Have Two Brothers Cracked the 220-Year-Old Oak Island Mystery?
1. A Really Good Read
It was 1965 when 11-year old Rick Lagina picked up a copy of “Reader’s Digest” and had his life change forever. He became engrossed in an article about the 220-year-old mystery of Oak Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. There, a treasure was said to be hidden deep underground.
Searches had been ongoing for centuries but nobody had found the spoils — yet. Rick became hooked and learned as much as he could about the treasure. For the rest of his life, he dreamt of one thing: to find the buried treasure on Oak Island.
2. A Treasure Hunt
The year before, 10-year-old Rick had already gone on his first-ever treasure hunt. He was a natural explorer. His first expedition was in his hometown of Kingsford, Michigan. There, he discovered a huge granite rock and became determined to move it and find out what was underneath.
Along with his brother Marty, he recruited eight neighborhood kids to move the rock. They didn’t find much but it was the start of a lifelong thirst to find hidden treasure. The Oak Island Mystery became their passion as time went on. What fascinated the Laginas and so many others about Oak Island?
3. Ominous Discovery
In 1804 the Onslow Company was formed to search Oak Island, after a boy named Daniel McGinnis found a strange circular depression in the ground eight years earlier. The explorers dug into layers of oak logs, charcoal, and putty until they found a stone tablet with a strange inscription.
Several researchers attempted to decipher the symbols on the stone but to no avail. However, in 1866, a language professor from Halifax University interpreted the markings on the stone. His translation discovered an ominous message.
4. Cursed Treasure
The professor interpreted the stone to read: “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” It didn’t elaborate on whether it was gold or coins, and no one could be sure if this was real or just a booby trap.
The strange part about this whole mystery is the curse of Oak Island which says that seven people must die before the island gives up the treasure. To date, there have been six deaths. Is there one more to go before the mysterious riches will be released? The story behind it all is stranger than fiction.
5. Personal Treasures
There are plenty of different theories about how the treasure may have ended up on the island. One theory suggests that Marie Antoinette instructed her maid to flee Paris during the French Revolution. The story goes that she fled to London and then Nova Scotia where she managed to get the French Navy to help build her a pit to hide valuables.
The second theory claims Francis Bacon was the actual author of Shakespeare’s plays and built a pit in order to hide the manuscripts exposing Bacon as the author of the plays. But that’s not all. Even more riches are said to be hidden.
6. Treasure Troves
Another theory says that Captain’s Kidd’s pirate treasure was buried on the island. Folklore suggests that members of Kidd’s crew were seen on the island burying several chests of treasure. The pirate Blackbeard also claimed to have buried a treasure. However, he said it was located “where none but Satan and myself can find it.”
Another theory suggests that Spanish sailors dug a pit on the island to hide treasure from British troops during the American Revolution. There are so many other theories, but the next one seemed to grab the attention of many of the explorers.
7. Religious Artifacts
There are allegedly many Masonic markings on Oak Island which hint that the buried treasure relates to certain initiation rites involving a hidden vault and sacred treasure. This parallels an allegory of the “Secret Vault” in York Rite Freemasonry.
Some also speculate that Francis Bacon led a secret Rosicrucian spiritual movement project on the island and hid secret religious manuscripts and artifacts there. Some of the clues are rumored to be hidden in Shakespeare’s plays, according to researchers like Daniel Ronnstam and Petter Amundsen. The folklore built up for years but only one brave person began to look for it seriously.
8. When It All Began
It was a warm summer day in 1795 when Daniel McGinnis, a teenager at the time, decided to take a stroll around Oak Island, Nova Scotia. He looked down at the ground at one point and spotted a strange circular depression.
When he advanced towards it, he saw a tree and the branches appeared to have been cut away so the tree could be used as a pulley. McGinnis had heard the island’s lore of pirates hiding treasure in the area, so he gathered his friends and began to investigate.
9. An Astonishing Find
McGinnis returned with friends John Smith and Anthony Vaughn to investigate the area further and what they found astonished them. They dug two feet below the surface of the depression and found a layer of flagstone covering the area.
The teenagers carried on digging for about 30 feet where, until they found several layers of oak logs spanning the length of the pit. They couldn’t continue from there, and it would take eight years for them to return along with The Onslow Company. What they found after resuming the search would change everything.
10. A Money Pit
The explorers continued digging from the 30 foot point they had reached almost a decade earlier. Penetrating another 60 feet, the company found more layers of oak logs at approximately 10-foot intervals. Aside from the oak logs, the team at first only found thick layers of charcoal, putty, and coconut fiber.
At 90 feet, the first big clue was found: a stone tablet inscribed with mysterious symbols and writing. But then when they pulled up another layer of logs, water suddenly began to flood the pit. Pumping didn’t work, so a 100-foot pit was dug parallel to the original and from there a tunnel ran over to the “Money Pit”. That one filled up too. Had they stumbled on a booby trap?
11. Booby Trap
The water caused a 45-year delay in the search, but it turns out that whoever built this pit intended for that to happen. The Onslow Company had unintentionally freed a 500-foot waterway designed by the pit’s designers to lead to Smith’s Cove. The water could be pumped out but then the sea would quickly refill it.
The unknown designers of the pit constructed it in a way to keep curious people away from the treasure. In 1847, another team called The Truro Company began a search. After the pit flooded again, it figured that drilling core samples of the pit would be a better idea. This proved to be true and the company found some encouraging clues.
12. First Hints of Treasure
After drilling and drilling, the explorers drilled though two chests filled with coins! One account of this escapade records that with this chest the team brought up three gold links, appearing to be from a chain. These chains went missing and no one knows what happened to them.
The explorers noticed that the earth deep inside the pit was loose so returned in 1850 to dig another parallel hole and tunnel over to the Money Pit, but unfortunately water began to rush in and no amount of pumping would help. It was at this moment that an incredible discovery was made. Read on to find out.
13. An Artificial Beach
When the explorers were pumping the water out of the Money Pit, one of them noticed something at low tide at Smith’s Cove. Lo and behold, there was water coming out of the beach. This meant that the designers of the pit constructed a drain system. A whole system of channels, in the shape of a hand, had been built as a filtering system.
The team thought the answer was to block off the water flow and dig out the treasure by building a dam just off the beach at Smith’s Cove. This plan was destroyed by a storm but, interestingly enough, an older dam was found when building the new one. The next plan was to dig a pit that would meet with the water channel in order to plug the water. The scheme failed too and The Truro Company gave up. This was just the start of many attempts, but things soon started getting peculiar.
14. First Death
The next attempt to uncover the treasure came about in 1861. Yet another team called the Oak Island Association was beguiled by this mystery. The explorers didn’t achieve much and to makes things worse, the bottom of the pit fell out. They also suffered a tragedy.
The team used water pumps as part of its new technological plan to drain the water. One day, the boiler that was powering one of the pumps burst and burnt one of the workers to death. By 1864, funds were exhausted and the company gave up. Soon after his death, rumors began that the ghosts of the pirates were safeguarding their treasure and would claim more innocent souls if the digging continued. The rumors weren’t wrong…
15. Sheepskin Parchment
Just before the turn of the century, an unknown group of people had caught wind of the Oak Island mystery rumors and arrived in search of the hidden treasure. The next major find was lifted from a gap between the thick layers of putty: a cement vault.
The diggers drilled into the vault in which they found a piece of parchment made from sheepskin inscribed with the letters “vi,” “ui,” or “wi.” The meaning of these letters still remains a mystery, but what happened a few days later would devastate the team and cause them to abandon the treasure hunt.
16. Plummeting To Death
Maynard Kaiser was returning to the surface after laboring in one of the many pits that the team dug near the Money Pit. As the team lifted this man to the surface, his rope came loose and unraveled from the pulley.
Once the rope came loose, there was no hope. The worker plummeted into the shaft and fell to his death. Despite all this, there was never a shortage of curious people willing to invest time, money, and even their lives to find the treasure. Still, the most heartbreaking tragedy would occur many decades later.
17. Presidential Diggers
In 1909 a group of explorers called The Old Salvage Group was beguiled by the enchanting mystery of Oak Island. They didn’t make any earth-shattering finds except for a cofferdam from a previous search, dated to 1850.
One of the members of the group was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who eventually became president of the United States in 1933. The team left the island within a year, but Roosevelt continued to keep up with developments on Oak Island for the rest of his life. Soon after, another group had more success and found an important clue.
18. The New Wave
In 1928, a businessman named Gilbert Hedden read a story in a New York newspaper about the strange Oak Island mystery. He operated a steel fabricating firm and became intrigued by the engineering problems involved in recovering the rumored treasure.
He set out with Fred Blair to the island to launch a new investigation in the area. They drilled away some of the shafts and made plans for further drilling, but what he found away from the pit was more interesting.
19. Another Stone Fragment
The first thing Hedden stumbled on was a fragment of stone marked with inscriptions similar to the symbols found on the stone discovered inside the Money Pit in 1804. Next, he found was a few old timbers in Smith’s Cove.
The pieces of timber seemed to be originals from when the pit was first built because they were joined with wooden pins rather than metal ones. This timber were part of a much larger construction as you’ll find out later.
20. The Mystery Deepens
The next treasure hunter arrived on the scene in 1938. Erwin Hamilton did some exploratory drilling, but it was in 1939 that he made two discoveries. In the Money Pit, down 190 feet, he found rocks and gravel. According to him, they were foreign and said that someone placed them there on purpose.
The second discovery he made came after he cleared out the shaft 176 feet down. Hamilton drilled into a layer of natural limestone which brought up some oak splinters, which meant there was wood below this layer of limestone. It seemed like most of these discoveries just deepened the mystery, even in the face of tragedy.
21. Tragedy Strikes Again
Robert Restall arrived on Oak Island with his 18-year-old son in 1959 on a mission to finally crack this mystery that had commenced 165 years earlier. He made a discovery when he tried to stop the drain system on Smith’s Cove. Restall found a rock with “1704” engraved on it. Many suspect it was a prank places there by previous explorers, but he believed it was from the time of the original construction of the pit.
Restall moved his whole family to Oak Island and invested in living a simple farm life in order to keep exploring, but suddenly his dream was crushed in August, 1965. When he looked down a shaft he was working on, he inhaled carbon monoxide emanating from a gasoline engine. This caused him to fall unconscious into the watery bottom of the pit. Now, yet another victim was claimed by the curse of Oak Island, but the tragedy didn’t end there.
22. The Kiss of Death
Restall’s son, Robert Jr., witnessed his father’s fall and rushed to save him, only to fall victim to the same poisonous fumes of the engine. He, too, fell unconscious into the shaft and drowned. Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz, two workers at the scene, also went down the shaft in an attempt to save the father and son, but they perished from the same cause.
This meant that six people had died while searching for this hidden treasure that might not even exist. But exploration continued on, even though legend has it that one more person has to die in order for the land to give up the treasure. Continue reading to find out what searchers found next.
23. Heavy Machinery
That same year, a man named Robert Dunfield took on Oak Island with bulldozers and cranes. He reached 140 feet down the pit to the thick layer of limestone which seemed to cover a large space underground. This information matched a previous dig performed in 1955.
Daniel C. Blankenship also began his search in 1965. He uncovered a hand-wrought nail and a washer at 60 feet. Even more interesting were the wrought-iron scissors he discovered below the drains at Smith’s Cove. The scissors dated back 300 years and were Spanish-American, probably made in Mexico. Another item that popped up was a heart-shaped stone. New technologies would soon come into play for this search.
24. Triton Alliance
In the 1970s, Dunfield joined forces with Blankenship, as well as two others named David Tobias and Fred Nolan. They called themselves the Triton Alliance. The team excavated a 235-foot shaft called the Borehole 10-X, made up of caisson and bedrock.
They launched an initiative to build a new cofferdam and discovered the remains of what seemed to be the original cofferdam of the pit. With new technology available, something fascinating happened when cameras were lowered down the shaft into the cave below the limestone.
25. Lights, Camera, Action!
The team started digging down the Borehole 10-X and found artificial cavities. Blakenship and Tobias claimed that the cameras lowered down the shaft captured images of some treasure chests, wooden cribbing, tools, and a severed human hand and then body, however, the images came out unclear and none of the claims could be confirmed.
The Triton Alliance also found several logs with Roman numeral carvings marking them in equal intervals with wooden pins and nails. The team carbon dated the wood to 250 years back. But that wasn’t all; even more discoveries were begging to be unearthed.
26. Island Trinkets
On the Western part of Oak Island were several items. The team found wrought iron nails, metal straps, two wooden structures, and a pair of leather shoes nine feet below the ground.
All these pieces made up some larger picture, and it was clear that they related to one another somehow. Things just kept getting more interesting for the Triton Alliance and the team seemed so close to cracking the case.
27. Diving Down the Shaft
After the team probed the images of the shaft, they sent divers down the Borehole 10-X, but nothing was found. The strong current of the water created poor visibility and it was impossible to see anything.
Soon after, the shaft collapsed and the excavation was abandoned. The Triton Alliance successfully dug up the shaft again but then ran out of funds. The Alliance collapsed, but their story had been covered all along in “Reader’s Digest,” including the very article that infatuated Rick Lagina.
28. TV Shows and Law Suits
More than a decade after the Triton Alliance abandoned the treasure hunt, the Money Pit mystery became the subject of an episode on the TV show “In Search Of…” that aired on January 18, 1979. This is when the mystery reached an even wider audience.
In 1983, the Triton Alliance sued one of its members Fred Nolan over the ownership rights on seven lots on Oak Island. His ownership was confirmed, but Nolan had to pay damages because it interfered with Triton’s tourist business. The Alliance appealed the case in 1989 but lost again and the amount owed by Nolan was reduced. Further exploration was stalled for the rest of the ’90s until 2005, when the Lagina brothers came into the picture.
29. Lagina Brothers Reach Oak Island
In 2005, a portion of the Oak Island was up for sale for an estimated amount of $7 million. A group known as the Oak Island Tourism Society wanted the Government of Canada to make the purchase, but a group of American businessmen in the drilling industry jumped at the opportunity instead.
The Lagina brothers from Michigan still had the itch to conduct treasure hunts at the age of 50 years old and therefore purchased a 50% stake in Oak Island Tours Inc. for an undisclosed amount of money. They went to work and soon made some big discoveries!
30. Searching in the 21st Century
Rick and Marty Lagina embarked on Oak Island obsessed with finally solving centuries of mystery. They discovered that the Borehole 10-X contained even more secrets than other explorers previously thought and they had new technology on their side to help.
The modern innovations could be used to scour the entire island for any hidden clues. It would also prove easier to deal with the water filling up the Money Pit. However, technology wasn’t the only thing the Lagina brothers had on their side.
31. “The Curse of Oak Island”
In 2014, the story of the Lagina brothers gained national attention when they became the subject of a TV show on the History Channel. It was called “The Curse of Oak Island” and focused on the brothers’ searches.
Not only did this give them the opportunity for more capital with which to carry out exploration and research, it brought more credibility to the case. It is clear that there are things to be found on the island, but would the brothers now be able to find them?
32. Work Experience
From the moment the brothers set foot on the island they understood the importance of seeking help in order to succeed in this age-old treasure hunt. For one, Marty is familiar with digging deep wells and has many friends in the industry with the know-how and machinery to help.
In 1982, Marty established Terra Energy, which became the biggest operator of gas wells in Michigan. In 1995, he sold the business and opened Heritage Winds Energy, a renewable energy provider. This background in digging would allow the brothers to make major gains in the mystery.
33. The Dreamer
Rick was more of a dreamer and envisioned this mission from the moment he heard about it as a child. A former U.S. Postal Service worker, Rick was the one who pushed to buy into Oak Island Tours and brought his brother along for the ride.
Marty says that he has doubts about what they’re actually doing on the island because he is the more practical one of the two brothers. “Rick is the believer and he’s not going quit until it’s resolved,” Marty emphasized.
34. Their First Find
At the end of Season 1, the brothers dug a shallow muddy swamp with sonar technology and found a 17th century copper coin along with other manmade objects. The coin was an antique Spanish coin and was proof that people must have visited the island centuries before to search for the Money Pit.
While they were on the island many people approached them. One of them showed the Lagina’s possible evidence that treasures from King Solomon’s Temple might be buried there. Another visitor came to the island suggesting that he found a secret method of getting the treasure relating to Francis Bacon. There are so many theories about the hidden treasure; which one could the brothers believe?
35. Lagina’s Loot
During the third season of “The Curse of Oak Island,” the brothers brought in more experts to help them interpret some sonar readings. They also needed expert knowledge to drain the shaft that Daniel Blakenship dug next to the Money Pit: the Borehole 10-X.
This is when they made significant discoveries. In season one they found small bones in the Borehole, but in season three they found a stone with Portuguese carvings, as well as information that Aztecs might have visited the island, a Roman sword, and several other items that related to even more theories. Relatives of the original treasure hunters brought the brothers a gold cross, claiming it came from the treasure.
36. More Clues
In season four, the brothers were presented with a copy of a French map of Oak Island dating back to 1347. The map revealed the location of a hatch, valve, and anchor; this raised questions about weather the hidden treasure may have come from Africa.
Many more items were found that relate to a series of unconnected theories. By the end of the season, the brothers found scrap metal, several hex nuts, a washer, and a button. The brothers aren’t giving up and a have a lot to say about the hunt for clues.
37. “Life’s a Treasure Hunt”
Rick Lagina believes it’s quite simple: “There’s a story to be written up here. 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.”
Rick is passionate about the search and he stated: “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. But really, life is about reaching your goals and that’s what we always try and do.”
38. The Importance of Listening
Charles Barkhouse, an Oak Island historian and tour guide, said: “If anyone is going to solve this centuries-old mystery, it’s going to be the Laginas. While they have the same drive, dedication and, perhaps, stubbornness as their treasure-hunting predecessors, they also something that other searchers didn’t have: a willingness to listen.”
Barkhouse went on to say that many of the previous explorers wanted full rein over the entire project. “The Laginas, however, regularly bring people to the island – engineering professionals, technology experts, historians – to help them,” he stated.
39. A Powerful Obsession
Historian Charles Barkhouse expressed his belief that the island is like an enchantress with strong hold on people. He stated: “Putting one’s life at risk to find something that may or may not be buried is extreme. The mystery of Oak Island, though, is that powerful.”
The hunt for the treasure has become an obsession many. David Blakenship, for example, still lives on the island, helping out with the search. He moved to the island from his home in Florida almost 50 years ago and never returned home. “No one knows what’s buried here, who buried it or even where it’s buried,” Barkhouse says. “That’s what excites people — the possibilities.”
40. A Wild Goose Chase
People certainly enjoy the thrill of treasure hunting and the Lagina brothers will not give up until the end of their days. Charles Barkhouse believes there is one reason why people keep chasing the mystery. “It’s the simple belief that there’s something here,” he said.
The brothers believe there is more to the hunt than just the riches, but obviously they want to be the ones to crack the Oak Island mystery. So now we all have to wait and see what happens and hope that the island doesn’t claim a seventh life.
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