The Mystery of Oak Island – Part 6

Stone with alleged marking

A stone found 90 feet below the surface was said to have been inscribed with “mysterious markings.” It was first reported in a July 2, 1862, Halifax Sun and Advisor article, which mentioned a June 2, 1862, letter by J. B. McCully which retold the story of the stone. Offering a secondhand description of its discovery during the early 1800s excavation, McCully wrote: “Some [layers] were charcoal, some putty, and one at 80 feet was a stone cut square, two feet long and about a foot thick, with several characters cut on it.” In an 1863 newspaper article, the stone was said to have been built into the “chimney of an old house near the pit”. Another article, a year later, claimed that the stone was held by the Smith family. On January 2, 1864, Historical Society of Nova Scotia secretary John Hunter-Duvar contacted treasure hunter George Cooke. In a January 27, 1864, letter to Hunter-Duvar, Cooke claimed that Smith built the stone into his chimney in 1824 and said that he was shown the stone by Smith in the chimney around 1850, when “there were some crudely cut letters, figures or characters upon it. I cannot recollect which, but they appear as if they had been scraped out by a blunt instrument, rather than cut with a sharp one.” According to Cooke, when he made inquiries in 1864, he discovered that the chimney had been enclosed in wood and surrounded by a staircase; the stone was no longer visible. An undated post-1893 letter by William Blair read, “Jefferson W. McDonald, who first mentioned Oak Island to me in 1893, worked under George Mitchell. Mr. McDonald, who was a carpenter by trade, also told of taking down a partition in Smith’s house, in order that he with others might examine the characters cut on the stone used in the fireplace in the house. The characters were there all right, but no person present could decipher them.” Mitchell was the superintendent of works for the Oak Island Association, which was formed on April 3, 1861, and ceased operation by March 29, 1865.

In his 1872 novel, The Treasure of the Seas, James DeMille describes being a summer resident of Chester Basin during the later 1860s. DeMille lived on Oak Island for a summer and had firsthand knowledge of the area. The characters in the novel find that the stone had been removed from the chimney when they arrived on the island; until then, no one had been able to decode the mysterious symbols reportedly on the stone, which an inn landlord describes as ‘rather faint, and irregular’ — he also says that ‘men who don’t believe in Kidd’s treasure … say that it isn’t an inscription at all … it’s only some accidental scratches’. Reginald Vanderbilt Harris (1881–1986) wrote in his 1958 book, The Oak Island Mystery, “About 1865–1866 the stone was removed and taken to Halifax. Among those who worked to remove the stone was Jefferson W. MacDonald.” The Blair letter mentioned above states that MacDonald took down the partition in order to examine the stone, not to remove it. Harris provides no source for the claim that the stone was removed in 1865 or 1866. The next mention of the stone is in an 1893 Oak Island Treasure Company prospectus. According to the prospectus, the stone was taken out of the chimney and moved to Halifax; there, an unnamed expert was said to have deciphered the stone as reading: “Ten feet below are two million pounds buried.”

On August 19, 1911, Collier’s magazine published a firsthand account by Captain H. L. Bowdoin of the stone (which was then in use at Creighton’s bookbindery in Halifax). Bowdoin described the rock as “of a basalt type hard and fine-grained.” The stone he saw had no symbols on it. Although Bowdoin was told that they had worn off, he was skeptical because of the stone’s hardness According to Charles B. Driscoll’s 1929 book, The Oak Island Treasure (based on secondhand accounts),

The stone was shown to everyone who visited the Island in those days. Smith built this stone into his fireplace, with the strange characters outermost, so that visitors might see and admire it. Many years after his death, the stone was removed from the fireplace and taken to Halifax, where the local savants were unable to translate the inscription. It was then taken to the home of J.B. McCulley in Truro, where it was exhibited to hundreds of friends of the McCulleys who became interested in a later treasure company. Somehow the stone fell into the hands of a bookbinder, which used it as a base upon which to beat leather for many years. A generation later, with the inscription nearly worn away, the stone found its way to a bookstore in Halifax, and what happened to it after that I was unable to learn. But there are plenty of people living who have seen the stone. Nobody, however, ever seriously pretended to translate the inscription.”

The stone was reportedly brought by A. O. Creighton (of the 1866 expedition) from the Smith home to Creighton’s bookbindery in Halifax. Harry W. Marshall (born 1879), the son of an owner of the bookbindery, wrote in 1935 that:

  1. He well remembered seeing the stone as a boy.
  2. “While in Creighton’s possession some lad had cut his initials ‘J.M.” on one corner, but apart from this there was no evidence of any inscription either cut or painted on the stone.”
  3. Creighton used the stone for a beating stone and weight.
  4. When the business was closed in 1919, … the stone was left behind.

One researcher claimed that the cipher translated as “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” The symbols associated with the “Forty feet below” translation first appeared in 1949’s True Tales of Buried Treasure by explorer and historian Edward Rowe Snow. In his book, Snow said that he received the set of symbols from Rev. A. T. Kempton of Cambridge, Massachusetts, but no information was provided as to how or where Kempton obtained them. It was found that Kempton had stated in a letter dated April 1949 that he had obtained his information from “a school teacher long since dead”.

Investors and explorers

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stirred by family stories originating from his sailing and trading grandfather (and Oak Island financier) Warren Delano, Jr., began following the mystery in late 1909 and early 1910. Roosevelt continued to follow it until his death in 1945. Throughout his political career, he monitored the island’s recovery attempts and development. Although the president secretly planned to visit Oak Island in 1939 while he was in Halifax, fog and the international situation prevented him from doing so.[50]

Australian-American actor Errol Flynn invested in an Oak Island treasure dig. Actor John Wayne also invested in the drilling equipment used on the island and offered his equipment to be used to help solve the mystery. William Vincent Astor, heir to the Astor family fortune after his father died on the Titanic, was a passive investor in digging for treasure on the island.

Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Jr. was also a passive investor in Oak Island exploration and treasure hunting, and monitored their status. Byrd advised Franklin D. Roosevelt about the island; the men forged a relationship, forming the United States Antarctic Service (USAS, a federal-government program) with Byrd nominally in command.

More to come about The Mystery of Oak Island in Part 7.

(Information from from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)