The secret of Oak Island
by Laverne Johnson
I went to Oak Island for the first time in 1959. At that time there was no causeway from the mainland to the Island, and everything and everybody who went to the Island had to go by boat. Bulldozers had not yet been used on the island to cause the devastation which they carried out later. The two drilled stones and a good part of the triangle were still in place as shown on the Roper Survey. During that first visit the westerly drilled stone was not in evidence, and I spent a day searching unsuccessfully for the triangle.
Willie Sawler, who ran a boat from Western Shore to Oak Island for tourists, told me the next morning that his daughter had seen the triangle during a picnic on the island, and she agreed to find it for us. Elizabeth, now Mrs. Martin Sovie of Chester, was a teenager at the time, and she came over to the island with us. It had been a foggy morning, but by the time we reached the Island the fog was burning off, with wisps of it still trailing through the treetops, and I think we all felt a kind of eeriness around us. Elizabeth led us along a faint footpath in the general direction of the triangle, and then down among the trees toward the shore. There on a bank which had been eroded until the storm waves could beat right up to it, she pointed out the remains of the triangle, nearly hidden by the low-hanging branches of spruce trees. The stones which had formed the ends of the base had been knocked out of place by storms which had driven the waves right up to the triangle. The apex was hidden by the branches of a spruce tree sweeping right down to the ground.
I felt that if the depositor was as careful and precise as what I had learned about him indicated he was, then surely he would have left some kind of mark on the apex stone. Neither Willie nor Elizabeth had ever heard mention of any such mark, but when I crawled in under the low-hanging branches, and with my knife scraped away countless years of moss or lichen, there was my mark. It was a plain little X or cross, about three inches from tip to tip of the arms, and the arms carved about three sixteenths of an inch deep and about a quarter of an inch wide, neatly done and unmistakably manmade. It was a strange, spooky moment for us, complete silence all around us, except for the wavelets lapping on the stony shore, bits of fog still drifting through the trees, and we three down there on our hands and knees looking at a mark apparently left there by a mysterious group hundreds of years before, and undetected until we discovered it.
In 1960 my wife, Murle, and I went back to Oak Island, and because I had damaged an eye and was unable to work, I had a local man, Johnny Zwicker, helping to do a bit of surface investigation. As we were walking back to the shore where the boat would pick us up, Johnny was walking along, kind of sliding his shovel along the grassy ground between steps. Suddenly his shovel snagged a piece of sod and turned it up off a large flat stone lying flush with the ground. Johnny was quick to notice an odd shaped knob on the bottom side of the sod, and we found that that it came out of a hole drilled in the upper surface of the stone. It proved to be the westerly drilled stone, and it had obviously gone unnoticed for a good number of years.
In 1962 we returned to the Island, poorly prepared, poorly organized, and short of time and money. Our surveyor found the triangle and the two drilled stones in the same positions as shown on the Roper Survey. Of course we could not use the site of the original shaft as a point with any degree of precision because according to the code it lay within the southern portion of the Hedden shaft. That shaft was still open, and men were working in the immediate area. The easterly drilled stone lay fully exposed at its site near Smiths Cove. It could possibly have been moved slightly from its original position since 1795, but it still coincided with the Roper Survey. We dug a 30 foot shaft up in the high ground where the marks according to the code intersected, and although we had received some response from a metal detector we did not learn anything except that the ground was terrifically hard.
There could be any of several reasons why our attempt failed. Perhaps our survey had not been careful enough, or perhaps the easterly drilled stone had been moved slightly by work done near Smiths Cove during the years.In hindsight it is very easy to see that we should have gone prepared to explore across the line of the treasure tunnel up near where the intersection would be. Exploring across the course of the treasure tunnel would have been much more judicious than attempting to hit the intersection dead on after all those years, but we did not realize that at the time. Perhaps the line between the drilled stones was not precisely seven degrees off True when it was laid down. Even a few minutes off True would make a surprising difference in the location of the intersection. If the line between the two drilled stones was not exactly seven degrees off True it could have altered the point of the intersection, but the principle of the code would still be the same.
We should also have been more careful in estimating the height of our shaft above sea level. Early reports stated that the water came to within thirty two feet of the surface at the deep shaft; we assumed that our shaft was about six feet higher, and that sea level should be about thirty eight feet below the surface. A later survey proved that our shaft was actually about forty three feet above sea level. It is said that sea level on that part of the Atlantic coast has risen about a foot a century for the past thousand years so perhaps three hundred years ago sea level was about forty six feet below the surface at the point where the lines intersect.
I returned to Oak Island in the spring of 1965 to carry out a drilling programme that would attempt to locate the treasure tunnel coming up into the high ground. If we could do that, then it would be a simple matter to follow the tunnel to its extreme end where the treasure lies.
We were using a heavy track-mounted pneumatic drilling machine, and our first hole was about twenty feet from our 1962 shaft, and slightly to one side of where the treasure tunnel should be. It was spring, and there was a good deal of surface water to contend with. When the drill was down about twenty-seven feet the young driller told the boss that his drill was becoming mudded in, and that he would get stuck if he continued, because no cuttings were being blown back up out of the hole. He stopped the drill, but left the big compressor running, and we could hear the air roaring down through the drill steel. It was a peculiar situation because none of that air was coming back up as it would normally do. We pondered it for a short time, and then I went over to our 1962 shaft, and lifted one of the planks from the shaft cover. The missing air was streaming up from the water-filled shaft in a turbulent boil nearly two feet in diameter. The drillers were amazed, because the ground in that area is so hard that when we dug the shaft we used dynamite to loosen the dreadfully hard clay. To them it seemed almost impossible that the air could be passing so freely through that formation. We watched the air boiling up for some time and then we shut off the compressor. The most peculiar thing about the incident was that the air continued to boil up through the water in the shaft for three quarters of an hour after we had shut down the compressor. We had pumped a lot of air down that hole, sufficient to boil up for so long with the compressor shut off. It is hard to believe that it was distributed through the surrounding subsoil. It has often been said that where Oak Island is concerned one should always expect the unexpected.
We drilled about forty holes, most of them across the estimated course of the tunnel, but because there was so much surface water seeping in, the holes became so muddy that we could only get down about thirty feet in most cases without danger of getting stuck. Often we had air blowing back from one hole to another, even to our shaft, as far as a hundred feet. In one hole, when we were down twenty seven feet the drill became plugged. The driller began pulling the tools up out of the hole to clear the plugged bit, and accidentally dropped twenty feet of steel back into the hole. The upper end of the fallen steel would be about seven feet below the surface, and it would normally be fairly easy to screw another drill rod into it and recover it, but in this case, the driller, after trying diligently, could not even feel the top of the lost steel. A workman set about digging down to the steel so they could see it and connect with it, but when he got down to nine feet there was still no sign of the steel, and the drill hole had disappeared in the digging process.
It was natural to wonder if we had been drilling right onto the tunnel we were seeking, and if the dropped steel had settled on farther down into what is probably a backfilled section of the tunnel. My commitment was to carry out the drilling programme; it had been agreed that if we came upon anything significant in our drilling programme further financing would be made available to continue the search in whatever way we considered appropriate. By the time the drilling had been completed and a report made, the promised financing was no longer available.
The pneumatic drill that we were using was actually not sufficiently sensitive for our purpose. To fully explain that, we have to consider some of the depositors actions at Oak Island. When he had completed his treasure tunnel and had stored his treasure safely, he was ready to begin driving the flooding tunnel, working out to meet the tunnellers coming from the Cave-in-Pit. He probably found it easier to pack the clay from the flooding tunnel back up into the treasure tunnel rather than hoist it all the way to the surface, and he may have felt that he should firmly backfill the upper reaches of the treasure tunnel anyway. Anybody probing for the treasure tunnel should not expect to find an open tunnel, and he should not expect to find that the tunnel was a large one. It would only be sufficiently large for the men to work in. Some reports have stated that where the flooding tunnel was encountered at the Money Pit area it was only two and a half feet wide and four feet high. Every cubic yard of clay handled in driving the tunnels entailed a considerable amount of labour, and it is very likely that the treasure tunnel was no bigger than the flooding tunnel.
Later that summer the Restall tragedy occurred where four men died in a shallow shaft near Smiths Cove. Robert Dunfield from California obtained a lease to the whole Island, and I lost all working access to the island.