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Dan Blankenship: a treasure-hunting life

On Sunday 17 March 2019, the world said goodbye to one of its most intrepid treasure hunters, Dan Blankenship. Described as a larger-than-life character and a one of a kind legend, Blankenship passed away peacefully of natural causes at the age of 95.

Since his passing, thousands of tributes have poured onto social media as fans of The Curse of Oak Island come to grips with the loss of Oak Island’s longest-serving treasure hunter. Blankenship dedicated more than 50 years of his life to uncovering the mysterious treasure that is supposedly buried on the small island in Nova Scotia.

His treasure-hunting journey began back in 1965 when he read an article about the Oak Island mystery in the January edition of Reader’s Digest. From that moment he was hooked. During an interview in 2010, he described what happened next – ‘I handed the article over to my wife and said, “Read that” and so she read it and, in so many words, said, “So what?” I said, “Well, No. 1, there’s treasure on Oak Island, and No. 2, I’m going to be instrumental in getting it.” That was the beginning.’

After reading that article, the U.S. Army veteran gave up his successful contracting business in Miami, Florida and in his own words, ‘shucked it all to come up here and make a gamble.’ He met with Robert Restall, the current person leading the search on the island to see how he could assist in the hunt. A short while later tragedy struck. Restall, his son and two others died of gas poisoning whilst digging for the treasure, supposedly overcome by the fumes of a gasoline-powered pump they were using.

The dangers of working on Oak Island and its supposed curse didn’t deter Blankenship. In 1967, he formed a syndicate that was dedicated to exploring Oak Island and in 1969, he and a man named David Tobias formed a partnership called Triton Alliance and purchased much of the island. The father of three then subsequently moved his family there in the early 1970s. His treasure hunting days had begun and he quickly started forming his own theories about where to look.

Although digging straight into the famed Money Pit had been the focus for many who came before him, Blankenship’s approach was to be different. He believed there was a back door into the Pit and so he dug a 235ft shaft close by, known as Borehole 10-X. Fans of the show will be very familiar with this name, as current Oak Island treasure hunters Rick and Marty Lagina have dedicated a great deal of their time and resources into 10-X.

He nearly then became the seventh person to die on Oak Island whilst exploring down in 10-X.

After its initial excavation, Blankenship lowered a camera down into the shaft and discovered what he believed to be a lost treasure chamber. He captured images of possible treasure chests, other man-made objects and even human remains. He nearly then became the seventh person to die on Oak Island whilst exploring down in 10-X. The shaft began collapsing around him and he was winched to the surface just in time.

A series of costly legal battles over ownership of the island ensued over the coming decades. The infighting drained the finances, leaving Blankenship’s ability to explore 10-X and the rest of the island severely hampered. One feud with a man named Fred Nolan, a fellow treasure hunter and a one-time partner, who’d independently purchased parts of Oak Island, lasted over 40 years and was not resolved until the Lagina brothers were able to broker a peace in 2015.

Although he never uncovered the fabled bounty, Blankenship did discover a number of historically important man-made artefacts and even compiled a detailed history on the island through the collection of thousands of documents. The lack of treasure, however, led Blankenship’s partner David Tobias to want to sell his share of the island, which he did to the Lagina brothers in 2006. Since then the two brothers from Michigan have invested millions into their search. Rather fittingly, Rick Lagina became obsessed with the mystery at the age of 11 after reading the same Reader’s Digest article that Blankenship had read.

To the brothers, Blankenship was a father figure, a mentor who held a lifetime of invaluable knowledge about Oak Island, a man who could apparently tell the age of a piece of wood by simply smelling it. More often than not carbon dating had proved his unorthodox technique to be accurate. If the Lagina brothers wanted any chance of finding the treasure, they needed his guidance and so he became a familiar face on The Curse of Oak Island.

It was Blankenship who guided the brothers towards the swamp, as he believed it was man-made and could be the repository for millions in gold and silver, left behind by marauding Spaniards in the 16th century. It didn’t take Rick and Marty long to find a Spanish 8 Maravedis copper coin hidden in the swamp proving that Blankenship’s theory could well be right.

After years of blood, sweat and tears, Blankenship passed away not knowing the final secrets of Oak Island even though he held an unshakeable belief to the very end that he would be involved in uncovering the mystery. The spirit of that determination is carried on by Rick and Marty, who honour Blankenship’s memory by continuing to follow the same dream that he did and perhaps finally they’ll be the ones to lay to rest the 220-year-old mystery of Oak Island.