Is Curse of Oak Island fake? Speculation grows alongside show’s popularity

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Is Curse of Oak Island fake? History Channel’s hit reality documentary is about to conclude its third season, and brothers Rick and Marty Lagina are no closer to finding either the island’s treasure or its curse than they were all the way back in 2014–or they’re closer than ever, depending on who you ask. Oak Island has an extensive history (you might even call it a mythology at this point) and has aroused in treasure seekers the world over a heretofore unknown interest. But perhaps the biggest mystery of all for television observers is whether the show itself is a hoax.

First, though, a bit of history. And we do mean a bit; there have been literally dozens of excavations on and stories told about the ongoing Oak Island mystery, which dates back to the late 18th century. The broad outline is this: Oak Island is a 140-acre island located about 600 feet off the shore of southern Nova Scotia. In 1795, three men observed lights coming from the island, and an unnatural-looking depression on the southeastern end of the island. They dug a pit, found layers of logs approximately every ten feet as well as other possible signs of human involvement, and were unable to progress past a depth of 30 feet.

Eight years later, in 1803, a second group of men tried their hand at the Oak Island hole, which had become known as the Money Pit. They increased the Pit’s depth to 90 feet before flooding drove them out. One of the items the crew uncovered was a stone–called the 90 Foot Stone in island lore–which bore a series of strange symbols. One set of symbols, the first translation of which was published around 1862, allegedly read “Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried….” (Unfortunately for skeptics and fans alike, the 90 Foot Stone has long been lost, and further translation is impossible.)

The first widespread publication regarding the Money Pit came from the Liverpool Transcript in October of 1856, and a series of other newspaper articles and speculative publications followed, as did a long string of energetic fellows eager to give the Pit a go. Including the two already mentioned, at least fourteen major, often multi-year excavations have been carried out, along with countless smaller endeavors. So far, a series of curiosities is all that’s been carried out of the Money Pit, though a lot of human money and effort have gone into it.

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Then, in 2006, Michigan brothers Rick and Marty Lagina purchased a majority stake in the island. They began excavating thanks to yearly permits from the Nova Scotian government; when the History Channel got wind of their efforts, they arranged to begin broadcasting them in the form of Curse of Oak Island in the winter of 2014. (It’s worth pointing out that the Lagina brothers also explore a newer, better hole, one called Borehole 10-X.) So far, the show has aired 26 episodes, garnered millions of fans, and pumped new life into one simple question: Is Curse of Oak Island fake?

But wait–we haven’t even gotten to the curse part of the island yet! According to the History Channel itself, Curse of Oak Island takes its name from a local legend which states that seven people have to die searching for the island’s treasure before the island’s apparent blood lust will be satisfied and it will give the treasure up. But, as many skeptics have pointed out many times, far more than seven treasure hunters have died on Oak Island over the past 221 years. In addition, the most common explanation working against the existence of any treasure is also the simplest one. Scientists and observers have long pointed out that Oak Island itself is full of natural sinkholes, which flood as the water rises and can give the impression of a pit, buried, or otherwise manmade area.

So there’s an air of perhaps understandable skepticism regarding Curse of Oak Island–and, in particular, with the History Channel’s involvement. Oak Island deniers claim that the show is simply a ruse, attached to a flimsy premise, nestled in a box of impossibility: in other words, it’s just something for conspiracy theorists to latch onto. Since no one has yet dug up and sifted through the entirety of the island, technically, no one can say that there is no Oak Island treasure. But, given the wide variety of treasure that’s said to be buried there–everything from pirate and Spanish treasure to the secret  treasure of the Knights Templar to the legendary Arc of the Covenant, to say nothing of Shakespeare’s manuscripts, the jewels of Marie Antoinette, or Freemason artifacts (say, this would make for a pretty good Doctor Who episode!)–the result of any time spent thinking critically about the likelihood of any of the stories being real calls to mind the Onion headline about JFK being shot. 

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And, ultimately, that’s just fine with Rick and Marty. Or, with Rick, anyway–he’s acknowledged all along that he’s fine with not uncovering any treasure; the overarching interest, for half of the Lagina brothers, is the intricate and incredible story of the island itself. He said as much in an interview just before the third season of Curse of Oak Island premiered: “There’s a story buried on that island,” Rick explained, “that I want to figure out, and I think that’s the real treasure. A fabled, long-lost treasure would be fantastic. But there’s a wonderful story written on that ground, and I want to know the who, what, when, where, why and how.”

Rick was asked the same question separately, during a Reddit AMA he and Mark did to promote Curse of Oak Island Season Three.  “If you end up coming out empty handed,” asked one user, “on the island (treasure wise)……what’s next?” Rick’s response? “I don’t believe that will happen. I firmly believe at the very least, there’s a story.”

Marty, by contrast, is on the other end of the spectrum: “I think the most intriguing theory,” he said, “involves the treasure of the Knights Templar and if we could hope for one, we would hope for this treasure.”

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If you’re interested in getting deeper into the mysteries of Oak Island, or exploring the whole “Is Curse of Oak Island fake?” question for yourself, you might want to start with the fairly extensive and well-reasoned Reddit article on the matter. There’s also the now-legendary Joe Nickell article “The Secrets of Oak Island,” published in Skeptical Inquirer 24.2, which takes a long look at those secrets and attempts to debunk them. And, if you’re feeling especially wild and crazy, you might even check out Curse of Oak Island over on the History Channel’s webpage–or when it airs, Tuesday nights at 9 PM EST.


(Photo credits: Curse of Oak Island fake via Facebook)

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