TRAVERSE CITY — Marty Lagina made millions in energy exploration and now hopes to unearth treasure of a different sort on a tiny island in Nova Scotia.
Traverse City resident Lagina, his brother, Rick, and several others are in search of pirate treasure, or, at the very least, the solution to a mystery that began in 1795 when three teens discovered a filled-in shaft on Oak Island rife with layers of embedded oak logs.
The Laginas’ effort to explore a deep shaft, about 180 feet near the original “money pit,” was taped for a History Channel series, The Curse of Oak Island. The show premiered Jan. 5 and can be viewed on the History Channel website. Four more installments will air on Sundays at 10 p.m.
The ominous title of the series owes to the deaths of six men, lured in by the treasure hunt. Others went bankrupt. Lore has it one more person will die searching for treasure before the north Atlantic island gives up its gold — or whatever else it may be hiding.
Lagina hopes the multi-million dollar corporate investment of Rock International will end happily, but he’s realistic.
“This is a quest, not just a treasure hunt,” he said. “My brother is absolutely driven to figure it out and is convinced something historically significant happened there. Is it a good investment? I doubt it. But I also want to say people buy lottery tickets all the time. As risky as this is, it’s a lot smarter than a lottery ticket.”
The “Fellowship of the Dig,” as Marty calls it, includes energy colleagues Alan Kostrzewa and Craig Tester; Marty’s son, Alex; and Dan Blankenship and his son, David, who spent decades on the treasure hunt.
Lagina said the promise of treasure turned into an obsession for many. The teens who first discovered the shaft returned in 1810 and dug to a depth of some 100 feet before uncorking a booby trap that unleashed ocean water into the shaft, he said.
Up to seven more shafts were dug, some as deep as 145 feet. The Blankenships, encouraged by an exploratory dig that found bits of chain, hand-dug the 10-X shaft to a depth of 235 feet. Ocean water flooded that shaft, too, putting an underneath cavern out of reach, Lagina said.
The 220 years of treasure hunt obsessions have been fueled by discoveries along the way: a stone written in code (it went missing), copious amounts of coconut fiber, a piece of parchment, and a fragment of gold chain. Pirate ships frequented the island’s bay, including the notorious Captain Kidd, who sailed as late as the 1800s. Theories abound, Marty said.
“All are dramatic: Knights Templar, Shakespeare — there are people who think Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare and had reason to bury the books more or less permanently,” he said.
In the first episode, Lagina applies his drilling know-how to force up items from the bottom of 10-X. He remains a skeptic, but doesn’t believe it’s a hoax.
“You have all this data, all these odd man-made structures deep underground, so the question is to what purpose,” he said. “Why would anyone go into such elaborate efforts for nothing? It appears something very strange went on at Oak Island. The obvious thing is someone wanted to hide something of immense value.”
Most importantly, Marty said the quest has given him a chance to help his brother, a former postal worker, toward a dream he’s held onto since the age of 11 when first reading about the treasure hunt.
In the first show, the team reaps a piece of metal embedded in rock. The TV series bans Lagina from revealing what else they found.
“Here’s what I’m allowed to say. We found some pretty interesting things. That’s all,” Lagina said.