These Brothers Are Trying To Solve The Oak Island Mystery
For over two hundred years, rumors have circulated about a trove of buried treasure hidden somewhere on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. Among the rumored riches are jewels that belonged to Marie Antoinette, important religious artifacts and some of Shakespeare’s manuscripts. Over the years, the promise of wealth has cost many explorers their life savings, their families, and even their lives.
In 1965, an eleven-year-old named Rick Lagina read about the Oak Island mystery in a Reader’s Digest. The article, which described the still-undiscovered stockpile of treasure, changed his life, and the life of his brother, forever.
As adults, the Lagina brothers would launch an epic journey in the heart of the Oak Island mystery. What they found was truly amazing.
The Lagina Brothers
Rick Lagina started his career as a treasure hunter early. When he was ten, Rick discovered a huge granite boulder in Kingsford, his hometown. He recruited his brother Marty, as well as some of their friends, to move the rock. Underneath the rock, Rick found a massive stockpile of… dirt. Nevertheless, the treasure hunting bug had bit him.
In 1796, another curious boy discovered an odd, circular depression in the ground on Oak Island. Eight years later, an expedition was launched by the Onslow Company to investigate the area. They found a buried stone tablet that bore an inscription that wouldn’t be translated until 1886.
“Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried,” a Halifax professor finally translated the tablet as reading. No one was exactly sure what “pounds” referred to, or if the clue was a decoy. A local legend claimed that seven people had to die before the Oak Island treasure would be discovered. To date, six have lost their lives in pursuit of it.
Where Did the Treasure Come From?
Scholars have long theorized that William Shakespeare may not have been a real person. Some believe that Francis Bacon was actually behind Shakespeare’s work. Treasure hunters speculate that Bacon may have buried his Shakespearean manuscripts and earnings on Oak Island. Another theory claims Marie Antoinette sent her maid to bury her treasure on the island during the French Revolution, with the help of the French Navy.
Even More Theories
Yet another theory claims that the treasure originates with Captain Kidd, a Scottish sailor who hid parts of his treasure hoard on the island. Others claim that Captain Blackbeard did the same. Blackbeard allegedly said that he buried treasure “where none but Satan and myself can find it.” The treasure may also have been buried by Spanish sailors.
The Weirdest Theory
Perhaps the strangest and farthest-reaching theory of all attributes the treasure’s origins to the Freemasons. There is much speculation that Oak Island, which is allegedly covered in Masonic imagery, is the home to a stockpile of sacred Freemason treasure. Some people claim that Francis Bacon led a Rosicrucian mission on the island and buried the treasures there.
The Legend Begins
Rumors of hidden treasure existed on Oak Island long before 1795, when a boy named Daniel McGinnis accidentally set off the modern Oak Island mystery craze. McGinnis, on a walk, noticed a circular depression in the earth that was next to a tree with branches that had been hacked away. Being familiar with the treasure myth, McGinnis decided to investigate.
They Dug and Dug
McGinnis and his friends Anthony Vaughn and John Smith started digging in the circular depression. Two feet down, they hit solid flagstone. They removed the stone and kept digging for an alleged thirty additional feet. They had to dig through multiple layers of oak logs before their progress was halted completely, although temporarily.
The Dig Continues
Almost a decade later, the Onslow Company continued where the boys had left off. They dug another sixty feet, hitting a layer of oak logs every ten feet. They also dug through layers of charcoal, putty and, curiously, coconut fiber. They then found the tablet that bore the odd inscription. Soon after, the tunnel flooded with water. The team would have to dig a tunnel to siphon it off.
Unfortunately for the Onslow Company, the prospect of keeping the tunnel from flooding proved futile. The pit’s original architects had dug it with a 500-foot connecting waterway leading to Smith’s Cove. The tunnel would fill with seawater with every high tide, making it impossible to dry out. Progress on the dig was halted for 45 years, until the Truro Company picked up the effort.
The Truro Dig Strikes Gold
The Truro workers devised a method of using drills to remove samples from the soil at the bottom of the pit, to avoid the seawater problem. One day, they drilled through two different treasure chests filled with coins. They also pulled up three links from a chain made of gold. The gold disappeared soon thereafter.
The Money Pit
The hole came to be known as the “Money Pit.” The crew was at an impasse – they couldn’t drill any deeper without trying to finally drain the water completely. However, someone noticed water emerging from underground at the beach at low tide. Turns out, the entire beach was man made. Someone had also built a dam to try to wall off the influx of water into the hole. A storm came and destroyed their own dam. Truro gave up.
The Oak Island Association
A group called the Oak Island Association made yet another attempt in 1861. They tried to dig another shaft to drain the Money Pit but it was unsuccessful. They tried again, from a different angle, but the bottom of the shaft gave out and dropped fifteen feet. Then a pump burst and killed a laborer.
A new expedition once again met with tragedy. The group, which started digging in the Money Pit just before the turn of the century, uncovered a sheepskin parchment that bore an inscrutable message. Then, a worker named Maynard Kaiser was dropped to his death while being pulled out of the Money Pit. His rope came loose from the pulley and sent him dropping.
The Old Salvage Group
In 1909, a collection of explorers calling themselves The Old Salvage Group arrived on Oak Island. Among their ranks was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yes, that FDR. The Old Salvage Group relinquished their effort after a year. Roosevelt remained curious about the Oak Island mystery until he died.
A New York businessman named Gilbert Hedden threw his hat in the ring in 1928, when he read a story in the paper about the Oak Island mystery. He and his partner Fred Blair, who owned a steel company, started drilling shafts to excavate the Money Pit when they found something curious.
Another Mysterious Stone
Hedden and Blair found a piece of stone that bore markings very much like the tablet that was dug out of the Money Pit in 1804. They also found what they believed were pieces of timber that were used in the original digging of the Money Pit. Their origin was betrayed by the wooden pins that held them together, instead of more modern metal pins.
The next in the litany of treasure hunting hopefuls to make an attempt on Oak Island was named Erwin Hamilton. He arrived on the island in 1938 and started drilling in 1939. Hamilton found some suspicious rocks and gravel pieces 190 feet deep in the Money Pit, which he believed were placed there deliberately. He also found a layer of limestone that contained oak splinters, indicated wood underneath.
In 1959, a man named Robert Restall arrived at Oak Island to try his hand. He found a stone that had “1704” engraved on it but tragedy cut his expedition short. Restall accidentally inhaled a plume of carbon monoxide from an engine, rendering him unconscious and plummeting down into the Money Pit, to his death.
Robert Restall, Jr.
Restall’s son, Robert Restall, Jr, saw his father plunge into the pit and attempted to rescue him. Restall, Jr. inhaled carbon monoxide fumes himself and suffered his father’s fate. Two workers, named Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz, tried to climb down to rescue the two drowning men but also fell victim to the fumes.
That same year, a man named Robert Dunfield brought heavy construction equipment like cranes and bulldozers to the Money Pit. He was able to reach the limestone layer, previously discovered. Another man named Daniel C. Blankenship dug in the Money Pit in 1965 and found a nail and washer sixty feet down. He also found a heart-shaped stone.
The Triton Alliance
In the later part of the 1960’s, a group called the Triton Alliance took up the dig. They found a three hundred year old pair of iron scissors but not much else. The Alliance decided to dig “Borehole 10-X,” a steel tube that they could lower a camera into to investigate the Pit.
The camera made some grisly finds. In addition to tools and a pair of leather shoes floating at the bottom of the Pit, the camera also picked up a severed human hand. The rest of the body was later spotted floating in the water. More encouragingly, they spotted three chests that might contain treasure.
The Alliance sent divers into the pit to investigate further. The divers, however, came up empty handed. The current in the pit was strong enough to kick up sediment and make visibility awful. The divers bailed and the shaft started falling apart soon thereafter. The Alliance ran out of money before they could prosecute the dig further.
Oak Island Becomes Famous
Oak Island wasn’t widely known until about about ten years after the Triton Alliance packed up their expedition. The Oak Island mystery was the subject of a 1979 episode of “In Search Of…” that made the island internationally (in)famous.
The Triton Alliance Sues
In 1983, a member of the Triton Alliance named Fred Nolan was sued by the Alliance over land rights on Oak Island. The Alliance lost the suit twice. The Oak Island mystery then went quiet between 1990 and 2005, when the Lagina brothers picked up the decades-old project of excavating the Money Pit.
The Brothers Enter the Scene
The Reader’s Digest article Rick Lagina read when he was eleven was about the Triton Alliance dig. In 2005, the Laginas learned that a part of the Island was on sale for seven million dollars. They bought a 50% stake in Oak Island Tours Inc and resumed the dig at the Money Pit.
A Fresh Start
The Laginas were bringing modern technology to bear on the project, which had previously eluded attempts to crack the mystery. The tech would allow the Laginas to explore new parts of the Island, as well as hopefully resolve the flooding issue in the Money Pit. Their efforts would ultimately pay off.
The Laginas Get a TV Show
The History Channel became aware of the Laginas’ efforts, and commissioned a show called The Curse of Oak Island. The show, in addition to documenting the project, also gave it significantly more funding.
The Lagina brothers had connections across multiple industries that helped them in their dig effort. Marty, who had previously worked in gas wells and digging, had a lot of connections that brought them expert counsel.
The First Find
The Laginas dug an artificial swamp that yielded the first treasure found during the project – a Spanish copper coin from the 17th Century. It was a promising start.
A Long Dry Spell, Then Paydirt
The show went for two full seasons before the Laginas made another significant find. During season three, while draining the old Borehole 10-X, the Laginas found a Roman sword, Portugese carvings and even evidence that suggested the island had been visited by the Aztecs.
The Journey, Not the Destination
“There’s a story to be written up here,” editorialized Rick Lagina. “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… 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.”
A New Lead
Things started really picking up in season four. The Laginas were gifted a French map from 1647 that indicated the locations of an anchor, a hatch and a valve. It also seemed to indicate that the treasure had African origins.
A Titanic Connection
One of the many wild-eyed theories surrounding the Oak Island treasure came from Vincent Astor, son of the famous John Jacob Astor IV, the extremely wealthy socialite who died aboard the Titanic. Vincent Astor financed part of the Lagina expedition in the belief that they might uncover the Ark of the Covenant.
The Treasure is Probably French
If the treasure is real, one of the most plausible origin stories for it is that it’s French. There is, of course, the theory that Marie Antoinette’s servant carried her treasure to the island. The servant is thought to have made it to Nova Scotia, making it plausible. The Island could also have been where French soldiers hid loot from the nearby Louisbourg Fort during the Seven Years’ War.
This man, a Harvard zoologist named Barry Fell, believes that carvings found on Oak Island are originally from Coptic Christians from North Africa who visited the area in ancient times.
Making a Difference
The Curse of Oak Island, the History Channel show, was more than just entertaining. It also saved this home. It belonged to a Texas viewer who, the face of Hurricane Harvey, recalled seeing something called an “Aqua Dam” used on the show. He ordered an Aqua Dam in time to save his house from flooding. It was the only house on his block that survived.
There are more pits on Oak Island than just the Money Pit. A woman named Joy Steele believes she might know why they were dug. Steele posits that the pits were used to hold tar and were dug by the British Navy when they were building ships on the island. As evidence, she points to shipbuilding sites across North Carolina that look almost identical. Time will tell if she’s correct.