“The Curse of Oak Island”

Television today is populated with reality shows of various types, including those featuring (mostly wealthy) people who, for reasons most of us simply cannot fathom, get to star in their own weekly TV series, for which camera crews follow them in their daily lives as they indulge in prepared, yet still inane conversations, manufactured crises, uneventful shopping sprees, etc. Most of what is presented as “reality” in these programs is not nearly what it seems. In any case, I don’t watch them. The 30-second promos for this sub-genre of programs are enough to keep me from wasting my time following these nobodies pretending to be somebodies–or, “celebrities without portfolio,” if you will.

However, there is one reality program that my wife Karen and I have been following devotedly for the past few years that is unlike the others. It is compelling, dramatic, educational, and actually real!  It’s The Curse of Oak Island, airing Tuesdays at 9:00p.m. Eastern time, on the History Channel (episodes from the previous two weeks air earlier in the evening, leading up to each week’s newest episode).

Marty and Rick.

The series has been following brothers Rick and Marty Lagina, of Michigan, as they lead the latest, most thorough, and most expensive project ever in search for the legendary treasure buried on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. As the story goes, a mysterious treasure of possibly untold wealth and/or historical importance has been buried on the island for hundreds of years, possibly since the mid-1600s. Theories have speculated that it could be either a trove of gold from the Aztec civilization, the original works of Shakespeare, the Holy Grail, or even the Ark of the Covenant. Some say the Knights of Templar sailed from Scotland to the island with the treasure or artifact in order to hide it and protect it. Others speculate Spanish pirates were responsible, or even Captain Kidd himself.

The Oak Island story is a long one. Several major undertakings to find the treasure have been made in the past 220 years. The first explorations led to the discovery of a series of underground wooden log platforms, spaced about 10 feet apart, descending over 100 feet into the Earth. But expansive flood tunnels were also constructed, to serve as a booby traps designed to flood the “Money Pit,” as it is known, with sea water, thus preventing attempts

Diagram of the Money Pit’s wooden platforms and flood tunnel that has frustrated so many expeditions.

to reach whatever lay at the bottom. Six men have died in the past century during expeditions to find the treasure, four of whom were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a gasoline engine used at the Money Pit during a 1965 excavation. It has led some to conclude that there is a curse on the island, and legend has it that a seventh person must die attempting to recover the treasure before it will actually be found.

As kids, Rick and Marty Lagina first read about Oak Island in the January, 1965 issue of  Reader’s Digest, and became obsessed with the legend and the attempts to retrieve whatever might be hiding in the Money Pit, or elsewhere on the island. They eventually bought controlling interest in Oak Island Tours, which owned most of the island, and began their efforts to uncover the mystery. With a team of partners, the approval of the Canadian government, and a considerable budget (they’ve spent over 2 million dollars so far), the brothers have been calling upon a variety of hi-tech equipment and industrial-sized drilling and earth-moving vehicles to try to literally get to the bottom of the mystery.

The Money Pit, with its state-of-the-art equipment at the ready.

Prometheus Entertainment has been recording the project on film for airing on the History Channel every step of the way, as a population of historians, archeologists, geologists, divers, and metal detection experts have passed through to lend their knowledge and specialties to the cause. Setbacks have occurred, of course, at each of the major locations deemed vital to the search, but each has been met with even greater determination by the brothers and their partners to continue on. Several intriguing clues have indeed been found, ranging from English and Spanish coins hundreds of years old, to a small gold chain, to various organic samples that seem out of place for the island’s geography, to man-made crawlspaces, and boulders with strange carvings on them, located on and near the island.

The Laginas have often expressed their deference to those Oak Island explorers who have come before them, and in some cases lost their lives, to solve the mystery. Even in these times, when it is so easy to allow cynicism to cast doubt on the motives of people striving to achieve a goal, these brothers have kept their laser focus on the mission at hand, knowing that both their own money, and the historical record of this mystery, is at stake.

If you’re interested in tuning in, but might be wary that you’ve missed too much of the story so far, it is briefly recapped at the opening of each episode, with other reminders and flashbacks provided throughout as necessary, to keep new viewers up to date (this is done via voice-overs brilliantly read by narrator Robert Clotworthy).

So, you can keep your wealthy, pampered, self-indulgent egomaniacs who have somehow had their own TV series handed to them, and who don’t seem to know how to live without a camera following their every move, no matter how pointless their self-absorbed frolics may be. I’ll continue to follow the Laginas and their crew in their treasure-hunting quest, as long as it takes. Take a tip from me and join the search on Tuesday nights, even if it’s from the comfort of your TV room sofa.

Until next time…