Friday , June 21 2024

National Treasure: Fact and Fiction

The arrival of Disney’s National Treasure is now just a couple of weeks away (November 19). Disney is going all out with the interactive goodies on film website: search for clues, find treasure, research the historical facts and assumptions behind the film.

Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, an achaeologist and treasure-hunter who discovers that a map to a priceless bounty lies on the back of the Declaration of Independence. To protect the country’s most sacred document and uncover the extraordinary treasure to which it leads, Ben must confront a series of puzzles, secret codes and hidden messages from America’s past.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Jon Turteltaub say they wanted the clues that drive the film to be based on REAL STUFF. Some of the areas where fact meets fimic fiction in National Treasure are:


Fact : The monastic secret-warrior society known as The Knights Templar excavated for ten years at the Temple of Solomon. Within two centuries, they became one of the most powerful and wealthy groups in Europe, leading many to assume they had amassed an enormous treasure. It was said that before the Knights met their end at the hands of The Pope and King Philip of France in 1307, they loaded their immense bounty onto a fleet headed for Scotland. Some believe the shipment was hidden on Nova Scotia’s Oak Island and came to a fledgling America in the 1700s. Christopher Columbus also had connections to “The Knights of Christ,” an offshoot of The Knights Templar.

The Film: Nobody knows if the Knights Templar Treasure exists or where it lies today. In NATIONAL TREASURE, the filmmakers imagine that it fell into the hands of America’s Founding Fathers and was cleverly hidden . . until, generations later, Ben Gates finds the ultimate clue to its location. The mystery of the Knights Templar continues to entice in popular culture, as evidenced by Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, published after NATIONAL TREASURE was in the works.


Fact: This secret society evolved from the remnants of the Knights Templar. Started as a loose association of medieval architects, the Freemasons went on to become an influential fraternity of the best and the brightest men in Europe. Known for their secrecy, as well as their wealth and power, Freemasons engaged in mysterious rituals and used ancient symbols as codes. The all-seeing eye and unfinished pyramid on the U.S. dollar bill are Freemason symbols. Many of the nation’s Founding Fathers were Masons, including George Washington, John Hancock, Ethan Allen, Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin. Some even believe the city of Washington, D.C. is laid out according to the grid concepts of Freemasons – in the mystical shape of the Virgo Constellation.

The Film: The Freemasons did leave cryptic symbols not only on the dollar bill but throughout their buildings – but were they possible clues to a hidden treasure? In the fictional NATIONAL TREASURE, The Freemasons of the past help to guide Gates, through puzzles and codes they’ve left behind, toward his DESTINY.


Fact: Codes and ciphers have been in existence at least since Biblical times and were used extensively throughout the Revolutionary War and by the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by cryptology and invented a device for encoding messages known as the “Jefferson Cylinder.” The Freemasons also had a standard code – the elusive “Pig-Pen Cipher.” The use of Invisible Ink is also documented during the Revolutionary War — used to hide secret intelligence letters from enemy eyes. Another decoding method from that era involved documents that could only be read through a special “mask” that would manipulate the content visually. Some codes from the 1700’s still cannot be broken today as no one can find their keys.

The Film: Secret symbols from the past may be all around us but no one has yet found a code created as a message from America’s Founding Fathers – which is why no one believe Bens Gates when he insists the Declaration of Independence hides an invisible map. Gates also discovers a special pair of “decoding glasses” designed by Benjamin Franklin. Although Franklin is known to have been fascinated by optics, the screenwriters made this up.


Fact : One of the most cherished symbols of American freedom, the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and signed on July 4, 1776. Today, the original parchment document is on display in the Rotunda For the Charters of Freedom at the National Archives. Though badly faded, the document is preserved via high-tech fiber optic lights and protected by one of the most sophisticated security systems ever designed.

The Film: In NATIONAL TREASURE, Ben Gates sets out to do the unthinkable: steal the Declaration of Independence in the hopes of saving the document from evildoers. Though the production consulted with criminal experts on how such a heist could be accomplished, fortunately nothing of the kind has ever been attempted. In NATIONAL TREASURE, Nicolas Cage’s characters justifies the theft by remembering that the men who signed the Declaration knew it was treason and might result in their deaths, but went ahead because of their conviction that they were doing the right thing. Tell it to the judge, Ben.

Get pumped by the most ripping trailer (WM) (Real) (QuickTime) I’ve seen in a long time. And, check out the amazing SmartTrailer, which after showing the trailer proper allows you to select from nine special features delving into such subject as “The Treasure Is Real” “Templar Knights” “Masons” “Ben Franklin” and “Declaration of Independence” – the source for much of the above fact/fiction comparison.

Walt Disney Pictures
November 19, 2004

CAST: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Harvey Keitel, Stewart Finlay, David Dayan Fisher, Christopher Plummer, Don McManus, Mark Pellegrino
DIRECTOR: Jon Turteltaub
PRODUCERS: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jon Turteltaub and Christina Steinberg, Charles Segars and Oren Aviv

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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