Oak Island: back in the news again

“in 1795, three boys went on an adventure to visit an island reputed to be the site of a pirate lair…”

This is, more or less, how typical accounts of the Oak Island legend begin. And over the last month, the latest in a series of TV “docudramas” about the story has been playing on the so-called “History” channel. As expected, it’s a typical mishmash of bad history, bad writing, long debunked allegations about the site, and the usual woo-woo drivel that attracts an audience.

The show’s content, in other words, has little relationship to the factual history behind the island. Long time readers of the Critical Enquiry site will know we’ve posted a great deal of original research about the topic over the years, and that I’ve been invited to a number of events related to the Money Pit search. In addition, I’ve long been in contact with people like Paul Wroclawski and Kel Hancock (the latter a direct descendant of Dan McGinnis, said to have been one of the “boys” who claimed to have found the Money Pit in 1795) who have done extensive research of their own. The fact that none of us have been contacted, and that no actual historians or folklorists are part of the show’s cast, is indicative of the derision with which networks like History treat the subject. Rather than engage in actual research using legitimate resources, they instead involve a parade of “believers” who, they think, will make good TV.

The American and Canadian public should be offended. Networks apparently are of the opinion that viewers aren’t capable of dealing with real research, valid evidence, or material based in fact. Instead, they offer fictionalized nonsense in the belief that it’s all we can handle. Having been interviewed for several shows on historical legends, I can attest that while hours of filming time might be devoted to what might be the “skeptical” view of these topics, most of it ends up on the cutting room floor. In one case, I filmed hours of material with a production crew only to find two snippets, totaling about 30 seconds, were included in the final program. This is the “balanced’ viewpoint according to most purveyors of pseudoscience and pseudo history.

This comment by Kel Hancock sums up only a few of the more glaring points in the show that are historically incorrect.

For fans of The Curse of Oak Island here are a few facts that are misrepresented by the show:

-The legend of three boys rowing out to the island to explore in 1795 is just that, a legend. Donald Daniel Macinnis and Anthony Vaughan were grown men. MacInnis lived on the island and owned about a third of it.

-Oaks ARE indigenous to the region. Nova Scotia is, and always has been, covered with a number of native species of oak; including many of its islands.

-Borehole 10x has sat there open to the elements for around 40 years. It is no surprise that there are bits of rusty iron and a few animal bones coming up in the flush.

– There is no evidence of anything Masonic about Oak island until the mid 1800s when certain Masonic hints began to appear in newspaper articles written by a mysterious “correspondent” who almost certainly was connected directly to the treasure hunters.

-There has never been any historical or archaeological evidence to show that any man-made ‘box drains’ and booby traps existed in Smiths Cove and the ‘money pit”. Conjecture and third hand hearsay only.

– There is no botanical evidence, nor has there ever been, to show that the Oak trees on the island where unique in any way.

– Although the carbon dating of the coconut fibre in Smith’s cove has surprised me, it is not evidence of a connection to a treasure. Just like many artefacts found on the island, it’s age does not conclusively indicate it provenance. I don’t deny that NS was likely much visited in pre-Columbian eras but I don’t think that indicates a ‘hidey hole’.

Treasure Lore and Ghost legends are not unique to Oak Island. One has only to read the works of Dr. Helen Creighton, particularly, “Bluenose Ghosts” and “Bluenose Magic” to see how common these things were amongst our predecessors on the Atlantic seaboard.

— Kel Hancock (via Facebook) 2/7/14

For the latest Critical Enquiry video on the Money Pit, detailing more of the history and folklore that’s accumulated about the site over the last 150 or so years, visit the link on YouTube.

I also encourage you to visit Paul Wroclawski’s excellent Oak Island Theories site, where Paul has amassed what is probably the largest collection of primary (original) research material on the topic. All this evidence, as well as the articles on Critical Enquiry, show that the Oak Island legend is little more than a hoax inflated over hundreds of years of retellings by hucksters and treasure hounds.