nolan’s Cross on which the painting and its pentagram were overlaid. In this episode, he demonstrates that the centre of the pentagram on which Et in Arcadia Ego was modeled appears to be the forehead of the shepherdess- the same place over which the third eye appears on the hat of the lady in Poussin’s self-portrait. Furthermore, Mol and Morford demonstrate that the centre of Et in Arcadia Ego, when the painting is superimposed overtop of Nolan’s Cross, appears to lie just southwest of the so-called ‘Eye of the Swamp’- a pond located at the tip of the Oak Island swamp around which geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner discovered a ring of flat stones in Season 7, Episode 3. The treasure hunters express some surprise at this connection between the eye on the lady’s hat in Poussin’s self-portrait and the name which Marty Lagina dubbed the pond. The narrator then attempts to connect Poussin’s painting and the pond to the “All-Seeing Eye”, a symbol of Freemasonry and the United States mentioned back in Season 4, Episode 2, when Tony Sampson discovered a rock in a water will in the town of New Ross, Nova Scotia, bearing what he suggested might be a representation of the symbol. The treasure hunters, along with a skeptical Marty Lagina, thank the researchers for their time and agree to investigate the point of interest which they have prescribed.

Oak Island Nolan's cross pentagram Shepherds of Arcadia map Et in Arcadia Ego

The next day, Steve Guptill meets with geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner and three of his student assistants from Acadia University (namely Lauren Ruff, Chelsea Renaud, and Julia Crews) at the Oak Island swamp. Guptill and his students head out to the Eye of the Swamp in a dingy and collect several core samples of the swamp floor using a vibracore drill.

Meanwhile, Rick Lagina, Peter Fornetti, Gary Drayton, and Billy Gerhardt continue the excavation of the bump-out area at Smith’s Cove. Not far from the cofferdam wall, the treasure hunters unearth a massive wooden structure consisting of large parallel and perpendicularly-aligned logs attached by saddle-notches, along with a handful of wooden pegs. Drayton remarks that the only other place they have found wooden pegs on the island was in the U-shaped structure, and suggests that this new structure they unearthed may be connected to it in some way.

Rick Lagina notes that the structure appears to be surrounded by packed clay, prompting the narrator to remind us that puddled clay was said to have been found on one or more of the nine oak log platforms unearthed at regular 10-foot intervals in the Money Pit. The treasure hunters reluctantly agree to postpone their excavation of the structure and wait for an assessment by archaeologist Laird Niven.

The next day, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room with Tom Nolan and Dr. Ian Spooner. Spooner, who has analyzed the samples that he and his students extracted from the Eye of the Swamp, shows the treasure hunters a diagram of one of the samples and informs them that lower end of the sample contains what appears to be disturbed earth. “How do I know it’s disturbed?” Spooner asks. “It’s because we’ve got interlayered organic matter and till. You just can’t get that [naturally].” The geoscientist goes on to explain how he carbon dated a sample of wood found overtop of the disturbed earth from 1600 to 1700.

“So what you’re saying,” clarifies Marty Lagina, “is in 16-something, somebody dug a hole there.”

“Right,” Spooner confirms.

Spooner then shows the treasure hunters a twig he extracted from another core sample, which he carbon dated from 1674-1778. This data, coupled with the carbon dating of the wood from the previous core sample, led him to deduce that the aforementioned swamp excavation must have taken place between 1674 and 1700- a date range which corresponds with many Oak Island discoveries made over the years, particularly those made throughout Season 5.

When prompted by Rick Lagina, Tom Nolan discloses that his father, Fred Nolan, had a particular interest in the Eye of the Swamp due to the fact that, no matter how much water he pumped from it, it always remained wet.

Before concluding his presentation, Dr. Spooner informs the team that the carbon dating of another twig located near the bottom of one of his core samples appeared to indicate that the swamp first formed around 1220 A.D. Marty Lagina remarks that this theory corresponds with the popular notion that the medieval Knights Templar are behind the Oak Island mystery.

Finally, Rick Lagina shows Dr. Spooner Zena Halpern’s mysterious map of Oak Island, first introduced back on the Season 4 premiere, and its reference to a Templar voyage to the island in 1179 A.D. The geoscientist says that he would “like to look at [the map] more closely to just see how it matches up with what [he and the crew] think might have existed at that time.”

 

Analysis

The Wharf

In this episode, the Fellowship of the Dig discovered an enormous wooden structure within the bump-out area of the Smith’s Cove cofferdam containing large logs and wooden pegs- the same materials of which the U-shaped structure is comprised. Doug Crowell and Laird Niven opined that the structure bears some resemblance to a wharf or pier.

Dr. Spooner’s Second Analysis of the Swamp

In this episode, geoscientist Dr. Ian Spooner of Acadia University, along with three student assistants, collected core samples of the Eye of the Swamp- the pond located at the Oak Island swamp’s northern tip. In a War Room meeting at the end of the episode, Dr. Spooner informed the Oak Island crew that the samples contain evidence that the swamp first formed around 1220 A.D., and that the floor of the Eye of the Swamp was disturbed by man sometime between 1674 and 1700- the latter being a date range which corresponds with many Oak Island discoveries made over the years, and the former corresponding with the popular theory that the Knights Templar are behind the Oak Island mystery.

As Spooner acknowledged in this episode, his analysis of the Eye of the Swamp core samples differs from a previous assessment he made back in Season 7, Episode 3, when he extracted core samples from the ‘Ship Anomaly’ in the Oak Island swamp. In the earlier episode, Spooner concluded that the swamp was only three or four hundred years old, and supported trees and other forms of terrestrial vegetation prior to its transformation into a wetland.

 

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The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 8: Triptych

The Curse of Oak Island- Season 7, Episode 8: Triptych

The following is a plot summary and analysis of Season 7, Episode 8 of the History Channel’s TV series The Curse of Oak Island.

 

 

[SPOILER ALERT!!!]

 

 

Plot Summary

The episode begins at Smith’s Cove, where the mysterious tarpapered wooden wall and possible remains of the Smith’s Cove flood tunnel were discovered at the end of the previous episode. Various members of Oak Island Tours Inc. puzzle over the structure, which Rick Lagina eventually suggests might be the work of Robert and Bobby Restall, as it bears some resemblance to other structures the Restalls are known to have built. “The only problem I have for this to be Restall work,” Rick says, “is [that the structure would have been] underwater [during the days of the Restall treasure hunt]. Now how would they have gotten here?”

Geologist Terry Matheson examines the wooden wall and opines that the cobble-like rocks that lie beside it, which some treasure hunters had suggested might be the remains of the flood tunnel, were stacked by man. Steve Guptill then tells Matheson that the northern end of this structure lies right next to the southern end of the slipway discovered back in Season 6, Episode 11. Matheson proceeds to examine the rocks with a hand shovel and finds a piece of wood embedded in it, which he identifies as a timber. This find seems to verify that the rock structure is indeed manmade.

That night, the Fellowship of the Dig meets in the War Room, where they speculate as to the nature of the mysterious structure recently discovered at Smith’s Cove. Marty Lagina, who attends the meeting via Skype, encourages his fellow treasures to dig up the structure and “get to the bottom” of it.

The next day, several members of the Oak Island team continue to excavate the structure at Smith’s Cove. Billy Gerhardt removes a quantity of earth beside the supposed cobble, and Gary Drayton scans the fresh trench with his metal detector. Drayton quickly comes across a tapered wrought iron spike which bears great resemblance to one of the objects he discovered at Isaac’s Point in the Season 7 premiere, which blacksmithing expert Carmen Legge identified as a hand point chisel. The object also bears some resemblance to the crib spike discovered on Lot 26 back in Season 6, Episode 3, as well as the crib spikes discovered near the Smith’s Cove slipway back in Season 6, Episode 16. The narrator then suggests that the artifact’s discovery might constitute evidence that the recently-discovered wooden wall was constructed sometime in the 17th or 18th Centuries (the presumed age of the various crib spikes), apparently forgetting that the wall was found covered with 19th or 20th Century tar paper.

That night, the crew meets in the War Room with Oak Island theorist Corjan Mol. Mol presents his theory that classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin included secret clues as to the location of the Oak Island treasure in two of his paintings, both of them entitled Et in Arcadia ego (also known as The Shepherds of Arcadia) and inspired by Italian Baroque painter il Guercino’s earlier work of the same name. Poussin’s first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1627, depicts two shepherds, a reclining man, and a shepherdess in a pastoral setting discovering an overgrown tomb and reading the inscription carved into its side: “ET IN ARCADIA EGO”. Mol suggests that the tomb’s inscription might be an anagram for “GITE NEO ARCADIA”, which, in Italian, means, “Excursion to New Arcadia”.

The narrator then explains that Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano explored North America’s Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Nova Scotia on behalf of King Francis I of France from 1523-24. During the voyage, Verrazano named the beautiful forested coastline north of Virginia “Arcadia” after a legendary pastoral paradise of Ancient Greek mythology. During this exposition, the show displays an old map bearing the title “Carte de l’Accadie”, or “Map of Acadia” in French. Although there appears to be some implication that the map was drawn by Verrazano, the map displayed on the show was actually drawn by French geographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin in 1757.

The narrator then explains that the name “Arcadia” gradually moved northeast until, in the early 1600s, it denoted a province of New France which covered an area that now comprises Canada’s Maritime Provinces and much of the state of Maine. 17th Century French explorer Samuel de Champlain decided to omit the ‘r’ from “Arcadia” and call the region “Acadie”, perhaps in an effort to make the word more congruent with native names for extant villages like Shubenacadie (Nova Scotia).

Back in the War Room, Corjan Mol shows the treasure hunters another painting by Nicolas Poussin entitled Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus (1627). This painting, Mol informs the treasure hunters, was made just after The Shepherds of Arcadia, and was intended to form a pendant painting with it (i.e. both paintings were meant to hang beside one another). The painting depicts a scene in the Classical Greek legend of King Midas of Phrygia. According to the legend, a satyr (a woodland deity) granted Midas’ wish for the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Unable to eat or drink as a result of his new ability, Midas prayed to the Greek god Dionysus (called “Bacchus” by the Romans) to reverse the satyr’s work. A sympathetic Dionysus ordered Midas to bathe in the Pactolus River. In doing so, the Phrygian king cleansed himself of his affliction, depositing gold dust into the riverbed in the process. Mol puts forth the theory that Poussin’s painting, which depicts Midas bathing in the Pactolus River, is a reference to Nova Scotia’s Gold River- a gold-bearing waterway which empties into Mahone Bay just northwest of Oak Island.

Corjan Mol further argues that Nicolas Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1637/38, was modeled on a portion of a pentagram. He goes on to suggest that the painting and the pentagram on which it is modeled, when superimposed over top of Nolan’s Cross, forms a treasure map indicating an area of interest near the tip of the Oak Island swamp. Mol finishes his presentation by suggesting that the Knights Templar buried the Ark of the Covenant on Oak Island, and that Nicolas Poussin somehow became privy to their secret.

The next day, Rick Lagina, Steve Guptill, and Tony Sampson meet with GPR experts Don Johnston and Steve Watson at the Oak Island swamp. Using a dingy and a rope laid along gridlines which Guptill prescribed, the crew conducts a floating GPR scan of the swamp. During the process, Johnston and Watson detect a 6-metre-wide anomaly located three metres below the surface.

Later, Jack Begley and Gary Drayton continue to excavate the mysterious wooden structure at Smith’s Cove by hand. Further excavation carried out off-camera has exposed four more log walls which appear to form two square shafts or boxes sitting side by side. The two men are later joined by other members of the team who assist in the excavation. At about three feet below the lip of one of the boxes, Doug Crowell discovers a platform of wooden beams. Despite this interesting development, Rick Lagina suggests that they stop excavating the boxes for the time being and explore more of the surrounding area first. In a later interview, Rick voices his fear that a rigorous investigation of the box-like structure may necessitate their digging a wider hole which might prevent them from accessing other areas of the bump-out with heavy equipment.

The following day, Jack Begley, Dave Blankenship, Doug Crowell, Terry Matheson, and Scott Barlow meet at the Money Pit area, where Choice Drilling is busy drilling an exploratory drillhole in search of another of the four walls of the 114-foot-deep Shaft 2 (one of Shaft 2’s four walls may have been discovered at the end of the previous episode). The treasure hunters examine a core sample taken from a depth of 19-29 feet below the surface. To their delight, the sample contains a large piece of timber from 24-29 feet which appears to be a piece of a corner of Shaft 2. The narrator informs us that the team will need to intersect one more wall of the shaft in order to definitively determine the orientation of Shaft 2.

The Choice Drilling crew proceeds to sink another hole at one of the suspected locations of a Shaft 2 wall. A core sample taken from an undisclosed depth (later revealed to be 98.5-103.5 feet) in this hole contains a significant quantity of wood. “We’ve got three points now that can’t be just one wall,” says Doug Crowell of the discovery. “So we’ve got two walls.” The crew then agrees to sink another hole in the hope of intersecting the 14-foot-long tunnel which once connected Shaft 2 with the original Money Pit, and to submit the recently-discovered wood samples for dendrochronological dating.

One week later, the crew meets in the War Room to hear the results of the aforementioned dendrochronological test. Craig Tester, who is in attendance via Skype, reveals that dendrochronologist Dr. Colin Laroque (who dated the wood from several Smith’s Cove structures back in Season 6, Episode 21) dated the 98.5-103.5-foot-deep wood from the suspected Shaft 2 wall to 1796. Tester reminds the crew that Shaft 2 is believed to have been constructed in 1805, and remarks that the Laroque’s dating fits perfectly with this. The narrator then remarks that, since it appears the crew has determined the location and orientation of Shaft 2, they finally know the precise location of the original Money Pit.

 

Analysis

GPR Scan of the Oak Island Swamp

In this episode, GPR experts Steve Watson and Don Johnston conducted a floating GPR scan of the Oak Island swamp using a dingy and ropes laid along gridlines prescribed by Steve Guptill.

This is not the first time a Ground Penetrating Radar scan has been conducted in the Oak Island swamp. Back in Season 2, Episode 8, Pat Campbell and Matt Savelle of Canadian Seabed Research Ltd. scanned the swamp’s southeast corner, the Mercy Point, and the so-called Enochean Chamber area on the swamp’s western edge with a GPR device. Although the scans indicated the presence of several underground anomalies, further investigation yielded little of interest.

Origin of the Name “Acadia”

In this episode, theorist Corjan Mol attempted to draw a connection between the word “Arcadia”, which is inscribed on tomb in Nicolas Poussin’s paintings The Shepherds of Arcadia, and Acadia, an old New French province made up of what is now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and much of the state of Maine.

In Classical Greek mythology, Arcadia is a pastoral paradise situated in the sparsely-populated mountainous interior of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. Named after Arcas, a legendary Greek demigod and hunter, the Arcadia of Greek mythology was said to be home to shepherds and nymphs who lived in harmony with nature, ruled over by the god Pan.

As was mentioned in this episode, Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano, during his 1523-24 voyage to North America on behalf of Francis I of France, applied the name “Arcadia” to the beautiful wooded Atlantic coast north of Virginia. According to Canadian bibliographer William F.E. Morley in his 1979 article on Verrazano for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, the word Arcadia made its first cartographical appearance on Italian cartographer Giacomo Gastaldi’s 1548 map of North America’s Atlantic Coast.

King Henry IV of France- who would become a great supporter and sponsor of Samuel de Champlain, the so-called Father of Acadia- referred to the Canadian Maritimes as “La Cadie” in a 1603 colonial license for French explorer Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons. Many historians believe that “La Cadie” has its origins in a native word picked up by French explorers, citing similar native place names like “Shubenacadie” and “Tracadie” as evidence. Samuel de Champlain apparently married Verrazano’s “Arcadia” with King Henry’s “La Cadie” by naming the Canadian Maritimes “L’Accadie”, or “Acadia”, in his writings and maps.

Corjan Mol’s Theory

In this episode, researcher Corjan Mol presented his own Oak Island theory involving classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin and his two renditions of The Shepherds of Arcadia. Specifically, Mol believes that the words “Et in Arcadia ego”, which form the inscription on the tombs in Poussin’s paintings, constitute an anagram for “Gite Neo Arcadia”- an Italian phrase which translates to “Excursion to New Arcadia”. Mol contends that these words are intended to draw attention to a particular voyage to the Canadian Maritimes, or “New Arcadia”- perhaps the voyage which led to the interment of the Oak Island treasure.

Mol then showed the Oak Island crew another of Poussin’s paintings entitled Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus. Mol informed the treasure hunters that Poussin created this painting in 1627, the same year in which he painted his first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, and claimed that it was meant to hang alongside it. This claim is supported by the posthumous inventory of Cardinal Camillo Massimo, a 17th Century Roman Church official and a major patron of the arts who owned both paintings, which referred to the items as “due quadri compagni”, or “two fellow paintings”.

The painting Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus depicts a scene from Classical Greek mythology and the Roman poet Ovid’s masterwork Metamorphoses. Specifically, the scene depicts the climax of the legend of King Midas of Phrygia, whom a woodland deity had granted the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Unable to eat or drink as a result of his new ability, Midas prayed to the Greek god Dionysus (called “Bacchus” by the Romans) and asked him to reverse the curse. The sympathetic deity ordered Midas to wash in the Pactolus River. In doing so, the king both cleansed himself of his affliction and deposited alluvial gold into the river. Mol argued that Poussin’s painting of this scene was intended as a reference to Nova Scotia’s Gold River- a gold-bearing waterway which empties into Mahone Bay just northwest of Oak Island.

Mol finished his presentation by putting forth the theory that Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, painted in 1636/37, is modeled around the shape of a pentagram. Mol appears to have borrowed this part of his theory from British screenwriter Henry Lincoln, co-author of the infamous 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which I will explain in greater detail below. Mol further contended that this pentagram on which Poussin’s painting was modeled, when superimposed over Nolan’s Cross, forms a treasure map indicating an area of interest near the apex of the Oak Island swamp. He concluded by suggesting that the Knights Templar buried the Ark of the Covenant on Oak Island, and that Nicolas Poussin somehow became privy to their secret and alluded to it in his work.

The Mystery of Nicolas Poussin

Corjan Mol is not the first researcher to include Nicolas Poussin in his Oak Island theory. In fact, the French painter appears so frequently in various Oak Island theories, as well as in hypotheses regarding other potentially-related mysteries, that a brief biography of the artist and an explanation of his place in some of the more popular of these theses may prove interesting to some readers.

Nicolas Poussin was born in Normandy, France, in 1594. Early on, Poussin displayed a natural aptitude for and interest in drawing. Contrary to his parents’ wishes, he moved to Paris at the age of eighteen, where he pursued a career as an artist. Poussin apprenticed with a variety of established Parisian painters and, in his early twenties, began receiving his own commissions from churches and convents.

In 1622, the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuit Order, hired Poussin to create six watercolor paintings depicting the miracles of Saint Ignatius of Loyala and Saint Francis Xavier, the Order’s founders, both of whom had just been canonized by the Catholic Church. These paintings were seen and admired by Giambattista Marino, a Napolitano poet. At that time, Marino served as court poet to Marie de’ Medici, the mother of the reigning King Louis XIII. In the context of Oak Island, it might be worth noting that, although Marie de’ Medici appeared to have little interest in the exploration of the Americas, her late husband, King Henry IV of France, had used the money she had inherited from her wealthy Florentine family to finance the voyages of explorer Samuel de Champlain, the so-called “Father of Acadia”.

Impressed by Poussin’s paintings, Marino commissioned the young French artist with making fifteen drawings, eleven of them depicting scenes from the Roman poet Ovid’s masterwork Metamorphoses and four of them depicting historic Roman battles. It seems likely that Poussin, who had received little formal education in his youth, first learned the story of King Midas during this period, as this legend features in Book XI of Metamorphoses (recall that the story of Midas is the subject of Poussin’s Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus (1627), which formed a pendant painting with his first rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia).

In 1623, Marino moved to Rome and invited Poussin to join him there. Poussin agreed to do so upon his completion of several major commissions for the residence of Marie de’ Medici and the family chapel of Archbishop of Paris in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame.

In 1624, Nicolas Poussin relocated to Rome, where he would spend most of his professional life. For nearly four decades, the French artist painted hundreds of pieces for Roman cardinals and Italian aristocrats in his own unique classical French Baroque style. In 1627, he painted his first rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego, which appears to be based on another painting of the same name by Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Barbiere, more popularly known as il Guercino.

Il Guercino’s Et in Arcadia ego, painted between 1618 and 1622, depicts two shepherds in a rural setting staring at a skull resting on a cippus, a Roman milestone sometimes used as a funeral memorial. The bricks of the cippus are inscribed with the words “Et in Arcadia Ego”, or “Even in Arcadia I”. As mentioned earlier, Arcadia is the name for the mountainous interior of the Peloponnesian Peninsula, which Classical Greek mythology contends was a paradise populated by shepherds and nymphs. The ambiguous Latin phrase inscribed on il Guercino’s cippus appears to serve as a momento mori– a sobering reminder of our own mortality- asserting that Death is everywhere, even in the paradise of Arcadia.

Nicolas Poussin’s 1627 rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego depicts two shepherds and a provocatively-dressed shepherdess examining an overgrown tomb in the wilderness. Like il Guercino’s cippus, Poussin’s tomb is inscribed with the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego”. In the foreground of the painting is a reclining man wearing a laurel wreath on his head, whom some art historians have interpreted as Alpheus, a river god of Greek mythology who happens to feature in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It is interesting to note that this figure bears great resemblance to Dionysus in Pouissin’s 1627 painting Midas Washing at the Source of the Pactolus, which was meant to serve as a companion to Et in Arcadia Ego.

Nearly ten years later, from 1637-38, Poussin painted a second rendition of Et in Arcadia Ego for Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, an Italian Church leader who would go on to become Pope Clement IX. This painting differs from Poussin’s earlier version in several ways, including the more dignified dress and bearing of the shepherdess and the letter of the inscription at which one of the shepherds is pointing; in the 1627 painting, a shepherd points to the letter ‘D’, while in the later painting, a shepherd points to the letter ‘R’.

Nicolas Poussin’s forty year residency in Rome was punctuated by an illustrious two-year stint in Paris; in late 1640, the French painter returned to his home country to serve as First Painter to King Louis XIII. For two years, Pouissin created paintings for French churches, religious organizations, and the famous “Red Eminence”, Cardinal Richelieu.

Poussin returned to Rome in December 1642, where he spent the rest of his life painting for a number of patrons he had acquired back in France. He passed away in Rome on November 19, 1665, and was buried in Rome’s Basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina.

For centuries, an aura of mystery and intrigue has surrounded Nicolas Poussin and his work. This sentiment is epitomized in a cryptic inscription on the artist’s tomb, which lies below a sculpted relief depicting Poussin’s second version of Et in Arcadia Ego, crafted in 1832. When translated from Latin to English, the inscription reads:

“Spare your pious tears. Poussin lives in this urn. He had given his life without knowing how to die. In this place Poussin is silent, but if you would like to hear him speak, it is surprising- he lives and speaks through his paintings.”

The notion that the great French artist may have been privy to some important secret first appeared in April 17th, 1656, in a letter written by Abbe Louis Fouquet (the future bishop of a region in southern France called Agde) to his elder brother, Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances at the court of the French King Louis XIV. Louis was one of Poussin’s patrons and lived in Rome at the time. To his elder brother in Paris, he wrote, in French:

“I have delivered to M. Poussin the letter which you have done him the honour of writing to him; he has read it with all imaginable joy. You would not believe, Monsieur, either the pains he takes for your service, the affection with which he takes them, or the merit and probity he brings in all things.

“He and I have planned certain things, of which I shall be able to talk to you in depth, which will give you by M. Poussin advantages (if you do not wish to despise them) that Kings would have great difficulty in drawing from him, and that after him perhaps no one in the world will ever recover in the centuries to come; and, what is more, this could be done without much expense and could even turn to profit, and these are things so hard to discover that no one, no matter who, upon this earth today could have better fortune or perhaps equal…”

This cryptic letter is doubly intriguing in light of certain events which succeeded it. In the early autumn of 1661, Nicolas Fouquet was arrested by the Captain of the King’s Musketeers and charged with embezzlement. After an unfair trial which lasted nearly three years, Fouquet was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for life. The former finance minister spent the rest of his days locked away in the Fortress of Pignerol (located in what is now the town of Pinerolo, Italy). As he was a man of high birth, Fouquet was assigned a valet, or manservant, during his incarceration. Interestingly, whenever Fouquet’s regular valet was indisposed, he was substituted by the so-called “Man in the Iron Mask”, a mysterious unidentified prisoner who was otherwise held in solitary confinement and forced at all times to wear a mask of either iron or velvet.

Five years after Nicolas Fouquet’s death in 1680, King Louis XIV purchased a number of Nicolas Poussin’s paintings, including his second rendition of the Shepherds of Arcadia, and added it to the French Royal Collection. Ten years later, the Shepherds of Arcadia was displayed in the Palace of Versailles, where it remained until its relocation to the Louvre Museum in 1806. Strangely, the painting is said to have disappeared sometime between its introduction to Versailles and relocation to Paris; it curiously failed to appear in a 1750 exhibition of the Royal French Collection in Luxembourg.

Around that same time, in the mid-18th Century, a wealthy British MP named Thomas Anson- the elder brother of Admiral George Anson of the Royal British Navy who circumnavigated the globe in the 1740s; who features in Gary Clayton’s Oak Island theory, which was presented back in Season 4, Episode 13- decorated the yard of Shugborough Hall, his family’s ancestral home in Staffordshire, England, with eight custom-made megalithic monuments. Among the strangest of these is the so-called Shepherd’s Monument- a rustic arch in which is set a mirror-image relief copy of Poussin’s second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia, crafted by Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. The Monument also contains the carved bald head of a smiling man, a carved head with goat-like horns resembling the god Pan of Greek mythology (the ruler of Arcadia), and eight Roman letters flanked by a ‘D’ to the lower left and an ‘M’ to the lower right. The sequence of letters on the Shepherd’s Monument, also known as the Shugborough Inscription, appears to form some sort of code. Although many cryptographers have put forth a variety of possible solutions to the code, none of these has been universally accepted.

Some researchers believe that the Shugborough Monument is related in some way to the Oak Island mystery. Many of them point to the fact that one of the shepherds in the Monument’s sculpture has his index finger placed on the letter ‘R’ of ‘ET IN ARCADIA EGO’, almost as if to cover it up. Removing the ‘R’ from ‘Arcadia’ makes ‘Acadia’, the name old French province in the Canadian Maritimes in which Oak Island is located. When this tantalizing possibility is considered in the context of the rest of the scene, the sculpture appears to imply that something important is entombed in Acadia, or Nova Scotia.

One proponent of theory that the Shugborough Monument is connected in some way to the Oak Island mystery is Swedish art director Peter Oberg. Oberg believes that the letters on the Shugborough Inscription stand for numbers which, when added up, equal 2,810- the distance in miles from the Shepherd’s Monument to Oak Island’s Money Pit. He arrives at these numbers by calculating the diameter of circles drawn on the monument’s engraving, and by interpreting some letters as Roman numerals.

Another Scandinavian who believes in a connection between the Shugborough Inscription and the Oak Island mystery is Norwegian organist and cryptographer Petter Amundsen, who presented his own Oak Island theory back in Season 1, Episode 4. Amundsen believes that the inscription forms a three-level cipher. On the first level, the letters form some sort of anagram which, when some letters are switched to their Greek forms, appears to suggest the name ‘Thomas Anson’, the man who commissioned the Shepherd’s Monument. The second cipher level- decoded using a key in a poem, Greek mythology, and astronomy- allegedly creates a celestial map which leads to Oak Island. The third alleged cipher level- first discovered by another Norwegian named Oystein Bruno Larson- involves turning the inscription letters into geographic co-ordinates which lead to a location 1.5 nautical miles from Oak Island. Amundsen presented his theory in the book he co-wrote with Norwegian novelist Erlend Loe, entitled Organisten, or The Organist.

When one considers the mystique that Nicolas Poussin and his paintings have garnered over the years as a result of the Shugborough Monument and the cryptic inscription that adorns his tomb, it is easy to understand how the French painter and his famous second rendition of The Shepherds of Arcadia found their way into the heart of a clever, sinister 20th Century hoax upon which an entire genre of misguided Oak Island theories are based. The story of this hoax begins in 1969, when British screenwriter Henry Lincoln picked up a copy of the recently-published book Le Tresor Maudit de Rennes-le-Chateau, or “The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau”, by French author Gerard de Sede. The book puts a twist on a little local legend endemic to a sleepy town on southern France called Rennes-le-Chateau.

The original legend on which de Sede based his book was first proliferated in the mid-1950s by a local restaurateur named Noel Corbu, and dealt with a former local character named Father Berenger Sauniere. Sauniere was a Roman Catholic priest who was appointed to Rennes-le-Chateau’s Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in 1885. In the late 1800s, Sauniere renovated his dilapidated parish and built a castle-like library and villa for himself, paying for the costly projects with mysteriously-acquired money. The Catholic Church conducted an investigation into Sauniere’s mysterious wealth and eventually charged him with simony- the fraudulent sale of religious favours. Specifically, the Church accused the priest of pressuring people into making donations he did not need and accepting payments for hundreds of Masses he never intended to say (in the Catholic Church, it is common for parishioners to ask a priest to offer a Mass for a specific intention, like the repose of a recently deceased relative). According to Noel Corbu, however, the source of Sauniere’s wealth was not simony, but rather the lost treasure of the 13th Century French Queen Blanche de Castile, who raised ransom money for her son, Prince (and later Saint) Louis IX, after his capture by Egyptian Saracens in the Seventh Crusade at the Battle of Al Mansurah. Sauniere located this treasure by following clues laid out in parchments he discovered in a particular pillar in his church during the renovations he financed in the late 1800s.

The French author Gerard de Sede put a different spin on the legend of Berenger Sauniere. In his book, he wrote that the priest, during his renovation of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, discovered four parchments in a pillar which supported the altar. De Sede included what purported to be photocopies of these parchments in his book. Two of the parchments contained genealogies which stretched back to the days of the Frankish Merovingian dynasty. The other two contained passages from the Gospels written in Latin. According to de Sede, Sauniere suspected that the parchments contained coded messages within their texts, and took them to Paris to have them deciphered. During his Parisian excursion, the French priest visited the Louve Museum, where he purchased prints of three paintings, one of them Nicolas Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia. Upon his return to Rennes-le-Chateau, Sauniere began spending an extraordinary amount of money on various building projects, having become inexplicably and spontaneously wealthy. De Sede implies in his book that Sauniere, aided by the codes in the parchments, must have discovered some sort of treasure in Rennes-le-Chateau.

During this time, locals observed that Sauniere spent many a night in the church cemetery engaged in some strange and mysterious business, moving tombstones and effacing epitaphs. One of the graves which the priest defaced was that of Marie de Blanchefort, a local aristocrat who died in 1781. Fortunately, the markings on de Blanchefort’s grave had already been recorded in a booklet entitled Les Pierres Gravees du Languedoc, or “The Engraved Stones in Languedoc”, written by a man named Eugene Stublein in 1884. De Sede included photocopies of Stublein’s interpretations of these markings- which included those inscribed on de Blanchefort’s headstone as well as words carved into a rectangular stone set perpendicular to it- in his book.

In 1969, while vacationing in the Pyrenees, an English screenwriter named Henry Lincoln purchased a copy of de Sede’s book. While examining a photocopy of one of the parchments Sauniere is said to have discovered hidden in a pillar in his church, he noticed that some of the Latin letters dipped below the others. To his astonishment, Lincoln found that these anomalous letters, when put together, formed a message in French. When translated to English, the message reads: “To Dagobert II, King, and to Sion belongs this treasure and he is there dead.”

Fascinated, Lincoln believed that de Sede’s story of Sauniere and the mysterious treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau would make for an excellent BBC documentary. He said as much to a certain BBC producer, who agreed with him and sent him to Paris to interview Gerard de Sede. Ever since he deciphered the code in the parchment, Lincoln had suspected that the French author had discovered the secret message as well, and was curious as to why he failed to include the decipherment in his book. He said as much to de Sede in his interview, to which the author replied, “Because we thought it might interest someone like you to find it for yourself”. De Sede’s use of the word “we” troubled Lincoln, as it implied the presence of some shadowy association behind the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau.

As the BBC prepared their documentary on the tale of Berenger Sauniere, Henry Lincoln received a letter from Gerard de Sede in which the French author disclosed the solution to the code in another of the parchments discovered in the Church of Mary Magdalene. When translated from French to English, the coded message reads:

“SHEPHERDESS NO TEMPTATION THAT

POUSSIN TENIERS HOLD THE KEY

PEACE 681 BY THE CROSS AND THIS

HORSE OF GOD I COMPLETE THIS

DAEMON GUARDIAN AT MIDDAY

BLUE APPLES”

The words “Shepherdess” and “Poussin” reminded Lincoln that, in de Sede’s book, Sauniere is said to have purchased a print of Nicolas’ Poussin’s 1637 painting The Shepherds of Arcadia. With this in mind, Lincoln looked at the various photocopies in de Sede’s book and made an extraordinary discovery. One of the inscriptions on the tomb of Marie de Blanchefort is flanked by columns of letters, some from the Latin alphabet and others from the Greek alphabet. When the letters from the Greek alphabet are exchanged for their Latin counterparts, a Latin phrase emerges: “Et in Arcadia Ego”- another clear connection between Nicolas Poussin and the mystery of Rennes le Chateau.

Around this time, Lincoln received another letter from Gerard de Sede. In the letter, the French author claimed that he and his shadowy associates, to which he alluded earlier, had discovered a tomb near Rennes-le-Chateau which bore remarkable resemblance to that depicted in Poussin’s painting. Using the directions that de Sede provided, Lincoln found this tomb on the side of the road between the villages of Serre and Arques, just a few miles from Rennes-le-Chateau. Indeed the tomb and its setting was nearly identical to that in Poussin’s The Shepherds of Arcadia, down to the foliage in the background and a rock which rests at the base of the sarcophagus. Even more startling were the similarities between the surrounding landscape and the backdrop of Et in Arcadia Ego. Lincoln quickly identified four mountaintops in Poussin’s painting which corresponded almost perfectly in both shape and placement with those surrounding this roadside sarcophagus. It seemed clear that Nicolas Poussin had painted this particular tomb and its surroundings in The Shepherds of Arcadia, either having visited the location or worked off of detailed sketches.

Henry Lincoln spent the next seven years attempting to solve the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, assisted on occasion by tips he received from the author de Sede and his mysterious associates. Lincoln produced three films for the BBC which documented his progress: The Lost Treasure of Jerusalem, produced in 1971; The Priest, the Painter, and the Devil, produced in 1972; and The Shadow of the Templars, produced in 1979. In his second film, he consulted Professor Christopher Cornford of London’s Royal College of Art. Cornford analyzed The Shepherds of Arcadia and determined that it appeared to be modeled around a portion of a pentagram. The professor attempted to explain the presence of this pentagram by suggesting that its inclusion implied Poussin’s attempt to connect his painting with the occult, or with the Cult of Pythagoras- an ancient Greco-Italian religion which revolved around geometry, mathematics, and Classical Greek mythology. Corjan Mol, who presented his own theory in this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, appears to have borrowed this part of Lincoln’s work.

Following the publication of The Shadow of the Templars in 1971, Henry Lincoln teamed up with New Zealander Michael Baigent and New Jerseyite Richard Leigh- researchers who shared his interest in the Knights Templar. Together, the three men began to research the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau. Shortly after the formation of this alliance, Lincoln was contacted again by Gerard de Sede, who directed him to a particular document in the Bibliotheque Nationale, the national library of France. This document, called the Dossiers Secret d’Henri Lobineau, or the “Secret Files of Henri Lobineau”, contained, among other things, diagrams depicting the genealogy of the Merovingian dynasty and references to an ancient secret society called the Priory of Sion. The Priory of Sion, the document contented, was formed in the year 1099 by descendants of the Merovingian dynasty. Following the First Crusade, it formed the Knights Templar as its military arm and financial branch. Over the years, it has been led by men of status and acclaim, including Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo. Its motto is “Et in Arcadia ego”, and its stated mission is the reinstallation of a Merovingian king on the throne of France. De Sede later confessed to Henry Lincoln that he was a member of the Priory of Sion, and that the organization’s current Grandmaster was a Frenchman named Pierre Plantard, who was the heir to the Merovingian dynasty.

Using the Dossiers Secret as one of their major sources, Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh wrote a book entitled The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which was published in 1982. The book revolves around an offensive thesis which I will not dignify here with an exposition. One of the many propositions put forth in the book is that the phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego” could be considered an anagram for “I! Tego Arcana Dei”- Latin for “Begone! I Conceal the Secrets of God”. This proposal appears to have inspired Corjan Mol’s own interpretation of “Et in Arcadia Ego” as an anagram for “Gite Neo Arcadia”, or “Excursion to New Arcadia”.

Due to its controversial nature, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was commercially successful, prompting its three authors to pen a sequel to it entitled the Messianic Legacy.  In 2003, American writer Dan Brown wrote an enormously successful mystery thriller novel entitled The Da Vinci Code, which appears to be based on the thesis outlined in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Three years later, Brown’s novel was adapted into a controversial Hollywood movie featuring actor Tom Hanks, bringing the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau, in a roundabout way, to an international audience.

For decades, a number of researchers- foremost among them French journalist Jean-Luc Chaumeil- have chipped away at the story of Rennes-le-Chateau and the Priory of Sion. Beneath a façade of mystery and intrigue, they have uncovered evidence of an extraordinarily complex hoax concocted by three men: the writer Gerard de Sede; the Priory of Sion’s supposed Grandmaster, Pierre Plantard; and a French surrealist named Phillipe de Cherisey. Plantard, the mastermind of the plot, conceived the story of the Priory of Sion, a medieval secret society with roots in the Merovingian dynasty responsible for the formation of the Knights Templar, whose Grandmasters included the movers and shakers of European culture. A fifty-year-old tomb near Rennes-le-Chateau which bore remarkable resemblance to that depicted in Et in Arcadia Ego prompted him to give Nicolas Poussin and his famous painting places of prominence in the story. Phillipe de Cherisey then created ‘evidence’ for the organization’s existence by fabricating a number of historical documents, including the parchments which Sauniere purportedly discovered in his church; the 1884 booklet of Languedoc engravings by Eugene Stublein; and the all-important Dossier Secret, which Plantard submitted to the Bibliotheque Nationale in 1967. Gerard de Sede completed the hoax by writing his book The Accursed Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau, a colourful spin on a local legend, including photocopies of several of de Cherisey’s forged documents therein, and waiting for someone like Henry Lincoln to stumble upon it and take the bait.

Although the alleged connection between Nicolas Poussin and the Priory of Sion has been debunked, the unsolved Shugborough Inscription and cryptic inscription on Poussin’s tomb hint at the possibility that the French painter was privy to some sort of secret, clues to which he embedded in his paintings. Is it possible that this secret has something to do with the Oak Island mystery? Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

 

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La Chasse-Galerie: From Honore Beaugrand’s ‘La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories’ (1900)

La Chasse-Galerie

From Honore Beaugrand’s ‘La Chasse Galerie and Other Canadian Stories’  (1900); With Annotations by Hammerson Peters

Back to Honore Beaugrand’s Classic French-Canadian Folktales.

This narrative is founded on a popular superstition dating back to the days of the coureurs des bois [1], under the French regime, and perpetuated among the voyageurs[2] in the Canadian Northwest. The shantymen[3] of a later date have taken up the tradition, and it is in the French settlements, bordering the St. Lawrence River, that the legends of la chasse-galerie are specially well known at the present time. The writer has met many an old voyageur who affirmed most positively that he had seen bark canoes traveling in mid-air, full of men paddling and singing away, under the protection of Beelzebub[4], on their way from the timber camps of the Ottawa to pay a flying visit to their sweethearts at home.

It is hardly necessary to apologize for having used in the narrative expressions typical of the rude life and character of the men whose language and superstition it is the intention of the writer to portray.

 

I

“Well, then, since you seem to desire it so very much, I will tell you a roarin’ story that ought to be a lesson to all of you. If there is among the crowd any renegade who intends to run la chasse-galerie or the loup-garou, he had better skip and go outside to see whether the owls are screeching in the storm, in converse with Old Nick[5] himself, because I intend to begin my story by making a big sign of the cross. That will be a regular set-back to le diable[6], who always tries, at this time, to snatch a poor shanty-man’s soul by promising him all kinds of nonsense. I have had enough of that in my young days to understand his tricks.”

Not a man moved. On the contrary, all gathered closer round the fireplace, where the cook had dragged the provision-chest, and upon which he had taken his seat on a camp-stool, preparatory to relating his experience under the wiles of the mauvais esprit [7].

It was on New Year’s eve of the year 1858, in the depth of the forest, in the Ross timber camp, at the head of the Gatineau River. The winter had fairly set in, and the snow outside had already piled up to the roof of the shanty. The boss, according to custom, had ordered the distribution of the contents of a small barrel of Jamaica rum among the men, and the cook had terminated early his preparations of a succulent ragout[8] of pig’s feet and of a large tin full of glissantes[9] for the New Year’s dinner. A big kettle, half full of molasses, was already simmering on the fire, as there was to be a candy-pull to finish the evening’s entertainment.

Every man had filled his pipe with good, strong Canadian tobacco, and a thick cloud of smoke darkened the interior of the shanty. A few pine-branches thrown at intervals on the fire produced a reddish glare that illuminated the rude faces of the men with curious effects of clair-obscur[10].

Joe, the cook, was a homely little man who laughed at his own physical defects, and who did not take offense when his comrades chaffed him on the subject, and called him le bossu, the hunchback. He had worked in the shanties for the last forty years, and his experience was only equaled by the facility with which he could relate his adventures when he had taken a glass of bonne vieille Jamaique[11].

“I was telling you,” said Joe, “that I was a pendard[12] in my youth, but it is long since I mended my ways, and now I never joke about religious matters. I go to confession regularly every year, and what I am about to relate took place years and years ago, when I feared ni Dieu, ni diable[13]. It was on a night like this, a New Year’s eve, thirty-four or thirty-five years ago. Gathered round the fireplace with all the camarades[14], we made merry; and if it is true, as we say in French, that ‘small rivulets make large rivers’, it is just as true that small drinks empty large barrels. And in those days, people drank more than to-day, and evenings of this kind generally ended in a boxing-match, outside, in the snow. The rhum[15] was no better than it is to-night, but it was bougrement bon[16], I can assure you. I will be frank with you and tell you that about eleven o’clock my head began to feel dizzy, and I lay down on my buffalo-robe to take a nap, while waiting for the midnight jump that we always take over the head of a pork-barrel, from the old year into the new one. We will repeat the same thing to-night before we go to visit the neighboring camps to wish them the compliments of the season.

 

II

“I had slept for quite a while, when I was rudely awakened by a second boss, Baptiste Durand, who said to me: ‘Joe, it is past midnight, and you are late for the barrel-jump. The camarades have gone to the other camps, and I am going to Lavaltrie[17] to see my sweetheart. Will you come with me?’

“ ‘To Lavaltrie,’ said I, ‘are you crazy? We are three hundred miles away from there, and you could not travel the distance in two months, through the forest, when there are no roads beaten in the snow. And what about our work the day after to-morrow?’

“ ‘Imbecile! Don’t you understand me? We will travel in our bark canoe, and to-morrow morning at six o’clock we will be back here for breakfast.’

“I understood. Baptiste Durand proposed that I should join him and run la chasse-galerie; risk the salvation of my soul for the fun of going to give a New Year’s kiss to my blonde at Lavaltrie. That was a little too much for me. It was true that I was a mauvais sujet[18], that I did not practice la religion, and that I took a drink too much now and then; but between that and the fact of selling my soul to le diable there was a big difference, and I said: ‘No, siree! Pas un tonnerre![19]’

            “ ‘Oh, you are a regular old woman,’ answered Baptiste tauntingly. ‘There is no danger whatever. We can go to Lavaltrie and back in six hours. Don’t you know that with la chasse-galerie we can travel 150 miles an hour, when one can handle the paddles as well as we all do. All there is to it is that we must not pronounce le nom du bon Dieu[20] during the voyage, and that we must be careful not to touch the crosses on the steeples when we travel. That’s easy enough, and, to be all right, all a man has to do is look where he goes, think about what he says, and not touch a drop of liquor on the way. I have made the trip five times, and le diable has not got me yet. Come, mon vieux[21], stiffen up your courage, and in two hours we will be at Lavaltrie. Think of Liza Guimbette, and the pleasure you will have in kissing her “a happy New Year.” There are already seven of us to make the trip, but we must be two, four, six, or eight, to make up the crew of the canoe.’

“ ‘Yes, that’s all right, but you must make an engagement with le diable, and he is not the kind of a bourgeois that I want to make any bargain with.’

“ ‘A simple formality if we are careful where we go and not to drink. A man is not a child, pardieu[22]! Come on! The camarades are waiting outside, and the canoe is already in the clearing. Come, come!’

           “And I was led outside of the shanty, where I saw the six men who were awaiting us, paddle in hand. The large canoe was lying on a snowbank, and before I had time to think twice about it, I was seated in the bow, awaiting the signal to go. I must say that my mind was somewhat confused, but Baptiste Durand, who was a hard customer,- for, it was said, he had not been to confession for seven years,- gave me no time for reflection. He was standing in the stern, and exclaimed in a ringing voice:

“ ‘Are you ready?”

“ ‘Ready.”

“ ‘Repeat after me.”

“And we repeated together:

“ ‘Satan! King of the infernal regions, we promise to sell you our souls, if within the following six hours we pronounce le non du bon Dieu, your master and ours, or if we touch a cross on the voyage. On that condition you will transport us through the air, wherever we may want to go, and bring us back sound and safe to the shanty. Acabris, Acabras, Acabram! Fais nous voyageur par-dessus les montagnes![23]’

 

III

“The last words were hardly pronounced, when we felt the canoe rising in the air to a height of five or six hundred feet. I felt as light as a feather, and at Baptiste’s command, we commenced paddling like sorcerers that we were. At the first stroke of the paddle, the canoe shot out like an arrow, and off we went under the protecting wing of le diable himself. It fairly took my breath away, and I could hear the bow of the canoe whizzing through the crisp air of the night.

“We went faster than the wind, and during the first fifteen minutes we sailed over the forest without perceiving anything else than the dark heads of the great pines. It was a beautiful night, and a full moon lighted up the sky like the midday sun. It was terribly cold though, and our mustaches were fairly frozen, while our bodies were all in a perspiration. We were paddling like demons at work in the lower regions. We soon perceived a bright, glistening belt of clear ice, that shone like a mirror. That was the Gatineau River; and then the lights in the farmhouses, which were mostly lit up on New Year’s eve. We began passing the tin-covered steeples as quickly as telegraph poles fly past in a railway train, and the spires shone in the air like the bayonets of the soldiers drilling on the Champ de Mars[24], in Montreal. On we went like tous les diables[25], passing over forests, rivers, towns, villages, and leaving behind us a trail of sparks. It was Baptiste Durand, the possede[26], who steered the canoe because he knew the route, and we soon came to the Ottawa River, which we followed down to the Lac des Deux montagnes[27]!

“ ‘Look out there, said Baptiste; ‘we will just skim over Montreal and frighten some of the fellows who may be out at this hour of the night. Joe, clear your whistle and get ready to sing your best canoe-song, “Canot d’ecorce[28],” my boy.’

”  The excitement of the trip had braced me up, and I was ready for anything. Already we could see the lights of the great city, and with an adroit stroke of his paddle, Baptiste brought us down on a level with the summit of the towers of Notre-Dame. I cleared my throat and sang ‘Canot d’ecorce,’ while my camarades joined heartily in the chorus.

” ‘Mon pere n’avait fille que moi,

Canot d’ecorce qui va voler,

Et dessus la mer il m’envoie:

Canot d’ecorce qui vole, qui vole,

Canot d’ecorce qui va voler!’[29] Etc.

 

IV

“Although it was well on toward two o’clock in the morning, we saw some groups of men who stopped in the middle of the street to watch us go by, but we went so fast that in a twinkle we had passed Montreal and its suburbs. We were nearing the end of our voyage, and we commenced counting the steeples, -Longue Pointe, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Repentigny, St. Sulpice,- and at last we saw the two shining spires of Lavaltrie that gleamed among the dark-green pines of the domain.

“ ‘Look out over there!’ shouted Baptiste. ‘We will land on the edge of the wood, in the field of my godfather, Jean-Jean-Gabriel. From there we will proceed on foot to go and surprise our acquaintances in some fricot[30] or dance in the neighborhood.’

“We did as directed, and five minutes later our canoe lay in a snowbank, at the edge of the wood of Jean-Jean-Gabriel. It was no small job, because the snow reached to our waists and there was no trace of any kind of road. Baptiste, who was the most daring of the crowd, went and knocked at the door of his godfather’s house, where we could see a light, but there was no one there except a servant, who told us that the old folks had gone to a snaque[31] at old man Robillard’s place, and that the young people of the village- boys and girls- were across the St. Lawrence at Batissette Auge’s, at the Petite Misere, below Contrecoeur, where there was a New Year’s hop.

“ ‘Let us go to the dance at Batissette Auge’s,’ said Baptiste; ‘we are sure to find our sweethearts over there.’

“ ‘Let us go to Batissette Auge’s!’

“And we returned to our canoe, while cautioning one another against the great danger that there was in pronouncing certain words, in touching anything in the shape of a cross, and especially in drinking liquor of any kind. We had only four hours before us, and we must return to the shanty before six o’clock in the morning, if we wanted to escape from the clutches of Old Nick, with whom we had made such a desperate bargain. And we all knew that he was not the kind of a customer to let us off, in the event of any delay on our part.

“ ‘Acabris, Acabras, Acabram! Fais nous voyager par-dessus les montagnes!’ shouted Baptiste once more.

“And off we went again, paddling through the air, like renegades that we were, every one of us. We crossed the river in less time than it requires to tell it, and we descended in a snow-bank close to Batisette Auge’s house, where we could hear the laughter of the dancers, and see their shadows through the bright windows.

“We dragged our canoe on the riverside, to hide it among the hummocks produced by the ice-shove.

“ ‘Now,’ said Baptiste, in a last warning, ‘no nonsense! Do you hear? Dance as much as you can, but not a single glass of rum or whisky. And at the first sign, follow me out without attracting attention. We can’t be too careful!’

“And we went and knocked at the door.

 

V

“Old Batiseette came and opened the door himself, and we were received with open arms by the guests, who knew us all.

“ ‘Where do you come from?’

“ ‘I thought you were in the chantiers[32], up the Gatineau?’

“ ‘What makes you come so late?’

“ ‘Come and take a smile.'[33]

“Baptiste came to the rescue by saying: ‘First and foremost, let us take our coats off, and give us a chance to dance. That’s what we came here for, and if you still feel curious in the morning, I will answer all your questions.’

“For my part, I had already spied Liza Guimbette, who was chatting away with little Boisjoli of Lanoraie. I made my reverence in due style, and at once asked for the favor of the next dance, which was a four-handed reel. She accepted with a smile that made me forget that I had risked the salvation of my soul to have the pleasure of pressing her soft white hand in mine and of cutting pigeonwings as her partner. During two hours the dancing on without stopping, and, if I do say so myself, we shanty fellows cut a shine in the dance that made the hayseeds tired before morning. I was so busy with my partner that at first I did not notice that Baptiste was visiting the buffet rather often with some of the other boys, and I once caught him lifting his elbow in rather a suspicious manner. But I had no idea that the fellow would get tipsy, after all the lecturing he had given us on the road. When four o’clock struck, all the members of our crew began to edge out of the house without attracting attention, but I had to drag Baptiste before he would consent to go. At last we were all out, with just two hours before us to reach the camp, and three hundred miles to ride in our canoe, under the protection of Beelzebub. We had left the dance like wild Indians without saying good-by to anybody, not even to Liza Guimbette, whom I had invited for the next cotillon[34]. I always thought that she bore me a grudge for that, because when I reached home the next summer she was Madame Boisjoli.

“We found our canoe all right in the hummocks, but I need hardly tell you that we were all put out when we found that Baptiste Durand had been drinking. He was to steer the boat, and we had no time to lose in humoring the fancies of a drunken man. The moon was not quite so bright as when we started from the camp, and it was not without misgivings that I took my place in the bow of the canoe, well decided to keep a sharp lookout ahead for accidents. Before starting I said to Baptiste:

“ ‘Look out, Baptiste, old fellow! Steer straight for the mountain of Montreal, as soon as you can get a glimpse of it.’

“ ‘I know my business,’ answered Baptiste sharply, ‘and you had better mind yours.’

“What could I do? And before I had time for further reflections:

“ ‘Acabris! Acabras! Acabram! Fais nous voyager par-dessus les montagnes!’

 

VI

“And up we went again like lightning, steering southwest, if the wild way in which Baptiste managed our boat could be called steering. We passed over the steeple of the church at Contrecoeur, coming pretty close to it, but instead of going west Baptiste made us take a sheer towards the Richelieu River. A few minutes later we were skimming over Beloeil Mountain, and we came within ten feet of striking the big cross that the Bishop of Quebec planted there, during a temperance picnic held a few years before by the clergy of his diocese.

“ ‘To the right, Baptiste! Steer to the right, or else you will send us all to le diable if you keep on going that way.’

“And Baptiste did instinctively turn to the right, and we steered straight for the mountain of Montreal, which we could perceive in the distance by the dim lights of the city. I must say that I was becoming frightened, because if Baptiste kept on steering as he had done, we would never reach the Gatineau alive, and le diable was probably smacking his lips, as I supposed, at the bare idea of making a New Year’s mess of us. And I can tell you that the disaster was not long in coming. While we were passing over the city, Baptiste Durand uttered a yell, and, flourishing his paddle over his head, gave us a twist that sent us plunging into a snow-drift, in a clearing on the mountain-side. Luckily the snow was soft, and none of us were hurt, nor was the canoe injured in any way. But Baptiste got out and declared most emphatically that he was going down-town to have un verre[35]. We tried to reason with him, but our efforts proved useless, as is generally the case with les ivrognes[36]. He would go down if le diable himself were to catch hold of him on the way. I held a moment’s consultation with mes camarades, and, before Baptiste knew what we were about, we had him down in the snow, where we bound him hand and foot so as to render him incapable of interfering with our movements. We placed him in the bottom of the canoe, and gagged him so as to prevent him from speaking any words that might give us up to perdition.

           ” And ‘Acabris! Acabras! Acabram!’ Up we went again, this time steering straight for the Gatineau. I had taken Baptiste’s place in the stern. We had only a little over an hour to reach camp, and we all paddled away for dear life and eternal salvation. We followed the Ottawa River as far as the Pointe-Gatineau, and then steered due north by the polar star for our shanty. We were fairly flying in the air, and everything was going well when that rascal of a Baptiste managed to slip the ropes we had bound him with and to pull off his gag. We had been so busy paddling that, the first thing we knew, he was standing in the canoe, paddle in hand, and swearing like a pagan. I felt that our end had come if he pronounced a certain sacred word, and it was out of the question to appease him in his frenzy. We had only a few miles to go to reach camp, and we were floating over the pine forest. The position was really terrible. Baptiste was using his paddle like a shillalah[37] and making a moulinet[38] that threatened very moment to crush in some one’s head. I was so excited that by a false movement of my own paddle I let the canoe came down on a level with the pines, and it was upset as it struck the head of a big tree. We all fell out and began dropping down from branch to branch like partridges shot from the tamarack-tops. I don’t know how long I was coming down, because I fainted before we reached the snow beneath, but my last recollection was like the dream of a man who feels himself dropping down a well without ever reaching the bottom.

 

VII

“About eight o’clock the next morning, I awoke in my bunk, in the cabin, whither some of our camarades had conveyed us after having found us to our necks in a neighboring snow-bank, at the foot of a monster pine-tree. Happily, no one was seriously hurt, although we were all more or less bruised and scratched, some having secured even black eyes on our way down from the tree-top. We were all thankful that nothing worse had befallen us, and when the camarades said that they had found us sleeping away in the snow the effects of the previous night’s frolic, not one of us had anything to say to the contrary. We all felt satisfied that our escapade with Old Nick remained unknown in the camp, and we preferred leaving our chums under the impression that we had taken un verre too many, to telling them of the bargain we had made to satisfy a passing fancy. So far as Baptiste Durand was concerned, there is no doubt that he had forgotten the latter part of his voyage, but he never alluded to the fact, and we followed his example. It was not till many years afterwards that I related the story of our aventures, just as they happened on that memorable New Year’s eve.

“All I can say, my friends, is that it is not so amusing as some people might think, to travel in mid-air, in the dead of winter, under the guidance of Beelzebub, running la chasse-galerie, and especially if you have un ivrogne to steer your bark canoe. Take my advice, and don’t listen to any one who would try to rope you in for such a trip. Wait until summer before you go to see your sweethearts, for it is better to run all the rapids of the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence on a raft, than to travel in partnership with le diable himself.”

And Joe, the cook, dipped a ladleful of boiling molasses from the big kettle on the fire, and declared that everything was now ready for the candy-pull.

The Century Magazine, New York,

Vol. 44, Issue 4 (Aug. 1892)

 

Footnotes

[1] Coureurs des bois– literally “runners of the woods” in French- were independent French-Canadian fur traders. Throughout the 17th and early 18th Centuries, these frontiersmen travelled deep into the North American wilderness by canoe to trade with various First Nations, exchanging European goods for beaver pelts and other valuable furs.

[2] Voyageurs were canoe-going fur traders of chiefly French-Canadian extraction who differed from coureurs des bois in that they worked for licensed fur trading companies.

[3] Although often used to designate the lead vocalist in a choir of shanty-singing sailors, the word “shantyman” is this case probably means “lumberjack”.

[4] Beelzebub is a demon of Hebrew scripture whose name literally translates to “Lord of the Flies”. In this instance, the word “Beelzebub” almost certainly denotes the Devil.

[5] “Old Nick” is an antiquated term for the Devil.

[6] Literally “the devil” in French.

[7] Literally “bad spirit” in French; a French expression designating a negative or derisive disposition.

[8] A stew.

[9] French-Canadian dumplings made from a flour-egg-milk dough boiled in broth.

[10] The French term for chiaroscuro, the use of strong contrasts between light and dark in painting.

[11] Literally “good old Jamaica”, meaning rum in this case.

[12] An old French term denoting scoundrel who deserves to hang.

[13] Literally “neither God nor Devil” in French.

[14] “Comrades” in French.

[15] “Rum” in French.

[16] “Damned good” in French.

[17] A rural district on the St. Lawrence River located about 130 miles (209 kilometres) southeast of the head of the Gatineau River, as the cr8ow flies.

[19] Literally “bad subject” in French; a worthless person.

[19] Literally “not thunder” in French; absolutely not.

[20] “The name of the good Lord” in French.

[21] “My pal” in French.

[22] “By God” in French.

[23] “Let us travel over the mountains!” in French.

[24] An old military parade ground in Montreal, Quebec.

[25] “All the devils” in French.

[26] “The possessed” in French.

[27] The Lake of Two Mountains, the confluence of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Rivers.

[28] Literally “Bark Canoe” in French.

[29] When translated to English: “My father only had a daughter, Cark canoe that will fly, And over the sea he sends me: Bark canoe that flies, flies, Bark canoe that will fly!”

[30] Literally a type of French-Canadian stew; in this context, meaning a feast or party.

[31] A festive dinner.

[32] Camps.

[33] Come and have a drink.

[34] Also “cotillion”, a French country dance.

[35] A glass (of liquor).

[36] The intoxicated.

[37] A wooden club used as a dueling weapon by Irish gentlemen.

[38] A wheeling motion performed in a lively dance.

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