What is “The Curse of Oak Island”?

Premiering on the History Network in January 2014, “The Curse of Oak Island” (TCOI) is a reality TV series that follows a team of treasure hunters on the mysterious island of the same name, which lies offshore of Canada’s Nova Scotia. The so-called Oak Island mystery features heavily on the show as the cast members, led by brothers Marty and Rick Lagina, hunt down supposedly precious historical artifacts.

To date, many unexplained objects have been found on or near the island, which has been a hotspot for treasure hunters since the 18th century. Some of these objects were found to be hundreds of years old when carbon-dated, but no significant treasure site has been found to date. Verified information regarding the treasure-related activities on Oak Island in the 18th century is sparse, as most of the accounts were word of mouth stories, and it would take decades for publishers to investigate them. Sources claim that Daniel McGinnis was the first settler who tried to find treasure on the island, with the story first appearing in print in 1857.

In the original story told by early settlers, a dying sailor allegedly from Captain Kidd’s crew claimed that treasure worth over $2 million had been buried on the island. It is claimed that around 1799, Daniel McGinnis found a depression in the ground which he then excavated with help from two men identified as Antony Vaughn and John Smith. According to the story, the men abandoned the excavation due to “superstitious dread” after digging 30 feet.

The island’s history is often discussed on the show, as well as the cast members’ investigations, discoveries, and theories. Some areas of interest on the island include Smith’s Cove, the “money pit”, the “Swamp”, and the “Hatch”. Dating back to the 20th century or earlier, the island’s “curse” states that before the treasure is found, seven men will die in its search. To date, six men have died – nobody seems in a hurry to volunteer as the seventh.

The Lagina Brothers

Marty and Rick’s fascination with Oak Island dates back to January 1965, when a Reader’s Digest article featured the Restall family’s efforts to investigate the “money pit”. The brothers, who obtained a controlling interest in Oak Island Tours – the company that reportedly owns most of the island – were approached by Prometheus Entertainment years later to film a reality show based on their experiences.

There are many little-known facts about the Lagina brothers; although it’s common knowledge that Marty is a self-made millionaire who made it big by extracting natural gas in Michigan, internet sleuths shocked fans of the show upon revealing that the reality TV star studied both an engineering and law degree, completing the latter while working at an oil company as a petroleum engineer.

We're all ears! Have a question for the Lagina brothers? Ask anything in the comments below and you might get an answer during the new season! #OakIsland

Posted by The Curse of Oak Island on Monday, October 26, 2015

In fact, Marty wanted to go to law school from an early age, although he’s never practiced law to date. Luckily, his extensive legal knowledge came in handy while founding his energy company – as the charismatic Michigan native didn’t have enough money to hire a lawyer, he acted on his own behalf.

Being a big name in the oil and gas industry made the younger Lagina a brother a target of hostility, with Marty being branded an “exploiter” and “polluter”. In a conversation with Randy Sullivan, author of “The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt”, Marty admitted that the vitriol didn’t end when he switched to wind energy. He is also quoted as saying “You better learn to live without love if you want to be in the energy business.”

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Marty soon sold his energy company for tens of millions of dollars and was able to dedicate more time to his true passion: uncovering the mysteries of Oak Island. The brothers had been rehearsing for the moment since they were children, when Rick first read the Reader’s Digest article full of details of Oak Island lore.

From Shakespeare’s manuscripts to Marie Antoinette’s lost jewels, all sorts of fabulous treasures were said to be concealed on the island, sparking Rick’s interest and, later on, Marty’s. This article, as well as adventure stories such as The Hardy Boys, inspired Rick and Marty to dig around the forests and rocks in their rural Michigan, searching for Native American relics. The brothers’ childhood games would, with time, evolve into what has been described as the “most famous treasure hunt in modern history”.

Dan Blankenship

Dan Blankenship, who passed away in March 2019 at the ripe old age of 95, was a beloved figure on TCOI and served as Rick and Marty’s mentor and inspiration. A permanent resident of Oak Island, Dan and his son Dave dedicated decades to their own treasure hunt which began in the 1960s. Surprisingly, the relationship between Dan and the Lagina brothers, which dates back to the 1990s, got off to a rocky start and only improved over the years.

Rick was the one who got in touch with the Blankenships before embarking on a 1,400-mile trip with Marty to meet Dan in person and step foot on the island for the first time. It’s said that Dan was felling trees when they arrived and barely acknowledged the duo before having to leave abruptly. As Rick so eloquently recalls, “We basically got the bum’s rush off the island.”

Dan Blankenship | Curse Of Oak Island

You will be missed Dan Blankenship. #TheCurseOfOakIsland

Posted by HISTORY on Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Luckily, the trio later formed a unique friendship, and Dan’s sad death was covered by dozens of news outlets, and mourned by thousands of fans and casual viewers alike. As the longest-serving treasure hunter on Oak Island, Dan became famous for devoting over five decades to and spending thousands, perhaps even millions of dollars on his search.

Coincidentally, Dan’s interest was also piqued in January 1965 upon reading the same Reader’s Digest article as the Lagina brothers. The US Army veteran handed the article over to his wife and insisted that there was treasure on Oak Island and he would be “instrumental” in getting it – the rest, as they say, was history.

After sacrificing his prosperous Miami-based contracting business and pretty much leaving everything behind, Dan met Robert Restall – who was mentioned in the article along with his family – and asked how he could be of help. At the time, Robert was the person leading the search on Oak Island. In a devastating accident, he was one of four people who died of gas poisoning shortly afterwards, the official story being that they were “overcome” by the fumes of the gasoline-powered pump they were using while digging for treasure.

However, Dan was undeterred by the tragic events and the supposed curse of Oak Island. 1967 was the year the avid treasure hunter formed a syndicate to explore the place, and two years later, he and David Tobias formed a partnership and bought up much of the island. In 1970, Dan moved his wife and three children to Oak Island, and got straight into the swing of things.

For years or even decades, those who came to Oak Island focused on the famous Money Pit. However, Dan took a different approach, and dug a 235ft shaft close to the Pit which he named Borehole 10-X. The name will ring bells with viewers of TCOI, as it features heavily on the show. In a nerve-wracking turn of events, Dan almost became the seventh victim of Oak Island while exploring in the borehole.

When the initial excavation was complete, Dan, who had lowered a camera into the shaft, discovered a possible lost treasure chamber. While capturing images of human remains and man-made objects that included possible treasure chests, the shaft began collapsing around the explorer, who was winched to the surface in the nick of time, and suffered no serious injuries.

The following decades were marred by expensive legal battles pertaining to ownership of the island, which drained Dan’s finances and hindered his expeditions. One such battle with his one-time partner and fellow treasure hunter Fred Nolan, who had independently bought parts of the island, lasted a staggering 40 years or more, with both parties only reaching an agreement in 2015 with help from the Lagina brothers.

Sadly, Dan never discovered the fabled treasure of Oak Island, although he did find man-made artifacts of historical importance and, thanks to his collection of thousands of documents, was able to compile an in-depth history of the island. Dan’s partner, David Tobias, sold his share of the island to the Lagina brothers in 2006 due to the lack of treasure. Sources describe Dan as a father figure to Rick and Marty who, with his lifetime of knowledge, proved himself to be of invaluable help to the dynamic duo.

Fake Documents Controversy

Independent researchers such as Zena Halpern and John O’Brien, have always played a big part in TCOI, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats with their interesting theories. In December 2018, however, it was revealed that some documents featured on the show were fake, casting doubt on the series’ authenticity, and the integrity of its cast members.

The author and researcher Jason Colavito was one of many interested parties who wrote about the incident in his blog. Donald Ruh, the author of “The Scrolls of Onteora”, confirmed that a hand-drawn French-language map of Oak Island – allegedly a copy of a map used in the Middle Ages by the Knights Templar – was fake.

This map was presented to the Lagina brothers by Zena, who claimed that it was related to a “Templar document”, also referred to as a “Cremona document”. The Oak Island map and Cremona document featured heavily in Zena’s 2017 book, “The Templar Mission to Oak Island and Beyond: The Search for Ancient Secrets: Shocking Revelations of a 12th Century Manuscript”.

Donald inherited the map and document from his work colleague and lifelong friend Bill Jackson, who died in 2000, and would later share both with Zena. Bill purchased the Cremona document bill in Rome in 1971, and acquired the Oak Island map 23 years later; in 2008, Bill’s estate transferred ownership of all original documents and their legal intellectual rights to Donald.

Although the story behind the fake documents is complicated and full of nuances, Donald explained that he first approached Zena for help in 2004, which led to the pair forging a close working relationship. In 2009, they formed a partnership, and signed a written agreement to write a book about their collective research on the Cremona document material Donald inherited from Bill.

Donald and Zena had a disagreement in 2015 due to the latter being in contact with an unnamed person in the TV business, who was interested in a story related to the Cremona document research. A year later, Zena decided to publish the book without Donald, and approached the Lagina brothers to share the story and appear on TCOI. Donald claims to have received no compensation for the book, or any acknowledgement for the content that Zena provided the Lagina brothers and TCOI show.

Donald previously explained that Zena was never aware that the Oak Island map had no connection to the Cremona document material or the Knights Templar. It’s believed that the Oak Island map was a fabrication created by Bill to “set up a bad guy associated with the P2 scandal in the 1970s”. The author is also quoted as saying: “Mistakes were made by the late Ms. Halpern… However, those mistakes have resulted in false information that has already been presented to the public on television with apparently more to come.”

Some viewers interpreted Donald’s explanation, and his claims that he only discovered the Oak Island map was a forgery when it was too late, as an underhanded attempt to throw the deceased Zena and Bill under the bus, without sullying his own reputation.

Perhaps viewers will never know the whole truth, but since the embarrassing blunder, the production team of TCOI has taken careful steps to ensure that no more fake documents or similar are featured on the show.

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