The Curse of Oak Island- Season 4, Episode 11: Presidential Secrets
The episode begins at Borehole 10-X, where the men of Oak Island Tours Inc. are in the process of airlifting water from the chamber at the bottom of the shaft in the hope that they might bring up evidence of a human presence in the chamber prior to 1795. During this process, the slurry from the chamber at the bottom of 10-X is pumped up to the surface and deposited in a sediment tank. After running for some time, the airlift abruptly stops working. The machine operators suspect that some debris might be lodged in the upcoming hose and make some adjustments accordingly. In no time, the airlift is running smoothly again.
After running the airlift for some time, the team decides that if there was anything of interest inside the chamber at the bottom of 10-X, it should now be in the sediment tank on the surface. Once the water from the tank is drained, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, Jack Begley, and former Oak Island resident Dan Henskee shovel the sediment into the bucket of a loader. While shoveling, the treasure hunters discover several pieces of material they are unable to immediately identify, along with a small bone. These items are bagged and set aside for future analysis.
Once all the 10-X sediment has been transferred to the loader bucket, it is revealed that Jack Begley will be in charge of sifting through the debris. The next scene shows Begley and his stepfather Craig Tester sifting through the last of the 10-X debris, which they have spread out on a diamond mesh trough. Immediately, the pair discover a hand-sized chunk of milled wood bearing the marks of an old-fashioned hand saw lying among the sludge. Shortly afterwards, Begley find some wood slivers covered with a black, viscous substance he speculates might be pitchblende (also known as uraninite, a radioactive uranium ore which had previously been discovered on Oak Island by treasure hunters). The narrator then briefly describes how pitch (or resin, a blanket term used to describe dark, viscous substances like tar, bitumen, asphalt, and tree resin) has been used for millennia to caulk ships and waterproof wooden containers.
Later that day, the Oak Island team meets in the War Room. There, Jack Begley presents his fellow treasure hunters with the items of interest he discovered while sifting through the debris brought up from the chamber at the bottom of Borehole 10-X. First, Begley shows the team several pieces of hand-sawn wood he uncovered. Upon being prompted, Dan Blankenship proclaims that the wood is nothing like anything he, his son Dave, or fellow treasure hunter Dan Henskee might have dropped into 10-X while working in it in the 1970’s and ’80’s, speculating that the pieces are likely “older than [he is].”
Next, Begley shows the Oak Island team a handful of old wood slivers covered in a substance which he believes might be pitch or pitchblende. Again, Dan Blankenship is adamant that these items could not possibly have made their way into 10-X during his excavations in the ’70’s and ’80’s.
The team decides to have the items from 10-X carbon dated. In light of the new evidence, Marty Lagina states “there’s not quite an ‘X’ in 10-X.” With that, the meeting is ended.
The following day, the Oak Island crew gathers at Smith’s Cove, where they hope to uncover evidence of the legendary box drains believed to be buried there. With the help of contractor Jeremy Frizzell and veteran Oak Island treasure hunter Dan Henskee, they begin to construct a small, temporary, 8-foot-high inflatable cofferdam around a section of Smith’s Cove which will allow them to excavate the area inside without having to content with the tide. Suddenly, the cofferdam inexplicably ruptures, rendering it useless. The narrator reveals that Frizzell, the contractor in charge of installing the cofferdam who has witnessed hundreds of successful inflatable cofferdam installations in the past, has never seen an inflatable cofferdam burst in this way. Rick Lagina tries to reassure the contractor, saying “there have been multiple, multiple equipment failures on this island. Things that just should not go wrong go wrong.” The narrator follows up on this by explaining how labourer Maynard Kaiser, on March 26, 1897, fell to his death in an Oak Island shaft when the rope to which the bucket he rode in was attached inexplicably slipped from the hoist. He goes on to explain how Kaiser’s death unnerved many of his fellow labourers, some of the more superstitious of whom feared that some sort of malevolent force guarding the Oak Island treasure was responsible for their co-worker’s untimely demise.
Following the setback, a crestfallen Jeremy Frizzell assures the Oak Island team that he will replace the cofferdam and attempt to install it in several weeks. Craig Tester tells him “you may not be used to this, but we’re used to to this.” With that, the crew wraps up the operation.
Later, in the War Room, Rick Lagina, Charles Barkhouse, and Rick and Marty’s nephew Peter Fornetti meet with Oak Island researchers Doug Crowell and Paul Troutman, the latter being the son of James Troutman, a man who worked alongside treasure hunter Robert Dunfield in the mid-late 1960’s. There, Troutman informs the treasure hunters that he has dug up several letters and documents pertaining to former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Oak Island treasure hunt. The narrator then explains how a young Franklin Roosevelt was one of the financiers of the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company, an Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate headed by engineer Harry L. Bowdoin which operated in 1909, and how Roosevelt, throughout his 12-year term as President of the United States (which spanned the Great Depression and World War II), retained his interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt.
Troutman reveals that one of the documents he has brought to the War Room confirms that Roosevelt was a Freemason. Barkhouse responds by remarking that many people involved in the Oak Island treasure hunt over the years, including treasure hunters Irwin Hamilton and Gilbert Hedden, were also Freemasons. The narrator then briefly describes the theory that the Knights Templar buried sacred religious artifacts on Oak Island following the suppression of their Order in 1307, and that their secret rituals and ideals lived on in Scotland, where they were eventually reconstituted as Freemasonry.
At the end of the meeting, Troutman informs Rick, Charles, Peter and Doug that a wealth of information on Franklin Roosevelt’s Oak Island connection is available in the archives of the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. Troutman invites the treasure hunters to accompany him to the archives to check out these documents, and the men heartily accept his invitation.
Later, Rick Lagina and his nephew (Marty’s son) Alex carpool to the FDR Presidential Library. There, they meet with the library’s Public Program Specialist Clifford Laube, who directs them to where Paul Troutman is hunkered down, pouring over archival material. Rick informs Troutman that he is interested in learning why Roosevelt retained such an intense interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt throughout most of his adult life, and Troutman informs Rick that, if such information exists, it could likely be gleaned from Roosevelt’s “personal files”, which he has already assembled on the table. Unfortunately, these files contain a whopping 17 million pages, only 10% of which have been scanned. Rick remarks, “it looks like we’ve got our work cut out for us,” and with that, he, Alex, and Troutman begin pulling files.
In time, Troutman uncovers a letter addressed to FDR stating that there were at least two treasure hunts on Oak Island in addition to Bowdoin’s in and around 1909. The narrator then describes how Franklin D. Roosevelt’s grandfather, Warren Delano, was a shareholder of the Truro Company, Oak Island’s second major treasure-hunting syndicate which operated in the mid 19th Century.
Next, Troutman shows Rick and Alex a transcript from an interview of Duncan Harris, a schoolmate and confidant of Franklin Roosevelt, conducted by biographer Joseph P. Lash. In it, Harris maintains that Roosevelt believed that Oak Island’s mysterious treasure consisted of “the lost jewels of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette,” the last monarchs of France who were executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.
With that, the episode abruptly ends.
In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, Jack Begley, while sifting through the sludge airlifted from the cavern at the bottom of Borehole 10-X, discovered several slivers of old wood coated in a viscous black substance which he speculated might be pitch (tar), or perhaps “pitchblende”. Interestingly, pitchblende- a radioactive uranium ore- has been discovered in Borehole 10-X in the past.
In 1970, Dan Blankenship and David Tobias of Triton Alliance hired Golder Associates- a Toronto-based geophysical company- to drill on Oak Island at spots prescribed by Blankenship, which he found by dowsing. From one of the many holes they drilled, Golder Associates brought up thin, low-carbon steel from a depth of 165 feet. This find prompted Triton Alliance to expand the drill hole into a 230-foot-deep shaft, which is known today as Borehole 10-X.
While digging Borehole 10-X, Dan Blankenship unearthed spruce wood coated in a thick, black substance at a depth of 167 feet. Triton Alliance had the wood carbon dated, and were astonished to learn that the test results, incredibly, indicated that the wood came from the future, specifically some time in the early fourth millennium A.D.
In order to understand the reason for this bizarre test result, it helps to have a basic understanding of carbon dating. Carbon dating is a method of determining the age of an organic (once living) material by measuring its carbon 12/ carbon 14 ratio. Regular carbon, or carbon 12, makes up 99% of of all the carbon in the universe, and is a stable molecule which does not decay over time. Carbon 14 (a.k.a. radiocarbon), on the other hand, is a volatile, naturally-occurring, much less common carbon isotope with two additional neutrons (which is a fancy way of saying that carbon 14 is slightly heavier than carbon 12, but has the same magnetic charge). Carbon 14 is radioactive, which means that it spontaneously emits radiation and decays (i.e. transforms into nitrogen 14) over time. When an organism dies, the carbon 14 present in it immediately starts to decay, while the amount of carbon 12 in it remains constant. Since the carbon 12 / carbon 14 ratio in the atmosphere and living organisms is relatively constant, and since carbon 14 decays at a relatively constant rate, scientists can determine the age of a sample of dead organic matter by measuring its carbon 12/ carbon 14 ratio. Today, this is achieved with mass spectrometers, devices which can accurately determine isotopic ratios (i.e. the ratios between versions of the same element which differ only in weight, like carbon 14 and carbon 12) present in a sample through the use of electromagnets. Back in 1970, however, scientists determined the carbon 12 / carbon 14 ratio present in organic material by using Geiger counters- devices which measure the radiation emitted by substances (which, in the case of carbon dating, was the radiation emitted by decaying carbon 14). The radiation emitted by the slivers of wood coated with thick black goo, which Blankenship and his crew found in Borehole 10-X at the 167-foot depth, was off the charts (seemingly indicating that the sample contained way more carbon 14 than it ought to).
As it turned out, the black goo that coated the wood slivers was pitchblende, or uraninite, an extremely radioactive mineral ore containing large amounts of uranium and smaller quantities of highly radioactive radium. Pitchblende is not endemic to Nova Scotia, but rather to northern Saskatchewan, Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories, and parts of Germany, Czech Republic, Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, Australia, the United States, and, significantly, Cornwall, England (several theories regarding the nature of Oak Island’s treasure involve Cornish miners). Before Polish chemist and physicist Marie Curie used it to isolate radium in the the late 19th Century, pitchblende was chiefly used to colour glass and porcelain. According to some sources, it was also employed as a preservation agent for timber.
FDR and Oak Island
In 1909, engineer and inventor Henry L. Bowdoin founded an Oak Island treasure hunting syndicate called the Old Gold Salvage and Wrecking Company. One of the company’s shareholders was a young law clerk from New York City named Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who would later go on to become the 32nd President of the United States.
The Oak Island Mystery (1958, 1957), a book written by a lawyer closely associated with the Oak Island treasure hunt named R.V. Harris, posits that FDR first heard of the Oak Island mystery “from the people of Campobello Island, in the Bay of Fundy, where his mother had a summer residence.” In this episode of The Curse of Oak Island, however, the narrator briefly intimates that Franklin Roosevelt might have learned about Oak Island from his grandfather, Warren Delano Jr., a wealthy businessman involved with the British-Canton opium trade who invested in the Truro Company, Oak Island’s second treasure hunting syndicate, in 1849. Whatever the case, FDR retained an intense interest in the Oak Island treasure hunt, regularly corresponding with Oak Island landowners, Treasure Trove licence holders, and treasure hunters until his death in 1945.