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HAHN: Looking for treasure

July 18, 2011

A couple of weeks back, CNN news carried a story about a man who found an estimated $45,000 hidden in the attic of a house he had recently purchased. The bills were wrapped in bundles of $100.
There was another story at the same time about the finding of a treasure trove of gold coins at a building site in Albany, Australia. The coins were dated 1800 and one of them was appraised at $16,000 Australian dollars.
I have always been a treasure hunter in my dreams. I know the legends of so many treasure sites. Unfortunately, the closest I’ve gotten to them through the years was what I observed through a car window when we were nearby. Arkansas has a good number of such places.
But if I could really find a treasure and find any one I know about, I would want it to be the treasure, or maybe even treasures, thought to be buried on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. Oak Island is one of some 360 islands off the coast of the country. Its primary claim to fame is “The Money Pit,” the site of many excavations seeking some sort of treasure buried there.
Depending on which story you believe, the treasure is the ill-gotten gains of Captain Kidd or maybe Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard.) Or riches buried by Spanish sailors after their boat wrecked, but it could have been buried by British troops during the Revolutionary War. Another theory is that the French hid the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg before it fell into British hands during the Seven Years’ War. In other words, something for everybody.
One of the most popular legends is that the treasure supposedly hiding under the island is a cache of Marie Antoinette’s jewels. Most of her priceless jewels did mysteriously disappear at the end of the French Revolution. It is said that in 1789 she instructed a trusted maid to take all of her jewels, along with other treasures and documents, and flee to safety. The maid, possibly with help, went to London and then to Nova Scotia, where she received help from former connections from her days at court. Helped by former associates, she was able to have the money pit built to hide the jewels.
Some say the pit is the hiding place for the Holy Grail and maybe even the Ark of the Covenant.
My favorite theory, though, is one that says well-known British writer and philosopher Francis Bacon used the “Money Pit” to hide documents that would prove that he, not the Bard of Avon, wrote all those plays using the pen name William Shakespeare.
Or maybe it’s only a sinkhole.
The history of the varied accounts of the “Money Pit” began in 1795 when Daniel McGinnis found a round depression. Nearby was a tree with a tackle block on it. He and some friends dug around in the area and discovered a layer of flagstones. There were marks like someone had used a pick on them. About every 10 feet, they found layers of logs, but they soon gave up their excavations.
Then in 1795 a company was formed by people who had heard of the boys’ efforts. They thought there was treasure to be had in the pit. This company continued the boys’ excavations down to approximately 90 feet. They found layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fiber.
At about 90 feet they found a large stone that was covered with strange inscriptions. They decided the inscription said “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” Before anything more could be done, the pit flooded and they abandoned the effort. Flooding has been a factor in a number of subsequent ventures to discover what, if anything, lies buried there.
President Franklin Roosevelt was part of a group of people seeking the treasure. He was a shareholder in the Old Gold Salvage group, one of many who have tried their hand at treasure seeking. He kept up with all the developments in the search for treasure throughout his entire lifetime.
The treasure, still undiscovered or identified, has proved fodder for the entertainment industry. There have been several programs about it on television. One was the subject of the “In Search of. . . . series.” Reader’s’ Digest ran a story of the search for the treasure that first whetted my interest in it. The story can also be found in several books of treasure stories and pirate treasures. Facebook has a good site about it, too.
There are some works of fiction about the fabled site. Some of the titles are “Riptide” by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell and “The Hand of Robin Squires” by Joan Clark.
Excavations by different groups have been carried out over the years, producing just enough “evidence” to keep believers’ appetites whetted, only to wash away their work by flooding and cave-ins. Legal battles have added to the confusion. The government of Nova Scotia controls who looks for the treasure now.
As of Jan. 1, 2011, treasure hunting is allowed to continue on the island “under the terms of a license issued by the Minister of Natural Resources.”

Alma Joyce Hahn taught in the Benton schools for more than 30 years. Her column appears each Monday.

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