An American who became a famed Nova Scotia treasure hunter is being remembered by friends as a larger-than-life figure.
Dan Blankenship died Sunday at 95.
He was a staple on “The Curse of Oak Island,” a reality TV series on the History channel that was set on the 57-hectare island on Nova Scotia’s south shore.
His son David Blankenship said Tuesday they hoped to have a memorial service on Thursday, likely in Martins Point, N.S.
Charles Barkhouse, an Oak Island historian and family friend, described Blankenship as a “living legend.”
“I mean, how often do you get to meet a treasure hunter?” Barkhouse chuckled. “In truth he was much more than just a treasure hunter. He had a very full life.”
Barkhouse said Blankenship was a U.S. Army veteran who had a successful contracting business in Miami, Fla., when he got hooked on the Oak Island mystery after reading a “Reader’s Digest” story in 1965.
“He’s poured his blood, sweat and tears into that island trying to solve this mystery,” Barkhouse said.
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.
Blankenship described in a 2010 interview how he became engrossed in the legend after reading the “Reader’s Digest” story.
“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.”
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.
“Dan was known as a pillar of strength to those around him and we will be forever grateful for the time we had with him,” the show’s Los Angeles-based production company, Prometheus Entertainment, said in a tweet.
Previous digs at the so-called money pit site – a circular depression discovered by one of those boys in 1795 – uncovered a layer of stones below the surface and layers of logs every three metres, as well as layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibres, to a depth of 27 metres.
WATCH: Rules for treasure hunting on Oak Island
Barkhouse said Blankenship settled on the island in the 1970s and was driven in ways he imagines most people who are attracted to a mystery are.
“All these treasure hunters even going back to the start – they want to be the ones to solve this thing,” said Barkhouse. “You have to have that belief, that passion that you are going to be the one to solve it, because if you don’t then there is no point in even being there.”
He said Blankenship was a great storyteller with a strong presence.
“At 95 when you shook his hand you knew you were shaking somebody’s hand,” Barkhouse said. “He had a big set of mitts on him because he was a hardworking man all his life. He had a grip on him like a steel vice.”
Rick Lohnes, who runs tours of Oak Island, said he first met Blankenship in the 1980s at the auto repair shop where Lohnes used to work.
“He used to come in and tell me stories, but he’d never go a complete story,” Lohnes said. “He’d always tell me I’d have to wait until the next time he came back.”
Lohnes said Blankenship truly believed there was treasure to be found and it was “just a matter of getting to it.”
“To me Dan is Oak Island. It is a real loss the knowledge that went with him.”
– With files from Alison Auld.