The Enduring Mystery Of The Oak Island Treasure

Published April 5, 2018

The Oak Island treasure is a mystery that has been sought over for centuries. The question is why.

Oak Island

Wikimedia CommonsView of Oak Island. 1931.

The story Oak Island is full of mystery, allure, and even tragedy. However, it’s not the actual island that people care about, but the mysterious buried treasure supposedly stashed away somewhere on the island. But does the mystery part refer to why nobody has managed to find this buried treasure, or whether the treasure even exists at all?

Oak Island is a 140-acre piece of land located along Canada’s Atlantic coast off the shores of Nova Scotia. Treasure hunters interested in the island are drawn to what has been dubbed the “money pit.”

The hopeful treasure hunters are also interested in Nolan’s Cross which acts as a giant X marks the spot. It is a massive and precise cross shape made of large boulders up to nine feet high and spanning hundreds of feet. It’s spawned hoards of theories about its origin and what it represents.

The hype around the potential treasure buried at Oak Island relates to the “golden age” of piracy, which occurred between 1650 and 1730. At the time, there weren’t many European settlements in Nova Scotia. This made Oak Island a popular stop for pirates coming from colonial Boston due to the abundance of natural resources and untouched land. Additionally, because the area was isolated, it made for a great location to stash their booty.

Most accounts agree that the first thought of treasure came about in 1795. A teenage boy named Daniel McGinnis noticed lights flashing from a distant island off Nova Scotia. When he went to the island to explore the sight, he found a large circular depression on the island’s ground. The island was largely forested, but in the area around the depression, it was clear that several oak trees had been removed.

Whatever else McGinnis saw on that island is unclear. But it was enough to convince him to recruit some friends and excavate the land.

As the story goes, upon digging, McGinnis and his companions came across an oak timber platform. Then another and another, going down at least 30 feet. They knew something major was buried, but left because they needed a larger and better-funded expedition to uncover whatever was down there. They returned the next year and several times after, but could never get past 108 feet. For whenever they hit that mark, water inexplicably filled the pit.

Oak Island Treasure Digging

Wikimedia CommonsAn excavation taking place at Oak Island.

Since that first expedition over 200 years ago, numerous other treasure hunters have ventured to Oak Island. Adventurists to explorers to businessmen, despite all previous failed attempts, arrived convinced they would find this hidden treasure. Strange anomalies found along the way only added to the intrigue that fueled the desire to explore Oak Island.

The first occurrence of tragedy and death would strike the island in 1861 when a man was scalded to death by an exploding boiler.

That same year, the Oak Island Association, a newly formed company made up of hopeful treasure hunters, attempted a new way to secure the treasure. They dug the pit down to 88 feet and made two attempts to intercept the channel from the sea by first digging a new hole east of the pit, and then one to the west of it. The hole to the east was 120 feet deep and didn’t hit the channel. The hole to the west was 118 feet and at first appeared to be working, but then the bottom of the pit fell out. Water rushed in and the “money pit” dropped over 15 feet.

Other methods to find the Oak Island treasure were tried throughout the years, including attempts to seal off the flow of water and drilling on other parts of the island.

Even Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted in on the action and kept tabs on the island’s activity. In 1909, he became affiliated with the Oak Island Association and another treasure hunting group known as Old Gold Salvage. Though the groups left that same year, Roosevelt continued to keep up with Oak Island news into his presidency.

FDR On Oak Island

National ArchivesFranklin Roosevelt and others at Oak Island. 1909.

Along with the mishaps and failures, discoveries were also made that kept the Oak Island treasure hunt alive. In 1939, during drilling, rocks and gravel were found by Erwin Hamilton who claimed that they were foreign to the area and thus placed there by someone else. He also claimed that, after clearing out a shaft 176 feet down, he found a layer of natural limestone. Then, when he drilled through the limestone, he found wood.

Despite all the previous attempts, the search for Oak Island treasure was actually pretty obscure to the mainstream. It was only when an account of an excavation was published Reader’s Digest in 1965 that it gained critical mass attention.

In 1965, tragedy struck again. Robert Restall was excavating the island with his son and a small team when he passed out from hydrogen sulfide fumes. Restall’s son went in after him along with three other team members. Only one worker came back out alive.

Those in search of the treasure have their reasons as to why they believe it exists. The disturbed earth and sand of the surface, the theory that the flooding is an elaborate booby trap, mysterious stone plaques, and found wood.

Skeptics, aside from the obvious fact that no treasure has ever been found, also say that manmade “flood tunnels” believed to be blocking the treasure haven’t ever been proven. They also point out that Oak Island is dotted with natural sinkholes.

So why do people remain convinced despite everything? Logic overpowered by greed? It’s enticing to imagine finding ancient, buried treasure. Even the idea that such a thing exists conjures up images of pirates and treasure hunts and X marks the spot.

These days, two brothers by the names of Marty and Rick Lagina now own most of the land on the island. Mostly because Marty is obsessed with finding the buried Oak Island treasure.

Enjoy this look at the Oak Island treasure? Next, read about the stunning way nature claimed Goqui Island. Then learn about the Saddle Ridge Hoard, the biggest buried treasure find in U.S history.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City.