Conspiracy Theory and Oak Island
As discussed in other sections of the Oak Island analysis pages, initial theories about the contents of the so-called "Money Pit" all centered around pirate treasure. Specifically, local folklore of the period through about 1880 held that Captain Kidd had concealed the greater part of his supposedly vast fortune on the island, and anyone with enough diligence to bypass the infamous series of traps would be able to retrieve it.
In this situation, with a known group of protagonists and a single basic theory (i.e. "Kidd's treasure") there was little room for wild speculation or alternative explanations for the Pit. The power of suggestion is very strong, and people tend to form perceptions that are colored by prevailing opinion or folklore. If, for instance, a person is shown a blurry photograph and told it shows a human face carved in a rock discovered on the planet Mars, their perception of the image will tend to be biased in favor of the suggested interpretation. They might see something very different indeed if they were shown the same photograph without being subjected to others' preconceived notions regarding its content. In the case of the Oak Island legend, prevaling folklore regarding Kidd was strong and commonplace during the early days of the legend; thus common wisdom held that his treasure was hidden on the island and there was no reason to challenge this assumption.
Two phenomena, once brought into association with one another, tend to become forever linked in peoples' minds. The Pit was, obviously, the resting place for Kidd's money.
Indeed, McInnis & co. are said to have emigrated to Nova Scotia from New England, where Kidd lived and where many legends about his activities were told. They had certainly heard the legendary tale that a dying sailor confessed to have helped Kidd bury "two millions" of treasure on "an island East of Boston." Having heard this tale, the three men were "primed" to interpret any discovery which smacked of pirates as a potential location for Kidd's hoard.
The Piracy Theory Fades
As new and more accurate information about Kidd's activities became available to subsequent generations the association of the Money Pit with his name became less popular. Folklore cannot exist where hard, unassailable facts are available unless (as discussed below) people decide simply to deny or rationalize around such evidence. However, a general association between the Pit and "pirate treasure" remained intact since tales of pirates and their gold were very popular during the latter 19th and early 20th centuries and no alternative explanations had been proposed. This can be seen in any number of early 20th century books on the subject of "lost" treasures allegedly accumulated by various pirates; one of these books is actually entitled Dig for Buried Treasure and is a compendium of tales about various sites around the world.
However at this time we also see the first bits of speculation regarding alternative dates for the Pit. Some writers seem to have preferred early (1100-1400CE) explanations while others favored much later dates. Indeed one of these authors even goes so far as to state he hoped the reports of the discovery of a block-and-tackle at the site of the Pit were incorrect since this would render false theories--probably including his own--that favored such early dates. The block-and-tackle was not invented until at least 1400.
Folklore also needs to exist in the context of the society in which it is told. In medieval times, people told tales of having been "ridden by witches," "possessed," or "spirited away by demons" as they slept, or claimed to have encountered Satan or some other mythical creature while in the forest. Today these have largely been replaced by stories of "alien abduction," "encounters with Bigfoot," or "ritual abuse" since tales of witchcraft, the realm of faerie, and demonic possession do not hold society's attention as strongly as they once. This is not to say that the ancient imagery is dead, but it has largely been driven out except in rural areas where more primitive belief systems persist.
To relate this phenomenon to Oak Island's situation, tales of piracy have largely fallen out of our collective experence and are not part of "trendy" culture or imagination. This means the vacuum formed by the loss of this imagery must be filled with material that is more appropriate to current trends in society. But as no clear successor to the "pirate treasure" theory has emerged, and no hard facts have been uncovered to show whether known players (British or French military, etc.) conducted activities on Oak Island, the field has been left open to anyone who wishes to hazard a guess. Thus we are inundated with a series of interesting yet completely unsupported and often outlandish theories, frequently involving popular fringe-science or conspiracy related topics, that purport to represent the "truth" about the Money Pit. These theories include:
- The Holy Grail (or Ark of the Covenant) was concealed in the Pit by the Knights Templar
- Treasure from the Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion was hidden by Sir William Phips in order to support a conspiracy to replace the rightful King of England
- "Lizard beings" from outer space hid a "remolecularizer" there thousands of years ago
As noted earlier, folklore cannot exist where facts are available. The same holds for conspiracy theory but with an added twist. Conspiracy theorists contest data which contradicts their interpretation of a given situation by claiming these facts are "proof" of "disinformation" on the part of the group or individuals who are involved in the conspiracy. This makes it nearly impossible to refute the views of a conspiracy theorist since they will simply consign contradictory evidence to the "it's all part of the conspiracy" dustbin. For the conspiracy theorist this is also a convenient dodge since they are not constrained by the same rules of evidence and research as more mainstream scholars. In other words, the conspiracy theorist is free to propose any explanation, no matter how outlandish, since they can always fall back on accusations that evidence has been suppressed or altered--or that any detractors or critics who emerge are simply part of the conspiratorial machine. Conspiracy theorists can be as sloppy with evidence as they like.
For example, let's say a second, clearer photograph of the alleged "face on Mars" is produced, clearly showing that the feature was actually a mountain range that just happened to have been illuminated by the sun in an interesting pattern. The conspiracy theorist can simply claim that NASA (or the CIA, or whomever) altered the second photograph to conceal the "true nature" of the feature. Likewise, when the US Air Force discloses the existence of a weather balloon experiment that offers a rational explanation for the "Roswell incident" a conspiracy buff will claim that records were faked, witnesses bought off or silenced, or whatever was necessary to conceal evidence of alien contact. The aliens really do exist, but all the evidence has been suppressed, destroyed, or altered... therefore the conspiracy theorist has had to work diligently to reconstruct what really happened, often producing "evidence" that is obviously contrived and illogical. But this matters not as long as it fits the theory.
Conspiracy theories exist best in those situations where:
- Few or no hard facts about the true nature of the event exist
- Witnesses are unavailable, or are "suspect" due to perceived involvement in the alleged conspiracy
- Available evidence is of a nature or condition that makes numerous interpretations possible (i.e. blurry photographs, blacked-out Freedom of Information Act documentation, barely audible tape recordings, or tenth-generation unreadable photocopies of allegedly "official" documents
These theories often involve:
- Tenuous, illogical, or even imaginary evidentiary chains
- "missing" documentation that supposedly "proves" a given event occurred (i.e. "the fact that no documentation for event X exists proves it was suppressed by so-and-so")
- References to the writings of fellow conspiracy theorists. The theorist cites the writing of another alleged "expert" in the field, even though that person's book or article contains no hard facts or original research. The fact that the second author was able to "cite other sources" (no matter how suspect they may be) is taken as evidence of legitimate research.
- "Leaps of faith" in logic, often involving phrases such as "of course, this obviously means that..." or "naturally it follows that X leads to Y" even though no supporting evidence is offered.
It should be noted that many of these same tendencies are displayed by writers who are simply sloppy with their research; it is not necessary to be a conspiracy theorist in order to write illogical, badly researched, unsupported material.
Oak Island's Place
Given these conditions it can be easily seen that Oak Island is an ideal topic for the conspiracy theorist. Few hard facts are available, no reliable sources of factual data have yet come to light, and we have an evidentiary chain that rivals that of the Shroud of Turin for its lack of hard data and fragmentary nature. Finally, the original incident is submerged under 200 years worth of folklore--if indeed it ever occurred at all.
As conspiracy theories tend to cross-pollinate, and since the Templar/Grail/Sinclair legend has already been associated with the island, it would not be at all surprising for a future writer to "discover" a link between the Pit and, for instance, the final resting place of the "True Cross" or the bones of St. Paul. Should the link with the myriad "alien contact" theories take hold, we may expect to see the island designated as a hidden alien base or research facility. Should this happen, McInnis & co. are likely be cast in the role of abductees whose memories were altered to conceal the true nature of the site.
(And if someone makes a movie based on the above, I expect royalties for having thought it up.)
Note: All material on these pages is ©1995-2002 Richard E. Joltes. Portions may be used in other publications as long as proper credit is given. All rights reserved.