Since the broadcast of Episode 15, Season 9 of The Curse of Oak Island (COOI), much has been made of the recovery of a rubber boot in the first “big can” core. The goal of putting down a core with a 10 foot diameter was of course to find evidence of the money pit, and hopefully the treasure buried there some time before 1795.
It shouldn’t have been encouraging, therefore, when the first significant find to come up turned out to be an old rubber boot. Well, perhaps not actually rubber, and we will come back to that in a minute. The boot (Figure 1) was identified by a manufacturer’s mark as having been made by Kaufman footwear, a Canadian company based in Kitchener (formerly Berlin), Ontario, and that was in operation from 1907 until 2000. One of it’s brands, Sorel, lives on under different ownership, and is still well known in Canada.
The COOI team was quick to point out that one of the many searcher expeditions to Oak Island ran from 1909 to 1912, and involved future US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). Using their now familiar possibilist reasoning, they suggested that it was therefore possible that the boot was associate with the 1909 work (Kaufman had been producing rubber footwear for a about year by then), and that it was even possible that the boot was used by FDR himself during the expedition.
While encouraging in a way, I suppose, even if all this was true, it wouldn’t get us any closer to a treasure. But let’s evaluate the claim. First, given the information volunteered by the COOI team, it is impossible to say whether this boot is associated with FDR, or with some other searcher from that expedition, or a later one.
Second, two factors lead me to strongly doubt this specific claim. 1) the boot material is very thin, like a film, very pliable, and very shiny. It seems more like vinyl than like rubber. Kaufman began making PVC (vinyl) footwear in the mid-1950s, and this wasn’t available at the time of the 1909 searcher expeditions. If it really is PVC, it is not FDR’s boot. 2) the reinforced rubber red band that covers the toe of the boot is a feature that I remember well from the Kaufman rubber boots of my childhood in the 1970s. Together, these two factors strongly suggest a later boot.
This 1912 Kaufman catalogue from the Internet Archive, linked through this fashion history blog, shows that early Kaufman boots were stylistically quite different (Figure 2) from the one recovered by the COOI team. Archaeologists often use style as an element for dating objects, or at least for putting them in chronological sequences (known as seriation), and to this archaeologist, the recovered boot looks much more like post-1950s Kaufman boots than earlier ones.
If anyone wants to do additional research on this and nail down the exact chronological range of that model, the University of Waterloo (right next to Kitchener, seems to have a pretty full set of Kaufman catalogues.
If we were to look for a searcher expedition with which to associate the boot, it would make a lot more sense to look at the Dunfield expedition, which dug a very deep and wide conical hole in the money pit area around 1965. The boot fits the date, and the nature of the activity does also. While looking for the treasure, Dunfield essentially dug a huge hole in the ground and then backfilled it. It seems likely that a stray rubber boot could have been part of the backfill, along with much of the wood and other material recovered in the big cans so far.
In summary, if we only consider the information that some Kaufman boots were available in 1909, it is possible that the boot is from the 1909 searcher expedition. It is even possible that it belonged to FDR. However, even adding a tiny bit of information, such as the apparent composition of the boot and its stylistic attributes makes this either impossible (if it really is PVC), or at least exceedingly unlikely (on stylistic grounds alone). In addition, there is a much more likely explanation that fits the available evidence much better.
We could likely rule out the FDR connection decisively, and evaluate the Dunfield connection by looking in more detail at the Kaufman catalogues available in Waterloo. If anyone does, let me know. I’d love to find out.