Story and Photos by Janet Batchelor
As children, my cousin Nancy and I shared imaginary adventures each summer at our grandparents’ home in East Texas. Although we are now in our 70s, this fall we shared an honest to goodness adventure. It all began January 1965, when we each read the Reader’s Digest article “Oak Island’s Mysterious ‘MoneyPit.’” We were fascinated with the description of the 1795 discovery of a strange shaft on Oak Island, Nova Scotia, that was thought to lead to priceless treasure or sacred religious artifacts. The article also described subsequent excavations, elaborate booby traps that caused the excavations to flood, unexplained findings of coconut fibers and a scrap of parchment deep under the surface, and other mysterious phenomena that had lured intelligent, industrious men to lose their fortunes and/or their lives in search of the possibility of treasure.
About the same time Nancy and I were reading about Oak Island, two Michigan brothers, 11-year-old Rick Lagina and his younger brother Marty, were reading the very same article. While our attention turned from treasure hunting to more immediate things (like boys, then marriage, children, and careers), the Oak Island mystery remained in the back of Rick’s mind. In 2007, he and other investors obtained ownership of Oak Island Tours, Inc., the major landowner on the small island. A new era of exploration began, with primary funding from Marty Lagina and business partner Craig Tester—two “oil and gas moguls from Michigan” as a news article from the time described them.
The new investors, with input from Oak Island resident and long-time treasure hunter Dan Blankenship, started applying modern technology and lots of heavy equipment to the 200-year-old mystery, but the rest of us were unaware of their efforts until the History Channel began the series The Curse of Oak Island in 2014. My cousin and I, remembering that 1965 article, quickly became hooked, and it became our only“can’t miss” television show. We aren’t the only ones; the show is billed as Cable TV’s #1 non-fiction series! Now in its seventh season, the show follows the trials and tribulations of “The Fellowship of the Dig,” as Rick, Marty, Craig, their families, and a band of individuals apply their own unique skillsets to attempt what so many others over the past 224 years have tried to do – and failed: solve the mystery of Oak Island (and, of course, retrieve the treasure!).
Countless have tried, in vain, to either dig or finance an excavation to reach the Money Pit fortune. Future President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a young lawyer when he was involved in a dig on Oak Island. Rumor has it that a Duke was involved at some point, at least financially. Well, he wasn’t a real duke, but a Hollywood Western actor. Obviously, Oak Island does not discriminate; she shares her secrets with no one.
Theories on what is buried in the Money Pit have always been around, but more recently, viewers have been fascinated by even the tiniest of clues given up by Oak Island. Jeweled brooches, wood, and even human bones, among many other artifacts, have been tested to determine the nationality of the pieces and whether they were left by original depositors or searchers. The Lagina group appears to be very close to discovering the flood tunnel that leads directly to the Money Pit. Shutting off the flood tunnel would also be very helpful! If you’re a fan of the show, you really hope this intrepid group is the one who finally turns the mystery into history.
When I discovered that Oak Island Tours, Inc. actually offered tours of the island (imagine that), a trip to Nova Scotia went to the top of my bucket list. I wanted to see that mysterious place for myself, and perhaps find out more than magazine articles and TV shows could tell. It wasn’t hard to convince my cousin Nancy Hamilton to join me in my adventure. Since she lives way up in Yankeeland, four hours from the Canadian border, we decided that if I could snag tour tickets, we would do a road trip from Maine, through New Brunswick, and on to Nova Scotia and Oak Island. All I had to do was get online at midnight on the day in March when the tour tickets went on sale and obtain the tickets. That may sound easy, but the entire season’s worth of tickets sold out in 15 minutes! I obtained two tickets for early October, which Nancy explained was the ideal time to visit. Apparently New England and Canada not only have mosquitos, but also something called “black flies” that can bite a big chunk out of unsuspecting Texans. However, both would be gone by October and replaced by incredible fall foliage, thanks to drier weather and (brrrr) low temperatures.
So, six months after printing out the prized tickets, I landed in Bangor, Maine, with the tickets (and enough cold-weather clothing to equip an Arctic expedition) to begin our great adventure. For the trip, we took the Lagina’s motto Sempre Avanti, or Always Forward. Apparently, Oak Island’s motto regarding the treasure is Sempre Qui, or AlwaysHere. If it can go wrong on Oak Island, it does.
At the border crossing, we thought the Canadian Border Services agent rolled his eyes when he heard our response to the question, “What brings you to Canada?” but we weren’t quite sure since his cap cast a shadow on his face. Undeterred, we continued (Avanti!!)to the town of Mahone Bay,
Nova Scotia. The town (as you might have guessed) is situated on Mahone Bay, facing the Atlantic. The bay, they say, boasts 365 islands, one for each day of the year. One of those islands (which we now know was two islands before some surreptitious human intervention) was Oak Island. We had arrived a day before our tour to acquaint ourselves with the surrounding area, and because the Oak Island crew is filmed often eating at the Mug and Anchor pub, we decided it was a perfect spot for lunch AND dinner, but unfortunately didn’t spot any of the “stars” of the show.
It was 38 degrees when we awoke on October 6, cold for this EastTexas gal! However, the day warmed as we made our way across a short causeway to Oak Island. Our first stop was the monument in memory of the six individuals who have died while trying to find the treasure. Folklore has it that there is a “curse” that 7 must die before the treasure is found. Not being a big believer in curses, I believe that the story was spread, long after the fact, to discourage other treasure hunters.
We then had the good fortune to have a quick visit with Oak Island Historian Charles Barkhouse as he stopped by the Oak Island InterpretiveCentre. Mr. Barkhouse describes the Oak Island mystery as a 1000-piece puzzle with 400 pieces missing! (Speaking of missing… we spent time before the tour photographing most of the items in the museum, including a Spanish“piece of eight,” human bones retrieved from hundreds of feet underground, and a lead cross that dates to the 1300s. Mysteriously, many of our photos, which were visible on our phones at the time, vanished when we tried to download them to a laptop! As viewers of the series know, this sort of glitches common on Oak Island, and affects everything from drilling equipment to electronics.)
At 10:00 am, we were introduced to our knowledgeable tour guide, Lisa Moore. Each “tour” ist was presented with a small gift package pertaining to Oak Island. I won’t reveal all the contents, in case you get to take the tour, but mine contained some blue clay from Smith’s Cove and a couple of bobby dazzlers! If you are not familiar with either of those terms, you should watch The Curse of Oak Island. You, too, can quickly become an Oak Island Nut!
Some of Oak Island is privately owned, but we saw much of the island during our two-hour tour. We passed the “War Room” where the group does its planning; the McGinnis homestead, once home to one of the three boys who discovered and did the first excavation at the “Money Pit” in 1795. We saw 10X, Dan Blankenship’s 235-foot deep pit (that was dug by hand!), and a lot once owned by ex-slave Samuel Ball. Somehow, after purchasing this 4-acre tract, this cabbage farmer became one of the wealthiest landowners in the area! Only on Oak Island…
Just when things got interesting, Lisa informed us the rest of the tour was off-limits to photography. However, I can tell you that the apparently man-made swamps (which, until very recently, was thought to hide an intentionally sunken Spanish galleon) were completely drained when we saw it. And the Money Pit area, which is usually full of huge drilling equipment at this time of year, was leveled, with no equipment or casings to be seen. In addition, the gigantic cofferdam that had been installed at Smith’s Cove, to hold back Mahone Bay, was missing.
You may be, as I was, asking yourself if the search had closed down for the season early, or if the team had found what they were looking for and were keeping it to themselves for Season 7 of The Curse of Island?