Famed N.S. treasure hunter brought about new era in Oak Island mystery

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An American man who dedicated his life to finding treasure on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island was remembered Monday as a larger-than-life figure who became a pillar in the community he made home for more than 50 years.

Roughly 120 people packed a small wood-panelled church in the coastal community of Martins Point, N.S., for the funeral of Dan Blankenship.

Blankenship, a U.S. Army veteran who became fixated on the Oak Island mystery, died March 17 at age 95.

The service included a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”

“He enjoyed his life,” said Rev. Ron Barkhouse of St. Mark’s Anglican Church, where Blankenship would often attend services.

“He had 95 years to do what he wanted to do.”

Dan Blankenship, pictured in a 2003 file photo, searched for treasure at Oak Island, N.S., for more than 50 years. He passed away on March 17, 2019. (CBC)

Blankenship was a staple on The Curse of Oak Island, a reality TV series on the History channel set on the 57-hectare island on Nova Scotia’s south shore.

Hooked after 1965 Reader’s Digest article 

David Eisnor, a longtime family friend, said during a eulogy that Blankenship was known around the world for being a treasure-hunting legend, but he had many interests.

“His resume would include fisherman, scuba diver, armchair quarterback for his love of football, dancer and singer, fast food hamburger flipper, ice cream scooper, tour bus mechanic … and green thumb gardener, to name a few,” said Eisnor.

Blankenship became hooked on the story of Oak Island after reading a Reader’s Digest story in 1965 at his Florida home.

Dan Blakenship at drill site on Oak Island, N.S., in 1976. (Submitted by Paul Sampson)

The Oak Island legend began in 1795 when curious teenage boys began digging at the site, thinking they might find a pirate’s buried treasure. Theories on who may have buried treasure on the island range from pirate Blackbeard to the Knights Templar.

Eisnor said at the time, Blankenship asked his wife Jane to read the piece, hoping it would also pique her interest.

“She handed it back to him and said, ‘So what?”‘ said Eisnor, sparking a laughs from the crowd.

“Dan said to her, ‘Well number one, there’s treasure on Oak Island, and number two, I’m going to find it.’

“It’s a statement like that, in a nutshell, that summed up Dan’s unbridled determination for everything that he did.”

Blankenship impetus for new era in Oak Island’s story

When Blankenship first arrived in Nova Scotia — leaving behind a successful contracting business in Miami, Fla. — he stayed at the Oak Island Motel, owned by Eisnor’s grandparents.

Eventually, Blankenship built a house on Oak Island to be closer to the elusive treasure. Eisnor described being a child and scribbling with colour pencils Blankenship used to draw diagrams of the money pit — where some believe the treasure is hidden.

Ingenious flood tunnels keep diggers from getting at the island’s prize. 1:23

Blankenship co-owned the island with a group of investors, including brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, who are doing the major work on site now. Their search for treasure has been featured during the reality TV show’s six seasons.

Rick Lagina was among the mourners at Monday’s service.

In recent years, Blankenship enjoyed meeting fans who would come to the island for tours, driving to meet them at a museum on his golf cart wearing Bermuda shorts, knee-high socks, a button-up knit sweater and an Oak Island baseball cap. He would always arrive early.

“Many summers Dan never missed a tour…. The fans loved chatting with Dan, getting their picture taken with him. He enjoyed that,” said Eisnor, adding that Blankenship was the impetus for a new era in Oak Island’s story.

“A new generation of Oak Island enthusiasts are now intrigued with the very same mystery that brought Dan to Canada.”

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