Since 2014, fans of the HISTORY series The Curse of Oak Island have been watching Michigan brothers Rick and Marty Lagina pursue one of the Western hemisphere’s most intriguing mysteries. Following in a long line of treasure-hunting hopefuls, including President Franklin Roosevelt, the brothers have been trying to extract a hidden trove believed buried more than 200 years ago on this tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia—a tantalizing cache rumored to be everything from pirate booty to the Holy Grail to the Ark of the Covenant.
Of all the Oak Island spots where the brothers excavate, they pay special attention to one known as the “Money Pit.” Through the centuries, it has yielded tantalizing relics, a mysterious inscribed stone—and numerous obstacles.
So What Exactly is the ‘Money Pit’?
Located on the east side of Oak Island, the Money Pit is—or was—a shaft more than 100 feet deep. According to island lore, it first drew the attention of a local teenager in 1795, who noticed an indentation in the ground and, with some friends, started to dig—only to find a man-made shaft featuring wooden platforms every 10 feet down to the 90-foot level of depth. The Laginas reference the story in Season 1’s first episode (“What Lies Below”), when they speak of “teenagers” finding evidence of the treasure “200 years ago.”
Problem is, the shaft’s exact location has been obscured after a haphazard expedition in the 1960s caused clay, seawater, mud and other detritus to collapse multiple holes dug around the original Money Pit. These days, the Lagina brothers excavate in spots they hope are at least near the original pit, along with other locations around the island.
And, like many treasure hunters before them, Rick and Marty have found their efforts stymied by apparent booby traps: tunnels dug into the ground at various depths designed to flood the shaft with water and prevent seekers from digging any further. According to The Oak Island Encyclopedia, for example, a 500 foot-long tunnel from nearby Smith’s Cove ensures that as soon as the water is pumped out of the hold, it fills back up again.
So Why All the Fuss About This So-Called Treasure?
Depending on who you ask, the island’s treasure could be connected to, among others, the notorious 17th-century Scottish pirate Captain Kidd, English playwright William Shakespeare or the Knights Templar, a medieval order of holy warriors who amassed huge wealth and power and were believed to have hidden the famed Holy Grail.
In Season 4, Episode 7 (“All That Glitters”), Rick and Marty consulted with author Randall Sullivan, who believes the treasure comes from Captain Kidd’s final pirate raid, on a Spanish galleon. And in Season 1, Episode 4 (“The Secret of Solomon’s Temple”), the brothers met with a Freemason named Petter Amundesen, who believes secret codes were placed in the works of William Shakespeare—not necessarily by the author himself—pointing to Knights Templar treasure buried on the island.
Whatever the treasure’s origin, the story of how it came to the island, and was concealed there, remains shrouded in secrecy. In the centuries since, it’s been hard to separate fact from myth, since most of the island’s treasure-hunting “history” has been perpetuated largely through hearsay and speculation—not to mention the likelihood of treasure seekers spreading disinformation to throw others off the scent.
What’s Been Found in the Money Pit So Far?
Numerous treasure hunters believe they drilled into a large vault in the Money Pit more than 100 feet deep. So far, most of what’s been excavated from in and around the pit carries more historical than monetary value. Some items offer tantalizing clues of treasure still unfound—while others flag new mysteries.
What to make, for instance, of the coconut fibers from non-indigenous coconuts the Lagina brothers found in Season 1, Episode 2 (“The Mystery of Smith’s Cove”)? Were they used somehow in efforts to booby-trap the Pit?
While most of the brothers’ finds have come from elsewhere on the island, one of their most exciting discoveries came at Smith’s Cove: a lead cross, with a loop at one end, believed to have been used by the Knights Templar. It was found in Season 5, Episode 10 (“The Signs of a Cross”).
Before the Laginas, previous treasure seekers have found a fascinating variety of things within the pit’s depths, including old china, a mysterious piece of parchment paper and traces of gold on the end of drill bits. They’ve also pulled up items possibly associated with efforts to booby-trap the pit, such as stones, pieces of wood and mounds of coconut fiber. Similarly, evidence exists of attempts to stymie the flow of water, likely placed by earlier treasure seekers.
The most exciting items dug up from the pit include several coins, some dating to the 16th century; some gold links; and, in a find that has been confounding treasure-hunters and researchers alike for two centuries, a stone bearing indecipherable inscriptions.
About That Enigmatic ’90 Foot’ Stone
According to a mid-19th-century letter by treasure hunter Jotham B. McCully, an earlier digger purportedly found a stone in the pit in 1804, at a depth of about 90 feet. About two to three feet long, and some 12 to 16 inches wide, the stone resembles dark Swedish granite, with an olive tinge; it resembles no rock native to the area.
The stone bears cryptic symbols, the meaning of which has prompted intense debate. One translation suggests that the stone was carved with encoded symbols meant to represent English letters. According to one possible translation, it reads:
FORTY FEET BELOW TWO MILLION POUNDS ARE BURIED
However, other researchers suggest it was meant to represent French, and suggest the symbols were connected to the Knights Templar.
The stone has not been seen since the early 1900s, according to the website Oak Island Mystery.
Who Owns the Oak Island Money Pit?
According to the Oak Island Society, an ownership group consisting of the Lagina brothers and some partners own 78 percent of Oak Island, including the Money Pit. The remaining 22 percent of the island is owned by its few inhabitants, who live there seasonally in cottages. There are two permanent homes on the island as well.
How are the Brothers Approaching the Search in Season 7?
As the show enters Season 7, the brothers will conduct deep ground-penetrating radar in the Money Pit area to look for the flood tunnel. Using survey technology and heavy digging machines, they will excavate searcher shafts to help find their way back to the location of the original Money Pit. This will likely lead to the biggest and most extensive digs the team has ever conducted as they try to find the “Chappell Vault.”
The Chappell Vault refers to a dig undertaken by William Chappell—who, while exploring the island in the 1930s, found an axe, an anchor fluke and a pick. This season, the Lagina brothers will take a closer look at that dig site for other treasures, or clues.
According to online research archive Oak Island Compendium, legend has it that the treasure will be found when seven men have died looking for it. But like so many legends tied to the island, there’s no documented evidence of who originally cursed the treasure in this way, or if indeed it was ever cursed at all.
To date, six men have died looking for the treasure. Although this “curse” looms over the Lagina brothers, it’s clear they consider safety to be paramount as they investigate.
Can I Take a Tour of Oak Island?
Yes! During the more hospitable months, Oak Island Tours offers weekend sightseeing tours of the island, by knowledgeable local guides. Among them is Charles Barkhouse, a production consultant and cast member on The Curse of Oak Island.