It is our human nature to be intrigued by the mysteries we cannot answer. This is none more prominent than through the mysteries created by history. Two brothers, Rick and Marty Lagina, have themselves been captured by such a mystery; the Oak Island treasure. As history has told them, there are great riches to be found on this 140-acres. They are battling against a relentless fight from the island to not give up its secrets, and the brothers are only the latest tale in the long story of the hunt for the Oak Island treasure.
Off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada lies an island that has come to be titled ‘Oak Island’. As the legend goes, the potential of treasure was first discovered by the teenager, Daniel McGinnis in the early 1800s. He was scouting a location for his farm when he noticed an unusual depression in the ground. With the help of two friends, they began digging the site. Alone, they managed to reach a depth of 30ft, in which they discovered a layer of oak logs every 10ft (the accounts of oak logs have since evolved from markings in the ground). McGinnis’ story was told by several newspapers at the time, however, the site itself fell dormant after they were forced to stop digging.
It would be eight years after the initial attempt when the ‘Onslow Company’ would be established for the purpose of excavating the site, which would later become known as the ‘Money Pit’. They continued to excavate the same area as McGinnis, where they reached a depth of approx. 90ft. They found the same oak layers every 10ft until the hole began to flood and the water could not be stopped. However, a discovery was made by Onslow that would become infamous with the island.
They had discovered a stone inscribed with symbols between 80ft and 90ft. Researchers at the time attempted to decipher the symbols, with one concluding that it read, “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.”
A letter was received by the Halifax Sun and Advisor, from J.B. McCully, which told of the discovery,
Some [layers] were charcoal, some putty, and one at 80 feet was a stone cut square, two feet long and about a foot thick, with several characters cut on it.
The location of the stone after its discovery had since become a mystery. An 1860’s newspaper article reported that the stone had been built into the ‘chimney of an old house near the pit.’ The legend would continue, with various locations being further reported. The location of being inside a chimney would become synonymous with the stone. Charles B Driscoll’s, The Oak Island Treasure, claimed in 1929 that,
The stone was shown to everyone who visited the Island in those days. Smith built the stone into his own fireplace, with the strange characters outermost, so that visitors might see and admire it… A generation later, with the inscription nearly worn away, the stone found its way to a bookstore in Halifax, and what happened to it after that I was unable to learn.
Recent attempts to find the stone have not made any progress, and it remains as much a mystery as when it was first discovered.
After the attempts of Onslow, followed by the Truro company, a shaft was drilled to the side of the Money Pit by the Oak Island Association. It was reported that the original shaft then collapsed and that it may have been booby-trapped to protect it from ever being discovered. During the excavations, the first Oak Island death occurred, with a man being killed by an exploding pump engine. These continued efforts to locate the treasure were put to a halt in 1864 when they ran out of funds. Various other outfits had attempted to solve the mystery over the following years but were only able to add to it.
It wasn’t until the late 1960’s where the infamy behind the Oak Island treasure was truly born. A syndicate was formed by, Daniel (Dan) C. Blankenship, David Tobias, Robert Dunfield, and Fred Nolan. The syndicate continued the exploration of the island. However, only two years after the formation, the syndicate was split after Blankenship and Tobias created ‘Triton Alliance’ and purchased the majority of the island. Triton then dug a 235-foot shaft, separated from the Money Pit, that would be dubbed ‘Borehole 10-X’. Cameras were sent down the borehole, with a discovery of possible chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools being reported. Although, due to the nature of technology at the time, these claims were not able to be verified.
The relentless nature of the island would strike once again, and the shaft collapsed without any further chance of full exploration. Limited funds only allowed the borehole to be re-dug back to a depth of 181ft, where they reached a layer of bedrock. The Triton Alliance then collapsed and a longstanding feud was created on the island.
In 1983, the remaining remnants of Triton Alliance would sue Fred Nolan surrounding the ownership of seven of the island’s lots, and the difficulty that it caused with access. The dispute was settled two years later, with the confirmation of Nolan’s ownership, but having to pay damages to Triton for interfering in the tourist business that they had started. However, the saga was not over, with Nolan later successfully appealing the decision, and having the damages he had to pay reduced in 1989.
This would be the start of a long-standing feud between two treasure hunters that would dedicate their lives to solving the mystery, Dan Blankenship and Fred Nolan. Both continuing to be residents of the island, they dedicated their lives to it and faced many hardships along their journies.
The mystery of the island hit its greatest prominence with the investment of two brothers, Rick and Marty Lagina. They purchased 50% of the island from Triton founder, David Tobias. A group from Michigan, led by the brothers, would resume the treasure solving operations, in partnership with Blankenship. After their arrival in 2006, it wouldn’t be until 2010, where they had been successfully granted a ‘treasure-trove’ license, allowing them to resume treasure hunting at full-scale.
In 2014, a reality television show, ‘The Curse of Oak Island’, was created to document the attempts of the Lagina brothers to solve the mystery. They would employ the use of modern technology and independent researchers to help them discover the historical treasures said to be buried. They have continued with the exploration of two infamous sites on the island, the Money Pit and Borehole 10-X. The show is currently in its 5th season, in which they have made great strides to find conclusive evidence for the existence of the treasure.
There are several theories that have been proposed as to the reasons for the initial discoveries on the island and the continued investigations.
The first of these theories is that it is simply a natural occurrence, through a sinkhole, as proposed by Joe Nickell (American paranormal investigator). His article in, Skeptical Inquirer (Volume 24.2), concluded that,
The ‘Money Pit’ and ‘pirate tunnels’ are nothing of the sort but are instead natural formations… Although it is difficult to know at this juncture whether the Masonic elements (stone) were opportunistically added to an existing treasure quest or whether the entire affair was a Masonic creation from the outset…
The theory, which was first initially claimed in 1911, is backed up by the occurrence of similar sinkholes and underground caves occurring naturally on the mainland nearby.
Another theory is that it was a trove created to store the treasure of Captain Kidd. Kidd, conspiring with fellow swashbuckler, Edward Teach, reportedly used Oak Island as their ‘community bank’. Another explanation for the treasure trove was that Spanish sailors had buried the treasures of a sunken galleon on the island. There are several more explanations as to the reason for the treasure trove, however, they lack sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable conclusion as to the mystery of the island.
The theories also extend to what is exactly said to be hidden in the bowels of Oak Island. Possible artefacts include Mario Antionette’s lost jewels, manuscripts indicating the identity of William Shakespeare and religious artefacts such as the final location of the Holy Grail and Ark of the Covenant.
Oak Island has been the source of great mystery and intrigue over the hundreds of years that the mystery has existed. From the initial discovery of Daniel McGinnis to the multi-million-dollar efforts of the Lagina brothers, the hunt for the treasure is well and truly alive. It has and will continue to throw up new chicanery to keep those hunting feeling like they are always within arms reach of discovery.
There is a feeling amongst the strong believers of the island that there are riches beyond comprehension hidden. Whether that be the result of a psychological lust, wanting it to be true, or, through evidence and discovery, the hunt will continue onwards.
Make sure to check out The Curse of Oak Island, Tuesday nights at 9/8C on History Channel to stay up with the latest of what the island has to offer.