Six Down, One to Go: the Tragic Curse of Oak Island

The mystery of Oak Island is so divinely intriguing that any soul with the tiniest sense of curiosity will be captivated by it. It’s been one of my favorite mysteries since I first read about it in junior high school. It all started one dark night back in 1795 when a teenage boy named Daniel McGinniss witnessed ethereal lights winding their way amongst the trees on a little island across the water from his family’s home in Nova Scotia, Canada. His interest aroused, he rowed out to the island the next day to try to figure out the source of the lights. He may not have not found that, but what he did find was a circular depression in the ground, about a dozen feet across. And above the depression were indications that a pulley system had been used in the trees. Daniel was excited by his find for good reason….a hundred years earlier in that very location, it was well known that pirates had used the scantily populated shores of eastern Canada to hide their illicit treasures.

It was then, in 1795 that Oak Island seduced its first innocent. Daniel recruited two friends of his and the three of them delved into the exciting task of unearthing the treasure.  Oak Island is a temptress.  She teases her pursuers by allowing them a taste of what might be possible, without ever having to surrender anything tangible. After digging just two feet, the trio unearthed a bed of flagstone that had been laid down. When  they pried it up nothing was below except for more dirt, but it was all the proof the boys needed to know someone had been there before them. Further and further they dug. At ten feet they discovered a floor made of wooden timbers built into the sides of the hole. Beyond that was more dirt.  But if someone had gone through the trouble of laying down a platform of wood, surely there must be something below that the wood was covering!

On and on it went until they had labored their whole summer away and all they had to show for it were piles of disintegrating logs and a deepening chasm. But Oak Island was a crafty seductress and she had convinced the oldest of the three boys, Jonathan Smith, to purchase the land where the potential treasure cache was located. Now Jonathan owned a big hole! He was the first of many to invest not only his precious time, but money to solve the mystery of Oak Island. The excavation eventually became known as the Money Pit….I’m not sure if the name evolved because of the promise of riches that lingered just below the next shovelful of dirt, or because of the money that adventurers and investors poured into the endeavor.

The Onslow Company was first formed in 1804. The company was an association of investors who provided financial backing to the field group, who actually did the digging. With money less of a hindrance, the adventurers could devote their time tunneling deeper into the earth. What they found, pretty much every ten feet, was another layer of logs that had  been placed carefully into the hole by the creators of the Money Pit, whoever they may have been. Sometimes there was a layer of clay, or putty. Sometimes the diggers would encounter traces of charcoal amongst the wood timber. They uncovered the remains of coconut fiber blanketing  the wood. Finally, deeply entrenched under the layers of wood and clay and coconut they discovered a flat rock with an inscription that none of the treasure hunters could decipher. (Decades later, a professor with interest in the Oak Island mystery believed he figured out the cipher and declared that it said “Forty feet below, two million pounds are buried”.) Regardless that they hunters didn’t know what the stone said, they were encouraged enough to keep digging….that is, until the pit somehow became flooded shortly after the stone was removed from the hole, less than a yard shy of a hundred feet deep. The hunters tried bailing the water out, but there were thousands of gallons that seemed to never recede, no matter how many bucketfuls were drained. Then they tried digging pits near the original Money Pit, to see if they could dig below the flooded portion level, angle back over to the be back in line with the original pit and continue the search. Over a year of effort and excavation followed, until in 1805, the Onslow Company gave up.

The pit would sit abandoned for years until the enchantress beguiled one group of fortune hunters after another to try their luck. During the 1860’s, the group of the day was using the latest in technology to conquer the conundrum when the boiler that was powering their water pump burst and scalded one of the workers to death as he tried to drain the pit. It was the first of a current total of six deaths to plague the operations at Oak Island.

After the death, there were whispers that the ghosts of the pirates were protecting their treasure and would claim more souls if the digging continued. But continue it did.  Just before the turn of the century, a worker was returning to the surface after toiling down in one of the many holes that pocked the land around the original Money Pit.  As they brought him to the surface, the rope unraveled from the pulley they were using and he plummeted into the shaft to his death.

Adventurer after adventurer tried to tackle the enigma of the Money Pit. Despite booby traps set in place by the creators of the Money pit, which seemed to anticipate the thoughts and actions of those who would come after them, there was never a shortage of people willing to invest their money and more importantly, years of their lives to keep digging deeper and deeper for the answer. In 1965, the most heart wrenching of all the tragedies occurred.  An enterprising gentleman by the name of Robert Restall had moved his wife and family up to Oak Island to have a crack at finding the treasure.  They had invested five years living a primitive life on the island only to have their dream cruelly destroyed one August day. Robert Restall was looking down into the shaft he was working on when he fell victim to poisonous fumes wafting up from below. He fell unconscious into the watery bottom of the pit.  His son, Robert Jr., saw his father fall and raced to help him, only to be made victim of the same poisonous gases his father fell to. Two more workers also perished from the same cause when they sprang forward to save to father and son. All the victims drowned.

The curse of Oak Island says that seven must die before the Island will give up its treasure, so far there have been six.  The deaths are of course the most tragic bi-product of the Oak Island endeavors, but I think the curse is more insidious.  Not only have people lost their lives, but many countless others have lost their fortunes, families, and perhaps even sanity to the obsession that is Oak Island. And I myself can understand why.

Ever since I was an adolescent, I have been pondering the mysteries Oak Island. Many books and documentaries have been made to examine the story. The spot was first discovered in 1795, so the pit must have been dug, constructed and then refilled many years earlier.  Booby trap tunnels were dug by the original architects to flood the pit with water, apparently to discourage anyone trying to find the treasure from continuing. Who had the technology to accomplish this feat so many centuries ago? What is hidden under over a hundred feet of dirt that requires such elaborate layers of protection and discouragement to ward off seekers?  Even today, there are still treasure hunters trying to unravel the riddle.  The Curse of Oak Island is a reality show on the History Channel that is set to premiere its second season on November 4, 2014. The show chronicles the attempts of the Lagina brothers, Rick and Marty, as they risk the curse to pursue their life long dreams of being the ones who finally get the answer, and hopefully the treasure of the Money Pit and Oak Island. I for one am firmly in their corner, because I would truly love to hear the answers to the centuries old questions that have been asked by generation after generation: Who, How, When and Why?

If you’re interested in the History Channel series, which I highly recommend, please check out more info at: