Almost nothing is as fascinating as a treasure hunt. The trope has been immortalized countless books, TV shows, and movies. How many times has the phrase "X marks the spot" been uttered by a character? But for real-life treasure hunters, brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, this X is exactly what they are trying to find on their History Channel reality show, The Curse of Oak Island. But what is the curse of Oak Island, and why are the Lagina brothers so convinced that there might be treasure buried there?
The legends about Oak Island have spanned hundreds of years, and the search for the treasure supposedly buried there has ensnared everyone from the Lagina brothers to the future 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to The Daily Beast, the island, which is located off the coast of Novia Scotia, has been the subject of numerous treasure hunts, failed investments, and even death, after the discovery of the now infamous "Money Pit" in 1795.
According to the same Daily Beast piece, this so-called Money Pit was first uncovered by a teenager named Daniel McGinnis, who was allegedly lured onto the island after seeing strange lights, and become even more curious about the location after noticing a odd indentation in the earth. Thinking that it might be the sight of buried pirate booty, McGinnis returned with some friends the next day and began digging.
An article published in Reader's Digest in 1965 — which initially sparked the Lagina brother's interest in Oak Island, according to the History Channel— reported that as the boys dug, they discovered that the indentation was really a man-made shaft, reinforced with oak platforms, coconut fibre, and ship's putty. They also uncovered a stone tablet covered in odd inscriptions.
Now convinced that some kind of treasure was buried in the so-called money pit, McGinnis and his drew kept digging. But when they hit around 100 feet, according to The Daily Beast, the area flooded. This baffled the group, since the ocean was 500 feet away from the shoreline. Attempts to dig from another direction also resulted in flooding.
Subsequent treasure hunters struggled to explain this phenomenon, until it was discovered that the pit was protected by an elaborate manmade tunnel system. As Reader's Digest reports:
In effect, the beach acted as a gigantic sponge to soak up tidewater and filter it into a conduit. This conduit dropped 21 meters straight down, later exploration proved, then sloped back to a point deep in the Money Pit-all of it filled with loose rock to prevent erosion. This brilliant baffle was no natural obstacle; it was the work of a genius. As diggers neared the cache at 30 meters, they had unwittingly lessened the pressure of earth that plugged the mouth of the conduit.
This confirmed to the treasure seekers that the pit was seemingly designed to protect something valuable. And bits of uncovered artifacts supported this hypothesis. The Daily Beast reports that:
Later, iron, cement, and clay found deep below ground were all confirmed by labs to be man-made, and a piece of sheepskin parchment was pulled from 155 feet below with two letters: "vi," "ui," or "wi." Small gold chain links were said to be found as well, but they’ve since been lost.
These glimmers of hope led generations of treasure hunters and adventure seekers to flock to the island in the hopes of uncovering whatever is buried in the Money Pit. Even FDR invested in an excavation project on the island helmed by Henry Bowdoin in 1909, according to The Daily Beast, and visited the island himself. Though their project uncovered nothing, President Roosevelt continued to follow the mystery even throughout his time in office. An episode of The Curse of Oak Island featured a letter written by the president about the ongoing hunt for treasure on the island in 1938, of which he said:
I wish much I could have gone up the coast this summer and visited Oak Island and seen the work you are doing—for I shall always be interested in that romantic spot. I hope that you will let me know how you have been getting on with modern methods—ours were, I fear, somewhat antiquated when we were there more than a quarter of a century ago.
And these treasure hunters, whether a United States President or a boy who stumbled upon a strange discovery, have all had grand ideas of what could lie beneath the island's surface. But, again and again, treasure hunters turned up virtually nothing, suffering from the "curse" of Oak Island: those who go there seeking for treasure will be doomed to find nothing, losing investments, and sometimes even their lives, in the process.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested into the excavation of the Money Pit, with no avail. Reader's Digest also recounts a harrowing incident in 1965, in which Oak Island resident and treasure hunter Robert Restall lost consciousness in one of the shafts, and fell to the water below. His son Bobbie Restall, along with Carl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz dove in to save him, but, due possibly to carbon monoxide generated by gasoline water pumps in the shaft, the three men lost consciousness and all four men in the shaft tragically drowned.
But the latest pair hoping to uncover the mystery of Oak Island, Rick and Marty Lagina, refused to be deterred by the "cursed" failure of past excavators. These stars of the History Channel show The Curse of Oak Island purchased a portion of the island, and have been working on uncovering the mystery of the Money Pit since 2014. Beyond the discovery of a Spanish coin in Season 4, the duo have yet to uncover the buried treasure that has sparked the imagination of generations of adventurers. But, with Season 5 about to premiere, the Lagina brothers are far from giving up on their dream of uncovering the mystery of Oak Island.
And, who knows? Maybe they will finally break the so-called curse.