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THE VIEW FROM HERE: Remembering Dan Blankenship

David Blankenship holds a photo of his father, famed Oak Island treasure hunter Daniel Blankenship.
David Blankenship holds a photo of his father, famed Oak Island treasure hunter Daniel Blankenship. - Aaron Beswick

The legend of an elusive treasure buried on Oak Island has attracted treasure seekers from around the world for centuries. The mystique and aura that surround Oak Island date back to 1795 when the hunt for an elusive treasure began.

Theories abound as to what is buried beneath the rocky, course soil of this small island just off the province’s South Shore. Those theories have spawned dozens of books and a hit reality television show. Many men have lost fortunes and their lives trying to solve the clues, hoping to ultimately unlock the treasure vault, but to date, the island has refused to give up its secret.

Perhaps the most popular of those theories is that treasure is a rich booty buried there by a band of bloodthirsty pirates, most notably Captain Kidd, who plied the waters of the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of years ago.

Other theories suggest the stash is ancient Inca treasure or that it is the lost manuscripts of William Shakespeare. Some even theorize that the treasure is the Arc of the Covenant and other religious relics, hidden there by the Knights Templar, who were known to have visited the New World long before other early European explorers. The theories are as limited as one’s imagination.

Legend has it that the mystery of Oak Island began in 1795 when a young Daniel McGinnis set out in the early morning hours to row to the island to investigate lights that had been reported there. Some locals said it was restless spirits while others whispered of pirates and buried treasure.

While on the island, McGinnis discovered a clearing in the midst of an oak tree stand where someone had clearly cut down several trees. The boy also noticed that there was a visible depression in the centre of the clearing, about four metres in diameter, where the soil had obviously been disturbed, replaced and then allowed to settle. A block and tackle, attached to an oak branch hanging from a nearby tree over the centre of the depression, deepened the mystery.

McGinnis immediately became convinced that he had stumbled upon the location of a long forgotten deposit of pirate bounty. Hurrying back to shore, he convinced two friends to return to the island with him. Almost immediately, their efforts were rewarded. Two feet into the depression, they found a layer of intentionally placed flat stones. Digging further they saw that a shaft, about seven feet wide and walled with clay, had been sunk into the surface of Oak Island.

And so began the infamous Oak Island treasure hunt, but the truth is, whatever treasures are burred beneath the ground on the fabled Oak Island remains just as much a mystery today, as it did over 200 years ago.

Over the years, this elusive mystery has attracted dozens of treasure hunters to the island. One of the most memorable and perhaps most famous of those searchers was Dan Blankenship who devoted most of his life to unlocking the puzzle that is Oak Island.

Dan, who first read about Oak Island in an issue of Reader’s Digest while living in Florida, started searching for the elusive treasure in 1965 before relocating from the United States to Nova Scotia in 1970 to search full-time for Oak Island’s legendary loot.

In recent years, thanks to the highly rated television show, The Curse of Oak Island, Dan’s efforts gained international celebrity status as his past exploits are often used to bring historical context to the current treasure hunt taking place on the island and featured on the show.

The Curse of Oak Island, which premiered in 2014 on the History Channel, follows brothers Rick and Marty Lagina on their quest to find the treasure and crack the mystery that surrounds Oak Island. The series also features Dan’s son David and Marty Lagina’s former college roommate Craig Tester, an expert in drilling and earth scanning as well as several historians and family members.

Those who watch the show will recall seeing Dan on many of the episodes as he was often called upon by the current generations of treasure hunters for the wisdom, expertise and knowledge he had gained over the decades while scouring the island. Even though his age had prevented him from any physical efforts in recent, Dan’s experiences and reference points were invaluable to the search.

Sadly, Dan died on March 17 at the age of 95 before the mystery of Oak Island could be solved. His passing was announced by the Friends of Oak Island on March 18 in a post shared on the organization’s Facebook page. It was a dark day for those who knew Dan and for fans of the show, but his legend will live on.

In this job, we often meet people who leave an indelible impression on our lives and I can say without hesitation that Dan Blankenship was one of the most colourful individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting during my years as a newspaper journalist. It was at least 20 years ago, but I was privileged to talk to Dan on two separate occasions about his treasure hunting efforts on Oak Island and I remember the conversations very well.

There is no doubt that Dan left an impression on those who knew him as well as those who watched him on television in recent years. I don’t know if I’ve ever met another person who was so compassionate and so committed to a cause as was Dan to unlocking the secrets of Oak Island. I remember asking him what it was that compelled him to spend most of his life searching for a mysterious treasure that may or may not exist. His response was a gem.

“It’s foolishness, really,” I remember him saying with a chuckle, but then he quickly added that he just felt an unusual and powerful pull from the island. He just felt it was something that he had to do, he explained.

And, don’t be mistaken. He absolutely believed that there was a treasure buried on Oak Island. In fact, he felt that clues as to the island’s secrets were dispersed all over the island.

There’s something there, he insisted with conviction. There’s no doubt about that.

Referring to items that he had found during his years of searching, Dan said he had many theories as to what the treasure could be, but he was certain that it was something of immense value and something that would change the course of history when it was found. And he believed that someday, someone would crack the code and ultimately solve the mystery.

It’s sad, really, to think that after spending more than 50 years searching for the elusive treasure, Dan died before the truth could be found, but his story is one of inspiration for he stands as a great example of what it means to remain committed to a cause in which you truly believe. That’s a life well lived, and that’s the view from here.

Vernon Oickle was born and raised in Liverpool where he continues to reside with his family. He has worked for more than 30 years in community newspapers on the South Shore and is the author of 28 books.

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