The hidden treasure of Oak Island is a mystery that has captured the imaginations of many explorers over the last two centuries. But have the Lagina brothers finally uncovered the truth?
Nose In The Books
Back in 1965, a young Rick Lagina happened upon a copy of “Readers Digest.” There the 11-year old read the story of Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the underground treasure that was said to reside there.
For over a century-and-a-half, there had been searches carried out on the island, but no-one had ever claimed to find the storied treasures. Young Rick became obsessed and learned everything there was to know about the Oak Island treasure mystery. A dream was brewing in his mind - to be the one to find and claim the hidden treasure.
Hunt for Treasure
Just one year before discovering the story, the boy had embarked on his first treasure hunt. Naturally adventurous and ambitious, he had found an oversized granite rock in his hometown of Kingsford, in Michigan. He set to finding what lay beneath it.
He and his brother Marty, along with the help of some other neighborhood children, moved the rock from its place. Though there was nothing much underneath, it set a spark that ignited a lifelong flame in the boys. This passion only grew stronger upon learning about Oak Island. But why that mystery in particular?
A Strange Discovery
The mystery of Oak Island took root in 1804. Eight years earlier, a local boy named Daniel McGinnis had found a circular depression in the ground. Thus the Onslow Company was formed in order to investigate the area. Their digging eventually uncovered a stone tablet.
On the tablet were strange unreadable inscriptions, and researchers set upon deciphering the symbols. It was studied for years without success. Finally, in 1866 the tablet was taken to Halifax University, where it was studied by a language professor who decoded the inscriptions, only to find an unsettling message.
The Curse of Oak Island
The first part of the stone simply read, “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” Two million pounds of what? The message didn’t clarify, and the concerned parties were unsure of what exactly it meant. Was this all there was to the Oak Island mystery?
Apparently not, as rumors continued about the strange circumstances around Oak Island. According to the legend that has grown around the site, seven people will die before the treasure can be retrieved. As of now, six have died in the pursuit of Oak Island’s riches. If tragedy strikes again, will it finally be found?
Many theories have been suggested over the years as to how this supposed treasure came to be on Oak Island. One follows the maid of Marie Antoinette, sent out of Paris to escape the French Revolution. According to the story, she came to Nova Scotia via London, where French Navymen helped her hide her mistresses' belongings.
Another theory posits that philosopher Francis Bacon was the true author of many of Shakespeare’s plays, and the pit on Oak Island was dug to hide the manuscripts revealing the author's identity. It’s also said that whoever finds the treasures of Oak Island will uncover even more treasures beyond the pit.
Pirate's Life for Me
Some believe the treasure actually belonged to Captain Kidd, a Scottish sailor executed for piracy. It’s suggested that his treasure was buried on the island, with multiple chests hidden all over. Blackbeard, another historic pirate, was said to have his own lost treasure, hidden “where none but Satan and myself can find it.”
The rabbit hole goes even deeper, with other theories stating that Spanish sailors hid their treasure on Oak Island during the American Revolution in a bid to hide it from British soldiers. There are seemingly countless other origin stories, but it’s this next one that caught the attention of explorers everywhere.
Rites of Passage
According to some who have viewed the original tablet, there are Masonic markings inscribed upon it, hinting that the treasure is part of occult machinations. In particular, a secret vault located somewhere on the island. The idea is that it parallels a Freemason allegory known as the “Secret Vault.”
Others have speculated that the aforementioned Francis Bacon led a spiritual movement that hid religious artifacts and other manuscripts on the island. Related clues were apparently encoded into Shakespeare’s plays, an idea touted by researchers Daniel Ronnstam and Petter Amundsen, amongst others. But where did it all start?
Back To the Beginning
Let’s rewind all the way to 1795, when young Daniel McGinnis was wandering around Oak Island, Nova Scotia. While enjoying the walk, he came across a curious indent in the ground. It was a shallow depression in a circular shape. He decided to get a closer look.
Upon investigating, he realized that many of the trees and branches around the indent had been pulled up or cut away, with one tree still remaining to be used as a pulley. The boy was familiar with old stories about pirates hoarding treasure on the island, so he knew he had to explore further.
A Shocking Discovery
Sometime later Daniel McGinnis returned to the island, this time with two friends named Anthony Vaughn and John Smith. They soon all set to digging and quickly discovered a thick layer of flagstone covering the area two feet below the depression. They were stunned but continued on.
They found themselves digging more than 30 feet into the ground, into layers of oak logs lining the pit. Unfortunately, they were unable to dig further, but rumors soon spread and the site became known as the Oak Island Money Pit. Eight years later the boys returned to the pit as guides for The Onslow Company.
The Money Pit
This new team of explorers took up where the three boys had left off, 8 years before, and 30-feet into the ground. They found themselves digging another 60 feet into the Oak Island Pit, finding more oak logs every 10-feet that they dug out. They also found charcoal, putty, and thick layers of coconut fiber.
Upon hitting 90-feet, they found the first great discovery of Oak Island - the mysterious stone tablet with its unreadable symbols. But soon after digging up more oak logs, the pit began to flood with water. Even after digging a parallel pit with a connecting tunnel to the original, it flooded out too. Was it a booby trap?
Traps on Traps
The water damage was so thorough that it took 45 years before the search could continue! As it turned out, that was the intention. Whoever had designed Oak Island’s mysterious money pit had made a waterway connecting the pit to Smith’s Cove so that even if the pit could be drained, it was quickly refilled by the sea.
It seems that the mysterious creators of the pit had designed it with the express purpose of keeping explorers out. But in 1847, a new group emerged called the Truro Company, determined to pick up where The Onslow Company had left off. This time when the pit flooded they chose to drill core samples to explore further.
The First Sign of The Treasure
After what probably seemed like forever, the Truro Company found something promising. They had drilled through two chests; both filled with coins. According to one source, the three gold links belonging to a chain were found with the chests. However, the links soon went missing and haven’t been seen since.
But the explorers realized something else - there was loose earth deep inside the Oak Island Money Pit. So three years later another expedition was launched, and a parallel hole was dug. Soon more water flowed in, and this time pumping it out did nothing. But another discovery lay just around the corner.
The explorers soon noticed something strange at Smith’s Cove nearby. At low tide, they could see that water was being drawn out of the beach. And sure enough, it led straight back to the Oak Island Money Pit. The pit creators had built a drain system, a series of channels connecting the pit to the beach.
They figured if they could build a dam near the Smith’s Cove beach, they could block water from flooding the pit. A storm destroyed it soon enough, but they then discovered an older dam structure built nearby. Subsequent plans failed as well, but things on Oak Island only got stranger and stranger.
In 1861, a third team attempted to solve the Oak Island mystery. They even called themselves the Oak Island Association. Despite their name, the group hardly helped the cause. Very little was achieved and what was more, the bottom of the money pit collapsed. They soon experienced the first loss associated with the pit.
They brought in water pumps to drain the pit, but one day a boiler that powered one of the pumps burst, and a worker was scalded to death. The Association soon ran out of money, and the expedition ended after three years. After the worker's death, rumors began that more deaths would occur if the project wasn’t abandoned. They weren’t wrong.
A Strange Message
Toward the end of the 19th century, a fourth group became intrigued by tales of treasure and riches on Oak Island. Though we don’t know the name of the team, we know they made an incredible discovery inside the money pit - a cement vault wedged between layers of putty.
Inside the vault was a sheepskin parchment that bore the letters “vi,” “ui,” and “wi.” To this day no one is sure what the letters mean, but shortly after unearthing the mysterious vault, the unknown team came face-to-face with their own tragedy, and the next step in the curse of Oak Island.
Mourning the Fallen
One of the explorers, a man named Maynard Kaiser, was ascending from one of the many holes built around the Oak Island Money Pit after a long day of digging. As he was being lifted out, the rope holding him came loose from the pulley. The inevitable happened.
Upon the rope coming loose, Maynard fell straight through the shaft and to his death at the pit's bottom. Thus another victim of the Oak Island Curse was claimed forever. But despite these bad omens, many people returned to Oak Island in search of the elusive treasure. And there was more tragedy to come.
A Famous Face
Soon the next group rolled up to stake their claim on the missing treasure. The Old Salvage Group reached Oak Island in 1909, determined to find something. Sadly, very little came of their expedition, and all they found was an old cofferdam from 1850, courtesy of an earlier search party.
However, one thing of note did come from the search. One of the members of the search party was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a man who went on to become President of the United States just over two decades later. Though their search was short-lived, Roosevelt kept an eye on the goings-on of Oak Island for the remainder of his life.
A Challenger Approaches
Soon enough, another inquisitive explorer fell under the sway of the Oak Island mystery. Gilbert Hedden, a New York businessman, read about the island and its money pit in 1928. He was the operator of a steel fabricating firm and quickly began thinking up engineering solutions to the problems involved in the Oak Island dig.
Hedden and a partner named Fred Blair soon headed to the island to scope out the situation. They began drilling away some of the shafts that had been dug and began making new digging plans. But Gilbert soon discovered something even more intriguing outside of the pit.
New Stone Discovery
Soon enough Hedden had found a piece of stone inscribed with the very same markings found on the original stone tablet first discovered in the Oak Island Money Pit. He even found remains of old timber that had been left behind in Smith’s Cove decades before.
The timber he found appeared to be the same timber used when the Oak Island Money Pit was originally built, as they contained wooden pegs rather than metal. As was discovered later, these pieces were actually part of a different, and larger, project.
The Pit Goes Deeper
After Hedden, another treasure hunter reared their head. In 1938, Erwin Hamilton began his own drilling plans on Oak Island, hoping to end the mystery once and for all. Within a year he had made two discoveries. First, after reaching 190 feet into the pit he came upon rocks and gravel, which had to have been placed there.
Secondly, after clearing the shaft further (roughly 176 feet down), Hamilton came upon a layer of limestone and oak splinters, meaning another layer of oak logs lay below. These discoveries only stirred up more interest and mystery around the island.
This time around, it was Robert Restall and his 18-year old son who landed on Oak Island in 1959. There he made discoveries of his own - within the Smith’s Cove drain system, Restall found a rock engraved with the number ‘1704’. Some believed that a previous explorer had placed it there as a joke, or distraction. But Robert disagreed.
In fact, Restall was so convinced of his compelling discovery that he moved his whole family to the island, with plans of running a farm while he continued to dig. But tragedy struck again in 1965 when Robert became unconscious after breathing in carbon monoxide from a gasoline engine, causing him to fall to the bottom of the pit.
The Curse Awakens
To make matters worse, Restall's son Robert Jr. rushed into the monoxide fumes to save his father. He passed out too, falling into the pit. Two workers by the names of Cyril Hiltsz and Karl Graeser followed him in for the same reasons, but both died from the same cause. And so the Curse of Oak Island had claimed four lives in one day.
By now, a shocking six people had lost their lives in the quest to find the hidden treasure of Oak Island, one that still wasn’t even confirmed to exist. Yet, it didn’t deter future explorers from flocking to the island and unearthing further mysteries surrounding the Oak Island Money Pit.
The same year that six lost their lives, Robert Dunfield swooped in to take over the search. He shipped over bulldozers and cranes and managed to get down 140-feet into the pit where the limestone layer sat. There seemed to be a large underground space beneath it.
After a less-than-fruitful search, Daniel C. Blankenship took over in 1965. While searching the Oak Island Money Pit he came across several items inside the pit and drainage system - a hand-wrought nail and washer 60-feet deep, a pair of Spanish-American wrought-iron scissors, and a heart-shaped stone.
An Alliance Forms
Bur Dunfield needed more modern technology and people who could use it. He teamed up with David Tobias and Fred Nolan, coming together under the name Triton Alliance. They began excavating the Borehole 10-X, a 235-foot shaft consisting of bedrock and caisson.
They decided that their best bet was to build another cofferdam to reach the old cofferdam still within the pit. With these plans in place and camera equipment to film the process, the explorers took the next step in uncovering the Oak Island Money Pit mysteries.
Within the Borehole 10-X were artificial cavities that had been built inside. Members of the Triton alliance claimed that when cameras were passed through the shaft, they found incredible items. Treasure chests, tools, cribbing, and even a human hand and body. Sadly this cannot be confirmed, as the image quality was too low.
However, they did have a few items to show for it. The explorers found logs carved with Roman numerals, with wooden pins and nails marking them. Carbon dating showed that the wood had been placed there 250 years earlier. But that wasn’t the end of Triton Alliance’s discoveries.
Bits and Pieces
As it turned out, there were more secrets scattered around the island itself. On the western edge of Oak Island, the group discovered old wooden structures, buried leather shoes, and wrought iron nails. Understandably, they weren’t sure what to make of it.
But what they did know was that these items were part of a bigger picture - the history of Oak Island, and furthermore, the truth behind the Money Pit. But the closer the Triton Alliance came to unearthing the truth, the more interesting things became.
The Alliance Collapses
Not long after, Triton Alliance sent divers into the shaft, but nothing could be excavated as the currents within were too strong to see through. As if that wasn’t enough, Borehole 10-X soon collapsed entirely and the excavation had to be discontinued.
Though the team chose to dig the shaft again, their budget quickly disappeared, and the group disbanded. But one thing came from their efforts that changed the course of the Oak Island mystery forever - “Reader’s Digest” published an article about the Alliance, and young Rick Lagina found a copy.
Law and Order
On January 18, 1979, the TV Show In Search Of… aired an episode detailing the Triton Alliance's expedition and the wider story of the Oak Island Money Pit mystery. This was likely the first time the island came to the attention of some mainstream audiences.
Fred Nolan was sued by fellow Triton Alliance members in 1983 and had to pay damages due to his part ownership interfering with Triton’s tourism business. The case was appealed in 1989, with Nolan coming out on top, and his damages owed were reduced. Exploration of the Oak Island Money Pit was put on hold until 2005.
The Lagina's Get Involved
Two decades later, part of Oak Island was put up for sale with a $7 million price tag. The Oak Island Tourism Society encouraged the Canadian Government to buy it, but a bevy of American businesspeople got their first. These men worked in the drilling industry, so no doubt it seemed like a golden opportunity.
So who were these men? Well, it was the Lagina brothers, of course. After all those years, Rick Lagina still had the urge to explore, and he and his brother Marty found themselves purchasing a 50% stake in Oak Island Tours Inc. It was their mission to finally uncover the secrets of Oak Island and break its curse forever.
A 21st Century Search
And so the Lagina brothers headed off on their journey. With new technology, they were better able to explore the Borehole 10-X and the island as a whole. It also made it easier for them to combat the water flooding into the pit. The brother's expedition soon gained mainstream attention.
In 2014 the History Channel released a TV show called The Curse of Oak Island, following the brothers on their search of the island. This incredible opportunity actually helped fund their project, as well as provide credibility. But would the Lagina brothers be able to uncover the truth of the island?
Experience Makes the Man
Both men knew they needed help if they wanted to find success on Oak Island. Thankfully they had their own skills and contacts that would come in handy. For example, Marty knew how to dig deep wells and had connections with people who worked in the same industry.
Not only that, but in 1982 Marty founded Terra Energy, a gas well company that eventually became the biggest of its kind in Michigan. He sold it 13 years later and opened a renewable energy provider. But this background experience was an incredible help to the brothers.
Head in the Clouds
Rick, on the other hand, was the dreamer of the family. He had been imagining this expedition since he was a child, and had never really let the dream go. Previously working for the Postal Service, it was Rick who encouraged his brother to buy Oak Island with him.
But Marty understandably had doubts of his own. He was certainly the more practical of the two and was unsure that Rick’s plans would bear fruits. “Rick is the believer, and he’s not going quit until it’s resolved,” Marty explained of his motivated brother.
During season 1 of The Oak Island Mystery, Rick and Marty used sonar technology to extract a 17th-century coin from a swamp on the island and a few other human-made items. The coin was antique and of Spanish descent, which seemed like proof that Oak Island's search had started much earlier than previously thought.
Many strangers approached the brothers during their time on Oak Island. One presented them with potential evidence that King Solomon’s Temple's treasures were also buried on the island. Another offered advice on how to find the treasures of Francis Bacon. There were so many stories, which one would the brothers believe?
In season three, the Laginas decided to bring in some outside expertise to help with sonar readings and draining a shaft beside Borehole 10-X. They made incredible discoveries during this time, especially compared to the few small bones they found inside the shaft in season one.
Within Borehole 10-X was found a stone inscribed with Portuguese, compelling evidence of an Aztec visit, a Roman sword, and other objects that could connect the site to various theories. One relative of a previous explorer even brought the brothers a gold cross that had been allegedly passed down from an expedition.
In the fourth season of the show, the brothers were given a copy of the island’s map that had been drawn up in 1347. It showed the brothers the location of a hatch, valve, and anchor, eventually raising questions about the Oak Island treasure’s connection to Africa.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Rick and Marty also discovered multiple other objects connected to other obscure theories about the island, including washers, hex nuts, scrap metal, and even a button. Despite the confusion, the Lagina brothers have continued on and even spoken up about the hunt so far.
"A Truly Wonderful Story"
Rick has made his views of Oak Island and its history clear. “There’s a story to be written up here," he said. "Treasure, perhaps, but it’s a truly wonderful story from a long time ago. Every day it feels like we’re turning a page of a really good book. I still believe.”
He also links his own life ambitions and values to the search for the Oak Island treasure. “To me, life’s a treasure hunt. We’re all on one in our own different way, and we happen to be on a real one right now," Rick continued. "But really, life is about reaching your goals, and that’s what we always try and do.”
Getting It Right
Historian Charles Barkhouse spoke positively of the Lagina brothers. “If anyone is going to solve this [...] it’s going to be the Lagina's," he said. "While they have the same drive, dedication, and, perhaps, stubbornness as their treasure-hunting predecessors, they also have something that other searchers didn’t have: a willingness to listen.”
As a local historian and tour guide, he had high hopes for the project. “The Laginas regularly bring people to the island – engineering professionals, technology experts, historians – to help them,” Barkhouse told reporters. Their desire to collaborate rather than control would be a great benefit to them.
Barkhouse explained why he felt that the mystery of the Oak Island Money Pit had been so seductive to so many people. In his mind, “Putting one’s life at risk to find something that may or may not be buried is extreme. The mystery … is that powerful.”
And the brothers weren’t the only new explorers who had fallen for the “cursed” island. David Blakenship was another who had arrived 50 years before and never left. Barkhouse went on to say, “No one knows what’s buried here, who buried it or even where it’s buried... That’s what excites people — the possibilities.”
In 1936 Gilbert Hedden had built a wharf at Smith’s Cove to assist with excavation plans. During this time, he had come across old pieces of timber with wooden pegs. That was the most he found, but Rick and Marty took the discovery further by excavating a human-made structure buried underground nearby.
But that wasn’t all they found in season six. Marty, his partner Craig, and Rick’s son Alex made a new discovery in the H-8 shaft: leather bookbinding, paper, and human bones all traced back to the 17th century. Not only that, but they even found wood from the chapel vault that had been uncovered so long ago.
A Simple Belief
After all these years, the Lagina brothers now believe they’ve found something significant and possible evidence of the original money pit. Charles Barkhouse thinks he knows the key to why so many people have tried to find the treasure. “It’s the simple belief that there’s something here,” the historian said.
And it’s not just treasures and wealth that the Lagina brothers are looking for - they want to be the ones who finally bring a resolution to the mysteries of Oak Island. All we have to do is sit back, wait to see what happens, and hope that the island’s curse doesn’t claim another soul.