The Curse of Oak Island: An Entirely Biased and Hopeful Review of The Series

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No, this is not yet another review of FOX’S much lauded return of fan favorite, “The X-Files,” although you could be forgiven for thinking so based on the masthead for this review. It is, instead, the words used by one half of the brother duo of treasure hunters Rick Lagina when asked on Tuesday night’s finale of “The Curse of Oak Island: Drilling Down” what his ultimate thoughts were on the possibility of a vast treasure being buried on a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia (an island he and brother Marty own controlling interest of). Without missing a beat, the dignified older brother answered, and here ye olde reviewer is slightly paraphrasing, “I want to believe…”

For hundreds of years a litany of treasure hunters have echoed the same sentiments as Rick Lagina and, like the two brothers, have spent years and untold millions of dollars to unearth the truth about a riddle wrapped inside an enigma.

For those not familiar with the story: In 1795, a trio of young men from a neighboring island discovered a depression in the ground beneath an old oak tree on Oak Island. Above this depression hung a very thick and worn tree limb that appeared to have been used as a pulley of some sort to lower a very heavy object into the ground. The boys instantly seized upon the idea of a buried pirate’s treasure on the island. They began to dig immediately, using only their hands at first. The following day, they returned to the island with pickaxes and spades. They were convinced that whatever was buried there would soon reveal itself. Two feet down they encountered a layer of flagstones which were alien to the island. Removing the flagstones, they quickly discovered they were working a pre-existing thirteen foot in diameter shaft. As they continued their quest, several more things became apparent to them; the sides of the shaft were made up of tough clay which revealed signs of pick marks, and every ten feet they encountered a layer of oak timber which formed a platform. Stopping at thirty feet and admitting temporary defeat, the three boys realized that getting to whatever might be buried in the pit was not going to be quite as easy as they had originally envisioned.

In 1803, the hunt was picked up again by the Onslow Company. This new effort used better equipment and more manpower and finally saw the original excavation better explored. Along the way, every ten feet, oak platforms were unearthed until, at the ninety foot level, a stone slab was found with strange markings. In later years, several translations were attempted on the stone (the stone itself has long ago vanished), the most tantalizing one being enough to whet any self-respecting treasure hunter’s appetite to continue on in the search: “Forty feet below two million pounds are buried.” Digging down another three feet, the crew noted an introduction of water into the pit, but nothing that caused too much concern. The men returned the following day only to discover that, unbelievably, the pit had filled with ocean water overnight. For all intents and purposes, this incarnation of the treasure hunt was now over.

But still the call of treasure beckoned men to Oak Island: In 1849, the Truro Company took a stab at locating the treasure, implementing drills that seemed to drill through what was assumed to be oak boxes. The Truro men heard what they took to be metal pieces as their drill bored through the boxes. Water was still an issue and the theory was born that underground tunnels leading from the ocean were ultimately thwarting their best efforts. Large amounts of coconut fiber were discovered on the banks of the island, something that was completely foreign to the area. Also discovered were a series of box drains which appeared to be the source of the flooding nightmares.

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And then the first victim of what in later years some have taken to call “the Oak Island Curse” was marked up on the ledger: A man whose name has been lost to history died in the explosion of a boiler while assisting the work in getting to the bottom of the mystery. By the time the Laginas got to the island years later, five other souls would perish in the hunt for the treasure, giving rise to the legend that, in order to solve the Oak Island mystery “seven must die.”

World-famous celebrities were attracted to the island throughout the years, spurred on by other discoveries such as a piece of gold chain link and a piece of parchment with a tiny letter visible upon it. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Wayne and Errol Flynn are three note-worthies that invested time, energy and money into cracking the riddle of just what exactly is buried on the island. Many others who are not nearly as well-known as these three men have also lined up for their shot at Oak Island.

Which brings us to Dan and Dave Blankenship: A father and son who spent years coaxing and massaging a mysterious hole which they dug and dubbed borehole 10-X. Dan Blankenship moved his wife and son Dave to the island after reading an article in the January 1965 issue of Reader’s Digest that spurred his interest in solving the enigma. The Blankenships sunk a shaft into the 10-X, which was originally supposed to be a water-flow test hole, and at 230 feet came upon what they believed to be a man-made cavity. Cameras were sent down into the hole and Dan himself dove the site, claiming that, extraordinarily, he had seen a human body at the bottom, two wooden posts, ancient tools and, tantalizingly, three wooden chests. Further exploration was put on hold when, in 1976, Dan Blankenship nearly lost his life while attempting a dive. The casing of 10-X could no longer withstand the pressure of the water and fractured, shooting debris upward. It was only through the fast actions of his son David that he was hauled up to safety.

Television brought the story of the mysterious island to a global audience in a way that no issue of Reader’s Digest could. In 1979, the popular television show, “In Search Of…” featured an episode dedicated to the mystery. This writer recalls with vivid clarity the episode and how host Leonard Nimoy’s ominous narration coupled with what must have been some of the eeriest synthesizer music of all-time made a striking impression. Other shows from other networks would follow, creating an unofficial cottage industry which captivated millions of armchair investigators. “Forbidden Treasures,” “Mystery and Conspiracy,” and “Mystery” are just three examples of an ever growing collection of film devoted to presenting the Oak Island enigma to larger audiences. Not to be outdone, YouTube offers a headache inducing list of fan-made documentaries on our unquenchable thirst for even more information, many of dubious quality.

And that brings us to Rick and Marty Lagina, two brothers from Michigan who, like their mentor Dan Blankenship, fell under the spell of Oak Island after reading the 1965 Reader’s Digest article. The two men had parlayed their fascination of the island into reality by outright buying most of the island with the express intent of solving, once and for all, the Oak Island mystery. The History Channel saw enough merit in this new quest to warrant an ongoing series, and in 2014 they began airing a docu-series chronicling the attempts by Rick and Marty to figure out just what in the heck was behind this centuries old mystery. Along the way they’ve encountered countless theories from the plausible (buried pirate treasure) to the downright bizarre (the island is the hiding place for the Holy Grail or the lost folios of William Shakespeare). And they’ve turned their quest into a family affair, enlisting close family, friends and business partners in the hunt and calling upon the help of past Oak Island treasure hunters such as Dan and Dave Blankenship, Fred Nolan, Charles Barkhouse and Dan Henskee. In fact, it’s a safe bet to say that many viewers of History Channel’s “The Curse of Oak Island” tune in on a weekly basis to see the unusual phenomenon of a real and substantial camaraderie (“The Fellowship of the Dig” as Marty Lagina puts it) that lacks the usual sensationalism of most so-called reality programming. In short, you genuinely like almost everyone involved in this hunt.

The third season finally wound down with the brothers getting a diver back into 10-X. The results, to say the least, were a mixed bag. No wooden chests were discovered in the very murky waters beneath the ground, nor were any human remains uncovered. The diver, who by his own admission only was able to explore ten percent of the legendary cavern, came up into fresh air with the conviction that 10-X was not man-made but rather a natural formation. This viewer for one cringed at the look of disbelief intermingled with heartbreak on the face of Rick Lagina. Rick has always been the self-professed “Frodo” of this motley band of treasure hunters; the one who is the glue that keeps the spirits up and the hope held high. On Tuesday night during “Drilling Down” – History Channel’s own sort of post-game show to the regular series itself – that had not changed, regardless of the verdict. His eyes remained proud and his voice did not waver as he proudly uttered the words, “I want to believe…”

Rick, we all want to believe, and we’ll tune in to the inevitable season four of “The Curse of Oak Island” not because of what wasn’t found at the bottom of 10-X, but what might be found in future investigations. That’s something worth believing in.


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