Yesterday I began my look at Zena Halpern’s Templar Mission to Oak Island. Today, for better or worse, I continue. To refresh your memory: We previously discussed the supposed mystery of a brass box with alchemical and astrological symbols that a man named William D. Jackson claimed to have stolen from Bannerman Island in New York in 1969, a mystery that Halpern learned about from an alleged secret agent named Dan Spartan of the (likely fictitious) Spartan Agency who fed her information through typewritten letters sent from false addresses.
The second chapter opens with some of the evidence that Halpern only vaguely alluded to in the first chapter. The first piece of evidence concerns an archival record stating that Francis Bannerman VI purchased a small brass “device” from a J. Roche, Order of St. Andrew on April 22, 1906. According to the receipt (if genuine), the brass box featured a pentagram and “strange characters,” and it came with a Latin certificate from G. Benvenuto of Italy, written in 1820, describing the manufacture of the unusual curio. Bannerman paid $3.65 for the piece, which seems to be a rip-off for an early nineteenth century alchemical curio. Weirdly, Halpern insists on describing the brass curio as a “device” even though the provided photocopy of Bannerman’s receipt clearly identifies it as a “paperweight.” The receipt states that Benvenuto’s text identified the object as a “navigational tool.” My assessment is that the engraving was designed as an astrological / astronomical chart of some sort and therefore was “navigational” in that sense. The date of 1820 seems about right for the object, though not the materials allegedly found within.
The open question is whether the current brass box is the one described or a modern fake. That I cannot judge. Obviously, without access to the original, there is very little we can say from a photograph.
Halpern, however, concludes that Benvenuto merely was a middleman and that the object is much, much older, but her reasoning is strange: William Jackson, who likely read the same document Halpern did, alleged that another Benvenuto, living centuries later, sold him a secret Templar document. Thus, the Benvenuto family is somehow intimately entwined with the “mystery,” not least because one of that name wrote a letter to Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney. The trouble is that “Benvenuto,” meaning welcome, is and was a very common name, both first and last, meaning that it is quite difficult to establish any sort of connection. Sadly, Halpern simply accepts the reality of the Zeno Narrative and concludes that Sinclair masterminded a secret network stretching from America to Scotland to Italy.
To defend this, Halpern enters into evidence “letters” from the 1700s that she says came from “the Jackson collection.” She does not identify where the letters came from originally, nor has she seen the originals. There are also no photographs of them. They exist only as typewritten transcripts, and I will be blunt: They seem fake. The writing has none of the characteristics of eighteenth century prose, and they sound odd and clunky. The digitized copies of computer-typewritten transcripts (in Times New Roman) included in my edition of the book are too blurry to read every word, but none of the expected mannerisms of Augustan prosody manifest in the writing, and numbers are given in decimal form, unusual in the eighteenth century, when fractions were the preferred notation. Oh, right: the content. The letters claim to describe how to use the device to navigate by the stars and Venus and allege a conspiracy to encrypt said information in “cipher form” (i.e. Theban) to hide it. Really? I mean, come on, the description is hardly very different from an astrolabe. What, pray tell, would be the point of hiding anything?
The third chapter returns to the dubious discoveries of William Jackson, who in 1981 (if we accept the document dates) claimed to have had a 1913 journal that detailed a dramatic escape from captivity by one of Bannerman’s distant Scottish relatives and his secret mission to San Sigismundo in Cremona, Italy to find a secret document that would provide the “key” to an unnamed mystery. Afterward, it seems to say that he went to Africa and crossed to America to go to Hunter Mountain, then the site of a logging operation, and today a famous ski resort.
Here is where things take another sad turn. Halpern notes that she has received all of this information piecemeal from super-secret secret agent Dan Spartan, of the CIA-adjacent Spartan Agency. Halpern never met Spartan, nor did she ever speak to him. Instead, in the mid-2000s, she simply received regular packages with “clues” and excerpts from Jackson’s 1981 investigation. Spartan implied that he could not reveal any verifying information because of his “employer,” which Halpern took to mean the CIA. Spartan, who claimed that the “paranoia” of the American post office required him to create fake addresses to send his missives from, nevertheless signed his allegedly real name to them.
I don’t suppose Halpern noticed that “Dan Spartan’s” letters and all of the other letters from the whole cast of characters seem to share certain punctuation quirks in common, such as an omitted comma in the salutation.
It is beyond the scope of my interest whether the 1913-1914 journal and its accompanying maps and charts are authentic since a twentieth century document cannot speak to the reality of a twelfth century conspiracy. Halpern is working from a copy made by Jackson, she said, in 1970, and she claims to have two original pages. A skeptic might suggest that someone bought a couple of authentic World War I pages and concocted a larger narrative to frame them, or even that the supposed “original” pages were written on old pieces of paper. Convenient, isn’t it, that the original journal vanished after the 1970s? Halpern says that Jackson damaged some of the journal in the 1970s by dousing it in chemicals in the search for invisible ink that he claimed told of a secret trek to upstate New York in search of Templar secrets. “Dan Spartan” handed Halpern the secret code when she didn’t find it herself, and explained how to use misspelled words in the journal to “reveal” Hunter Mountain, near Halpern’s own home.
Halpern also expends much energy trying to fabricate a secret society in Scotland called the Order of St. Andrew going back to the Merovingians (!), but it might instead refer to any number of organizations, from the the Russian order of knighthood of that name, to (perhaps most likely) the Scottish fraternal lodge founded in 1872, and the Anglo-Scottish knightly order called the Order of the Thistle, which also went by Andrew’s name. Alternately, the receipt my even be a fraud, but sine Halpern says it exists in a Delaware library, I will assume it is real.
Just for fun: Halpern says that a secret Templar document in Jackson’s possession refers to the “Book of Enoch,” which means that our friends the Watchers have a spurious connection here, too!
This chapter analyzes the 1913-1914 journal and the supposed secret code contained within. The incorrectly spelled letter of the first word of every twelfth line spells out their target: Hunter Mountain, here listed in “code” as being in New Amsterdam, the old name for New York. The “code” is so secret that the actual text of the journal specifically states in plain English that the writer headed to “New Amsterdam” on a ship called Quetzalcoatl provided by the mysterious “Order.” My, but the writer did such a great job of keeping the Order and its business secret.
Halpern’s analysis of the journal is predicated on a set of beliefs she did not introduce, explain, or defend before using them as evidence, namely the allegation that a “Templar Document” existed in the aforementioned Italian church and is tied to the “Order” whose existence she has not yet established. There is so much speculation that I don’t think there are any actual facts involved whatsoever. Once again, the entire argument rests on accepting that a particular text is genuine, based on uncritical acceptance of “Dan Spartan” and his correspondence delivered from a false address.
Chapters 5 and 6
This chapter investigates a secret story discovered in the journal when Jackson applied flames to the pages to reveal invisible ink. It strikes me as odd that the handwriting in the secret code is very similar to all the other handwriting on every document in the book (the G’s for example always feature a rather pronounced crossbar, and all of the N’s are distinctively sharp), but that’s just me. I don’t have a way of quantifying the similarity, especially given the low resolution of the images, meaning that I can only speak from general impressions. My impression is that the writing is all by the same hand. It also strains credulity that all of the people across time all chose to write in block letters when cursive was the preferred style for many centuries.
Using this dubious document, Halpern discovers a description of and coordinates for extremely local monuments near her home. I’m going to pause here and note that I am a lifelong New Yorker. My home in Albany is pretty close by to Hunter Mountain—just 50 miles away as the crow flies (about 60 by car). I have literally never heard of any of these “sacred paths” and “prominent” features, like the Devil’s Tombstone, a large rock that marks a state park and campground there. (The rock, a boulder carried down from the mountains by a glacier, was named by Dutch colonists.) The information is hyper-local, and I can’t fathom how a secret international order dedicated centuries to such an obscurity. Even guides to state parks put it below the more famous chair-shaped formation atop the mountain.
And just for fun: Hunter Mountain is a recent name, bestowed by John Hunter, its former owner. It had been Greenland Mountain down to the middle 1800s. Would someone in 1913, writing of New York as New Amsterdam to “hide” the truth, have neglected to encode the mountain’s name with its older form?
The bottom line is that this whole story looks more and more like a hoax, and I’m not sure what value there is in continuing to look into claims that appear to have been carefully designed to flatter Zena Halpern. How lucky for her to live practically atop a secret Templar treasure trove and to have a super-secret secret-squirrel deliver the proof to her as needed.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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