Has the 220-year-old Oak Island mystery been cracked by these two brothers?

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While a hidden treasure chest may seem like something out of your favorite pirate movie, it isn’t as unrealistic as you might think. There are allegedly thousands of hidden treasure spots around the world. The Oak Island mystery is one of the most well-sought after treasure locations of all time. The island, located in Nova Scotia, Canada, has been capturing the interest of explorers from all over the world for 220 years. Many choose to risk their lives on the island, in hopes of finding its hidden treasure. Hundreds of years later, even the bravest and most talented explorers have yet to locate the treasure.


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Sadly, many of those brave explorers’ journey to seek out the treasure has ended in several tragedies including loss of lives, money, family members and even their own peace of mind. The obsession with finding the island’s treasure has caused even the most sensible people to become entirely crazy. There is even one theory that says a total of seven deaths have to take place until the island will let anyone find its treasure.

The threatening rumor did not stop the Lagina brothers from exploring the island themselves, convinced that they will be the ones to crack the mystery and finally find the hidden treasure. Rick Lagina has been obsessing over the treasure island since 1956 when he was only 11 years old, after he read an article about the ancient island in a copy of Reader’s Digest. Today Rick and his brother Marty have dedicated their lives towards finding it. Day by day, with the help of engineering professionals, tech experts and historians, they make more and more discoveries helping them get closer to the treasure. Let’s just hope the island doesn’t decide to take a seventh life.

Just how close are the Lagina brothers to cracking the case? Read on to discover the mystery for yourself.

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A unique fascination

Rick was just 11-years-old when he picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest in 1965. Little did he know, at the moment, his life was about to change forever. In this Reader’s Digest issue was an article on a hidden treasure, said to be buried in a secret location in Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Many people had tried (and failed) to uncover the treasure, which fascinated Rick. From that moment on he would become obsessed by the Oak Island mystery.

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A natural explorer

Becoming obsessed with the Oak Island treasure wasn’t totally out of character for the young Rick Lagina. The boy had already been on a treasure hunt the year previously, in his hometown of Kingsford. While exploring, he found a large granite rock and was desperate to find out what was underneath. Enlisting the help of his brother, Marty, and some kids from the neighborhood, Rick moved the rock… Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything of value underneath, but this quest had started something.

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A strange discovery

The Oak Island mystery goes back all the way to 1796 when a young boy found an out of place circular depression in the ground. This discovery led to the Onslow Company being formed to search the area and see what they could find, eight years later in 1804. The explorers dug their way into the ground until they hit something solid. It was a stone tablet with a bizarre inscription on it. Researchers put their heart and soul into working out the transcription, but it wasn’t until 1886 that it was translated by a professor from Halifax University. The stone came with a shocking message…

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The treasure’s curse

The inscription on the tablet was translated as, “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried.” No one was sure whether it was real, a trap, or even what the two million pounds would consist of (gold, coins, something else entirely?). However, the mystery doesn’t stop there. According to legend, seven people must die before Oak Island will give up its treasure. So far, six people have died, so is there just one left before the treasure is revealed?

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Treasured theories

As with anything like this, there are plenty of theories as to where the treasure actually comes from. Some people believe that Francis Bacon actually wrote William Shakespeare’s work and that he built a pit to hide both his work and his earnings. Another theory says the treasure is to do with Marie Antoinette! This theory says that during the French revolution her maid was instructed to flee and ended up in Nova Scotia, where she enlisted the French Navy to help her build a pit and hide Marie’s valuables.

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Pirates and sailors

Of course, the theories don’t stop there. Some theories say that Captain Kidd buried parts of his treasure on the island, whereas others say that it was Captain Blackbeard who said himself that he had buried something “where none but Satan and myself can find it.” Then there is the theory that Spanish sailors hid the treasure. So many theories and so little evidence, but the next theory is the most intriguing of them all.

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Sacred treasure

One of the most interesting theories correlates with the alleged Masonic markings which can be found all across Oak Island. According to the “Secret Vault” in York Rite Freemasonry, there is a story which also hints at a sacred treasure on the island. There are some that tie this theory in with the Francis Bacon hypothesis, saying that he was leading a Rosicrucian project on the island and many of his religious artifacts are there. It’s believed, by researchers such as Petter Amundsen and Daniel Ronnstam, that clues of this are hidden in Shakespeare’s (or is that Bacon’s?) plays.

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Right at the beginning

Let’s travel back in time to 1795, once again, to meet the young boy who made the first discovery. Daniel McGinnis was strolling around Oak Island one day, taking in the sights, when he discovered the odd circular depression. As he got closer, he noticed a tree with branches cut away; almost like they’d been removed so that the tree could be used as a pulley. Like most boys his age, he had heard the pirate and treasure folklore over the years, so he decided to investigate with his friends.

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Digging deep

Daniel McGinnis gathered his friends, Anthony Vaughn and John Smith, to try and work out what this strange space was hiding. The three boys started digging but only got about two feet down before they hit flagstone. After removing that, they then kept on digging for what was thought to be another 30 feet down! This is when they hit layers upon layers of oak logs in the way, they couldn’t get any further. They had to wait another eight years before they’d be able to carry on their search.

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Even deeper

When the Onslow Company arrived, nearly ten years later, they started to dig from the same point the boys had reached all those years ago. For the next 60-feet, they found more oak logs around every 10 feet. Along with the logs, they found putty, charcoal and coconut fiber in thick layers. As they carried on digging, they came across the stone tablet. However, as they pulled up another layer of log water began to flood into the pit. Was this a booby trap? The only way to stop it from flooding was to create a tunnel to funnel the water out.

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A big delay

With the water pouring in, there was nothing the Onslow Company could do to further their search. And it certainly seemed as though that was the end goal! The pit had been built with a 500-foot waterway that led to Smith’s Cove, meaning the water could pour in freely from the sea. As soon as someone tried to empty it, it would refill again. This issue caused a whopping 45-year delay in the search for the hidden treasure. In 1847, a new group of explorers called The Truro Company tried their luck.

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The first sign of treasure

The explorers discovered a way to drill samples of the pit, to stop it from filling with water. As they were drilling away one day, they hit the jackpot. They had drilled through not one, but two chests filled with coins. One account of what happened that day also says that three gold links from a chain were also found. However, those gold links appeared to go missing and nobody seems to know what happened to them.

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Deeper still

The explorers noticed that the ‘Money Pit’ as it was now known, was even deeper. They knew that the only way to keep going was to try and drain the water again. However, as they did that, someone noticed something very odd. There was water coming out of the beach… It could only be noticed at low tide, which led to an even more exciting discovery. The whole beach was artificial! The team thought they’d build a dam to block the water flow and dig out the treasure after that. Except someone had already tried that, as an older dam was discovered. Shortly after, a storm destroyed their efforts. The Truro Company gave up.

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Tragedy strikes

In 1861, a team called the Oak Island Association thought they would have another go at trying to solve this mystery. They managed to clear the Money Pit down to around 88 feet and tried to create a new shaft to try and stop the flow of water. This one was abandoned, and they tried another location and another shaft. However, tragedy struck when the whole bottom of the pit dropped around 15 feet. Soon after, they suffered their first loss when a pump burst and killed one of their workers. Rumors that ghost pirates were safeguarding the treasure suddenly didn’t seem so silly…

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More tragedy

Just before the turn of the century, another group of explorers would start investigating the Money Pit and Oak Island’s mysteries. They managed to find a sheepskin parchment with letters on it (although they couldn’t make out what it said) before tragedy struck again. Maynard Kaiser, one of the workers on the team, was being lifted to the surface when his rope came loose. It unraveled from the pulley and Kaiser fell down the shaft, plummeting to his death.

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Presidential involvement

A group of explorers called The Old Salvage Group arrived to the island in 1909. They, like the others who came before them, were beguiled by the fascinating mystery of Oak Island. Unfortunately, the group didn’t make much leeway. However, one of the members of the group was none other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt who later became the president of the United States in 1933. While they group gave up after a year, Roosevelt continued keeping up with the developments on the treasure island for the rest of his life.

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From the big apple

In 1928, Gilbert Hedden, a New York businessman, read a story in a newspaper about the bizarre mystery following the island. He was the operator of a steel fabricating firm, and he was intrigued by the engineering problems that had occurred while explorers attempted to locate the treasure. He immediately set out to the island with his partner Fred Blair. The pair drilled some of the shafts and planned for more drilling, until they discovered something more interesting.

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New discoveries

The first thing Hedden and Blair discovered was a piece of stone with markings similar to the 1804 stone that was found in the Money Pit. Later, he discovered some old timbers in Smith’s Cove. The pieces of timber appeared as the originals used when the pit was first built. They knew it was original timber because they were held together with wooden pins instead of metal ones.

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Strange layer

In 1938 the next treasure hunter arrived on the island. Erwin Hamilton began drilling until 1939 when he came across two amazing discoveries. Down in the Money Pit, about 190 feet, he discovered some rocks and gravel. He believed that they were foreign and placed down there on purpose. The second discovery he found was a layer of natural limestone, which had some oak splinters- this meant that there was wood below the limestone layer.

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Robert Restall

Many people attempted to explore the Oak Island over the years, but the next significant person in our story was Robert Restall. In 1959 he arrived on the island in hopes that he’d crack the mystery and did, in fact, find a stone with 1704 engraved on it, but something tragic happened. After moving his entire family onto Oak Island, so he could continue to explore, he inhaled carbon monoxide from a gas engine. He fell down the pit, unconscious, but couldn’t be rescued. He wasn’t the final tragedy of the island, however…

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Even more deaths

When Robert Restall Jr. saw what had happened to his father, he tried to rush to the rescue. However, he also inhaled the same fumes and fell to his death. Two workers who had seen what had happened attempted to climb down the shaft and rescue the drowning Restall men, but tragedy struck a third and fourth time. The two men, Karl Graeser and Cyril Hiltz, also inhaled the toxic fumes, fell in and drowned. The Money Pit had claimed a total of 6 lives now…

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Strange findings

In the same year as the Restall deaths, Robert Dunfield came to take over the island with his bulldozers and cranes. He reached about 140 feet down into the pit to the thick limestone layer which was discovered previously. Daniel C. Blankenship also began to dig in 1965. He was able to uncover a hand-wrought nail and a washer at 60 feet deep. They also found a stone shaped as a heart.

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A clear picture

A new group, called the Triton Alliance, was created in the late 1960s in the hope that they could use heavy machinery to continue the search. While they did find a few artifacts, including 300-year old wrought-iron scissors, none of their diggers made much of an impact. In 1976, they decided to dig Borehole 10-X, a steel tube sunk into the ground. They used this to lower a camera into the ground and found some pretty incredible things.

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Shocking findings

As they lowered a camera down into the cavity, they made some truly shocking discoveries. There were various tools floating around, along with a pair of leather shoes, but that’s not all. They also found a severed hand, just floating in the water. Then they found three chests, probably a bit like treasure chests we would think! Finally, a human body was found floating in the water. Was it someone who’d fallen prey to the Money Pit or perhaps a ghost pirate?

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An end to the search

After the team gathered images from deep below the shaft, they sent divers down in hopes to discover more. However, nothing was found. The water current was so strong that it caused a poor visibility, making it impossible for the divers to see anything at all. Not too long after, the shaft fell apart and they were forced to abandon their excavation. The Triton Alliance tried to dig up the shaft again to continue with their search, but eventually ran out of funds.

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On TV

A decade had passed since the Triton Alliance officially ended their hunt for hidden treasure, but the mysterious island was just starting to get public recognition. Oak Island became the subject of a 1979 TV show called “In Search Of…” this single episode made Oak’s mystery a lot more well-known by reaching a much wider audience. Suddenly, people of all different ages and from all over the world were intrigued by the strange story and rumored treasure.

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Battle over ownership

A few years later in 1983, the Triton Alliance sued Fred Nolan, one of their very own members, over the rights on seven of the island’s lots. Nolan owed for damages that interfered with Triton’s tourist business. The Triton Alliance had the case appealed in 1989 but lost a second time, the amount Nolan owed was then reduced. From 1990 until 2005, Oak Island was pretty much silent. That is, until the Lagina brothers entered the picture.

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Enter the Lagina brothers

The entire Triton Alliance journey had been featured in a Reader’s Digest article in 1965… The same article that Rick Lagina had read when he was just 11. When a section of Oak Island went up for sale at an estimated $7 million, the Lagina brothers saw their chance. In 2005 they invested in a fifty percent stake in the company Oak Island Tours Inc., proving that they still had the treasure hunter itch as 50-years-old. They quickly got to work on the now practically abandoned site.

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The technology era

With new technology on their side, the Lagina brothers were keen to get started on their Oak Island exploration straight away. Modern technology meant that the men could search previously unexplored parts of the island and also tackle the issue of the never-ending flooding of the Money Pit, which much more ease. Little did they know, however, that they’d uncover far more secrets than they expected to find. And, it wasn’t just technology that the Lagina brothers had on their side either.

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The Curse of Oak Island

The History Channel were keen to cover the brothers’ exploration attempts and commissioned a TV show called ‘The Curse of Oak Island.’ Not only would this bring their search to a wider audience, but it would provide more capital for the men to continue working on this mystery. The TV show also gave the entire search more credibility, meaning that more and more people wanted to know the answer. Could the Lagina brothers be the one to crack it?

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Impressive background

The Lagina brothers did not come unprepared or without connections. Marty already had experience working with gas wells and digging, and he taught his brother everything he knew. From his job at the gas wells, he was able to meet and make a lot of valuable connections. This is what separated the Laginas from the other explorers, they were willing and ready to ask for help by professionals.

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Finds and theories

One of the first things the Lagina brothers did for the History Channel show was to dig a swamp that they could explore further. It was here that they discovered their first piece of treasure – a 17th Century Spanish copper coin. It was proof that people had visited this island centuries before. Whether they were creating the treasure pit or searching for it, no one knows. People start to come to the men with their own theories on what the Oak Island mystery was, including alleged evidence that the treasure was from King Solomon’s Temple.

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Even more loot

It wasn’t until the third season of their show, however, that the Lagina brothers started to make some seriously significant discoveries. Bringing in experts that could help them with sonar readings and to drain the Borehole 10-X, the two men finally found some interesting things. After finding just bones and a coin in the first season, now they were looking at Portuguese carvings, a Roman sword, and even evidence that the Aztecs had visited the island in the past. Things were starting to get interesting.

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Life’s like a good treasure hunt

Rick Lagina likes to think of their treasure hunt as an exhilarating novel. “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.” The Lagina brother also compares the search to life in general, “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.”

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A marvelous map

By season four, things were really starting to take off. The brothers were given a map, dating back to 1647. The map of Oak Island was French and had some pretty interesting information on it… It labeled an anchor, a hatch, and a valve. All things that could help the brothers explore Oak Island even further. It also hinted that the treasure, if it was indeed treasure, may have come all the way from Africa. Could this map help solve the mystery, after all? Only time will now tell, as the brothers continue their exploration using their newfound knowledge.

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A Titanic connection

The Oak Island Mystery has a little bit of the Titanic disaster built into the story. A man by the name of Vincent Astor decided to contribute a whole lot of money to the excavation of Oak Island. He was convinced that there was treasure to be found there (including, perhaps, the ark of the covenant), and wanted a piece of the action. Astor got his money from his father, John Jacob Astor IV, who died when the Titanic sank.

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French?

Of the many theories as to what is buried on the island, one of the most likely are that it is French. One theory says Marie Antoinette instructed one of her servants to smuggle the French crown jewels out of the country, and that the servant made it all the way to Nova Scotia. It could also be the site where French soldiers hid loot from the nearby Louisbourg fort which was captured by the British in the Seven Years War.

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Out of Africa

A man named Barry Fell – a Harvard zoologist by trade – was an amature archaeologist who argued extensively that there was a lot of commerce and contact between the Native American tribes and the people of the Old World well before the Vikings “discovered” the Americas. He uses a stone with intricate carvings on it as an example. Fell argued that the carvings were ancient Coptic carvings from Christians in North Africa who visited the island.

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Oak Island saves homes

A fan of the History Channel show The Curse of Oak Island saw something which likely saved his home. As Hurricane Harvey was barrelling towards Houston, one Texas man recalled seeing the excavators use something called an Aqua Dam to keep water out of the shafts they were digging. The man bought the dam – basically an inner tube filled with water – and his house was the only one on the block which survived the flooding when Harvey hit Houston.

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Just a bunch of tar

There is a very boring, benign theory as to what the giant pits could possibly be on Oak Island. One woman, Joy Steele, believes that she knows what these pits were actually used for. She claims that the pits were nothing more than giant vats of tar used by the British Navy when constructing and maintaining their ships. She points out various sites in North Carolina which look exactly the same and were known tar storage pits. In fact, that is why North Carolinians are called Tar Heels.

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