Lying just off the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, Oak Island has long been a source of fascination for many. You see, the tiny isle has been rumored to be home to treasure, and many people have sought to find it. The problem was that all of them failed to find anything important. Until, that is, two siblings got to work – and ultimately ended up exposing the island’s secrets.
The siblings in question are Michigan-natives Rick and Marty Lagina – a pair who have given almost a decade of their lives to investigating Oak Island. And the pair’s efforts have actually been captured by a camera crew for much of that time. You see, since 2014 a History Channel show called The Curse of Oak Island has followed their exploits.
The Curse of Oak Island has enjoyed success all over the world, even turning its hosts into unlikely celebrities. Even so, the Lagina brothers are not even true stars of the show. That honor goes to Oak Island itself – a truly mysterious place that has captured the imagination of so many.
In fact, Oak Island first took the notice of Rick Lagina back when he was only 11 years of age. As he scanned through a copy of Reader’s Digest, Rick ended up reading a feature about the strange isle. Who could have guessed then how significant a bearing this would have on the course of his life?
Oak Island is situated in Mahone Bay, which lies on the south shore of Nova Scotia. A 140-acre dot of land lined with trees, the island has a highest point that’s just 36 feet above sea level. Yet while there are roughly 360 other isles in Mahone Bay, none of them are quite as significant as Oak Island.
Oak Island is forested, which allows for a variety of different animals to thrive there. Among the notable creatures that call the place home are bird species such as black guillemots, great blue herons and ospreys. Puffins and eagles are also known to take flight over the island.
Yet it wasn’t the wildlife on Oak Island that captured the young Rick Lagina’s interest. Rather, it had more to do with the fact that rumors had long persisted that the isle was home to buried treasure. Nobody had ever found it, but perhaps Rick saw himself as the right person for the job?
Over the decades, many theories related to the Oak Island treasure have been put forward. And these suggestions range from the very plausible to the decidedly less so. Some have claimed that pirates buried their booty there, whereas others have gone as far as to suggest that Oak Island is actually the final resting place of the Holy Grail.
Another theory has suggested that precious items belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette has been placed on Oak Island. This story goes that the queen ordered a maidservant to escape France with some of jewels. The maid supposedly ended up in Nova Scotia, where she then arranged for a pit to be dug on Oak Island.
According to Thomas P. Leary’s book The Oak Island Enigma: A History and Inquiry Into the Origin of the Money Pit, the island purportedly holds treasure related to William Shakespeare. Apparently, a number of texts which suggest that writer Francis Bacon was actually behind Shakespeare’s literary output can be found there. And while this is a pretty fantastical notion, it’s an intriguing one nevertheless.
In addition to all these rumors of potential treasure on Oak Island, there have been further suggestions of a curse. According to this line of thought, seven individuals will perish in their attempts to locate the island’s treasure. So far, the deaths of six treasure hunters have been recorded on the island.
The rumors surrounding Oak Island were originally spread by people sharing stories orally towards the end of the 1700s. It was only much later, in fact, that the tales and theories related to the isle were put into print. And in 1857 a tale about a man called Daniel McGinnis was published.
McGinnis is purported to have located a hole on Oak Island in 1799. And this hole seemed to correspond with the subject matter of a tale that he’d heard about a Scottish pirate named Captain William Kidd. You see, Kidd was said to have hidden treasure somewhere on the island – and this bounty, it was claimed, was worth millions.
Together with a pair of helpers named Anthony Vaughn and John Smith, McGinnis started to dig further down into the hole. And eventually, the trio happened upon a layer of stone slabs. Later versions of the story mention the men discovering platforms made from oak at regular intervals in the ground. However, the group eventually gave up on their work, as they supposedly became nervous for superstitious reasons.
The accuracy of this tale is somewhat questionable, though, since variations on it exist. For instance, a different version has it that McGinnis and his helpers were actually adolescents at the time of their investigations. And yet there are similarities in the different versions, so perhaps there is a ring of truth to them.
In 1802 the agents of a venture known as the Onslow Company apparently landed on Oak Island in order to search for treasure. The group carried on with the work that had been abandoned by McGinnis, and they eventually made some additional discoveries. For instance, they happened upon a stone that bore carved shapes, and they also found coconut fibers and charcoal.
The workers this time, however, eventually ran into real trouble – rather than just a bad case of the creeps. You see, the pit in which the group were working flooded. And although the excavators tried to save their efforts by carving out a second hole in the earth, this too became flooded with water, and the team were forced to give up.
In 1849 the Truro Company was established and set to work on Oak Island. Workers for the company started digging through the same pit as the previous treasure hunters had excavated. Again, it flooded – and yet the Truro Company persevered and eventually came across more wooden platforms in the ground. But this group were not done yet.
The Truro Company also started to focus on a nearby coastal inlet called Smith’s Cove. Here, the group found a tunnel network seemingly designed to deal with flooding. The workers failed to close off this flood network, though, and so they started to dig another pit at almost 120 feet beneath the existing one.
This new shaft, however, was a mistake. As the operatives got to work on it, the strength of the existing tunnel was undermined, and it soon gave way. This collapse led to further flooding. So it was that the Truro Company eventually lost all of its money, and it was disbanded in 1851.
No significant excavations took place on Oak Island over the next decade or so. But in 1861 an organization known as the Oak Island Association got involved. These people started work on a number of additional tunnels – yet things would soon take a turn for the worse. During the works, a pump engine boiler burst, killing one of the workers.
Works, however, persisted, and in 1862 another tunnel was dug. Yet as with previous efforts, the excavations were disrupted by flooding. And although the Oak Island Association persisted for a couple of years, it was to no real avail. Eventually, then, the original tunnel was designated as dangerous, and the company eventually gave up.
Additional efforts to find the Oak Island treasure were made by other groups, but nothing significant was found. In 1896, however, a new team arrived, and these people were more successful in their search. Apparently, they found a small piece of parchment bearing some letters. And yet further tragedy awaited in 1897, as one worker suffered a fatal fall .
Then a few decades later, in 1931, a man named William Chappell excavated the Oak Island pit further. Throughout the course of this work, a number of things were uncovered. A fluke anchor, an axe and a pick were among the discoveries made at this time. However, not much information could be extrapolated from these finds – some of which were surely remnants from previous excavations.
In 1959 a number of new treasure hunters subsequently arrived on Oak Island. And six years later, the group attempted to seal what they believed to be a storm drain. However, two members of the team were overcome by toxic fumes and passed out. Attempts were made to rescue the men, but they failed. All in all, four people lost their lives.
Not long after, in 1965, Reader’s Digest published a piece about Oak Island. And this, of course, is what first led the young Rick Lagina to take an interest in the place. However, at 11 years old, Rick was still a long way off from exploring it himself. In the meantime, anyway, more excavations took place – and ran into yet more difficulties.
By 2006, though, Rick and his brother Marty Lagina were grown up and ready to get to work on Oak Island themselves. The pair invested in the company that owns the island, Oak Island Tours Inc., thus providing them with access to the area. So now, after decades of interest, the brothers could finally fulfill their treasure-hunting dreams.
After a number of years of work, the Lagina brothers entered into talks with a TV production company. And by the end of these discussions, a new reality show following their treasure-hunting exploits had been planned. The Curse of Oak Island was first broadcast in January 2014.
During filming for the first season of the show, the brothers discovered a Spanish coin from the mid-17th century. This, it seemed, was a good start. That same year, they also came across coconut fibers that must have been imported from overseas. This was a tantalizing find, too, implying as it did that people from far afield had once explored Oak Island.
Speaking to Detroit News in November 2014, Rick Lagina reflected on the work that he and his brother had already done. “We’ve made some progress and found some interesting things,” he said. “But Oak Island is rather stubborn in giving up information. So have we completely solved it? No. Have we made some headway? Yes, we have. So we’re still in it and still committed.”
Nothing of major interest was found for the first couple seasons of The Curse of Oak Island. But during the filming for season three, a sword dating back to Roman times was uncovered buried in the earth. This fascinating discovery may indicate that the Romans once traveled to North America well in advance of Christopher Columbus.
The Lagina brothers also later found a French map that seemingly dated back to the middle of the 17th century. This map, as it turned out, bore a number of words. These were “anchor,” “valve” and “hatch.” And from this, the Laginas extrapolated that the buried treasure may have originated from somewhere in Africa.
The brothers and their team also found part of an outer casing of book – though with the pages themselves missing. This was important, however, because it suggested that other texts might still be buried on Oak Island. These, ultimately, could prove useful in constructing a greater understanding of the island’s past.
Yet it wasn’t until the fifth season of The Curse of Oak Island that a truly immense discovery was unearthed. During filming, the team happened upon a cross made of lead in the ground. This one artifact could ultimately prove earth-shattering. You see, the relic might well have derived from members of the Knights Templar – a Christian military order active during the Crusades.
The suggestion that the Knights Templar were once present on Oak Island was further supported by other finds. A couple of human bones were discovered on the island, and so the experts studied their DNA. The scientists found that one of the bones seemed to come from a person with Middle Eastern roots, which would add credibility to the Knights Templar claim.
A historian named Zena Halpern has expressed her own theory about the cross. She’s suggested that it might be a representation of a female Phoenician deity known as Tanit. And if this were true – and it turned out that the Knights Templar celebrated the Phoenician goddess of health and fertility – history would have to be revised.
However, perhaps the most amazing artifact discovered by the Lagina brothers was a precious rhodolite stone. This pink jewel is so grandiose that it actually provides a boost to one of the more outlandish theories regarding the island. Namely this: perhaps Marie Antoinette really did have some treasure buried there.
Of course, the rhodolite stone wasn’t necessarily once the property of a queen. It may have come from somewhere else entirely. It seems that the precious stone could date back about 500 years, though, so it’s undoubtedly a fascinating find in any case. Hopefully one day we’ll definitely know where it came from.
The treasure hunters have also come across a strange underground structure on Oak Island. There’s evidence to suggest that this construction may actually have been crafted specifically by people. With this in mind, it’s been suggested that it might be a vault containing treasure. But we’ll just have to wait and see if this is really the case.
Yet even if no further treasure is ever found on Oak Island, it’s still certain that the Lagina brothers have profited handsomely from the isle. After all, their TV show has proved extremely popular. And more to the point, the pair own a stake in the island itself – and their show has boosted the number of visitors to the place. The brothers may not have found the treasure – yet – but they have discovered a certain degree of fame and fortune.