Treasure or money pit?

ESCANABA – U.P. native, treasure hunter, and History Channel star Rick Lagina was at Escanaba Upper Elementary Wednesday to speak with fifth-grade students about his treasure hunting work on Oak Island in Nova Scotia.

Lagina stars in the History Channel series “The Curse of Oak Island,” which debuted in January, with his younger brother Marty Lagina. The brothers are originally from Kingsford and are the latest in a long line of treasure hunters drawn to the mysterious Canadian island.

“For me personally the pursuit, if you will, and the mystery started right here with this little, tiny book,” said Lagina holding up a copy of Reader’s Digest from 1965. “There’s a story in here that says, ‘Oak Island’s Mysterious Money Pit.'”

The story of the infamous “Money Pit” goes back to 1795 when a young man named Daniel McGinnis discovered a depression on the ground near an oak tree on the southeastern end of the island. Fueled by the thought of pirate treasure, McGinnis and two friends began excavating at the site, and every 10 feet the men discovered a layer of oak logs.

“They didn’t know what to make of it, and every time they hit the oak they decided, ‘truly, under here is the treasure.’ They got down 30 feet and they could go no further,” said Lagina.

For more than 200 years treasure hunters made their way to the island with hopes of discovering what was hidden at the bottom of the Money Pit site.

“Over a period of years and years and years, various companies were formed, explored, searched, went bankrupt; a new company would take its place,” said Lagina.

While the Money Pit attracted multiple investors eager to find whatever secrets the site held, there were also skeptics.

“There’s always been thought that it was a scam, that it always was a scam; that they got these monies invested in a company and then would abscond immediately with the money, but it’s the same families over, and over, and over again, and you don’t trick your own family,” said Lagina. In addition to bankrupting various companies, the site has taken the lives of six people who sought treasure on the island. One man was killed when the boiler of a pumping engine burst, another fell from scaffolding, and four more treasure seekers were killed by hydrogen sulfide gas that collected in excavated shafts.

Legend has it, that only after seven people have lost their lives will the island give up its secrets. Lagina and his crew have had their own close calls on the island. In one case, a drill operator was drilling adjacent to another drill site when blow-back from the first hole launched the operator from the machine.

“He literally flew 20 feet up in the air, it spun him around 360 degrees, tossed him about 20 feet and he landed at my feet … I thought he was passed,” said Lagina. “He was fine ultimately. He didn’t get hurt at all. In fact, he went back into the rig in about two hours.” Despite the dangers of working at the Money Pit site, Lagina has had some success searching on the island.

“We started drilling in the money pit area and we discovered artifacts, if you will, things that we had carbon dated, things that we had tested. As you’ve seen in the show, perhaps, there’s lots of artifacts that have been discovered on the island: Spanish style moccasins, Spanish scissors, carbon steel from hundreds of feet below the ground. All of those things. None of those things should be on this island,” said Lagina.

Theories abound as to what may actually be at the site, which is now more than 100 feet deep. Some ideas include treasure buried by pirates, Incan treasure from a Spanish galleon, treasures from Solomon’s Temple hidden by Sir Francis Bacon, or treasures from the Knights Templar.

“Truthfully, I really don’t have a theory. It’s quite remarkable. We don’t know what we’re searching for, we’re spending all this money we’re actively engaged in the search, and we don’t know,” said Lagina, adding he personally hoped it was the treasure of the Knights Templar.

Lagina and his brother hope to discover whatever secret the site may hold, but have agreed to only continue the search until it’s no longer fun for them.

“If someday we’re not lucky enough to have found this or someone else has found this, maybe one of you sitting here will be in my place telling the story of the solution not the search,” Lagina told the students.

At the end of the presentation the students gave Lagina two Escanaba shirts – one for Lagina and one for his brother to wear on the show. Lagina told the students he would not only wear the shirts but also would mention on film his experience talking to them.