Rick and Marty Lagina, the brothers at the center of History’s hit show The Curse of Oak Island, are two of the most intriguing characters on TV today.
Originally from Kingsford, Michigan, their purchase along with their business partners of much of Oak Island, which lies off Canada’s Nova Scotia coast, put them right at the center of the world’s longest-running treasure hunt.
While retired US postal worker Rick has always truly believed there is something buried beneath the surface on the island, Marty has been more skeptical. However, his own infatuation with the mysterious island’s secrets continues to grow from season to season.
It is widely known how the brothers’ adventure began without them realizing it many years ago when Rick, aged just 11 at the time, picked up a copy of the January 1965 edition of Reader’s Digest magazine and read an article about Oak Island’s so-called ‘Money Pit’.
Today Rick views the pair as “stewards of a great mystery” as the Laginas continue their bid in Season 5 of The Curse of Oak Island to try to get to the bottom of not only the pit, but also what other secrets the island has to unfold.
Here’s 10 interesting facts about the Lagina brothers and their treasure-hunting exploits:
Marty knows how to dig a hole
If you want someone to dig a hole, there’s not many people who know how better to do it than Marty. Back in the 70s he studied an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering, graduating from Michigan Tech in 1977.
He later went on to study law at the University of Michigan, gaining his Juris Doctorate in 1982. However, while studying law he began his own oil and gas company, Terra Energy, which after he graduated went for strength to strength and turned into his main focus.
It specialized in extracting natural gas in Michigan — a very tricky task — and became the biggest shale gas well operator in the state.
In 1995, he sold the company to CMS for a reported $58 million. He went on to become a majority shareholder in Chartwell Properties L.L.C. and then moved into renewable energy, founding Heritage Sustainable Energy which specialises in wind turbines. He also owns the Villa Mari vineyard near Traverse City, Michigan, where he lives.
Marty started that due to his love of wine, which he attributes to his Italian roots. It specializes in reds and is named after his grandmother, an Italian immigrant.
Marty’s son Alex, who works as a general manager at the vineyard, recalled in an interview with Michigan Today how she would “always have a barrel of wine in the basement”. He added: “Dad likes to say wine is in his blood.”
Rick has been going on about Oak Island for years
Rick and Marty have always loved adventure, after growing up reading the Hardy Boys books and seeking adventure as kids wherever they could like the stories’ fictional brothers Frank and Joe.
So it was no surprise that the 1965 Reader’s Digest article read by Rick stuck with him.
An article about the brothers in 2016 said: “After reading it, Marty remembers they’d play out various versions of their own Oak Island mysteries — stomping around the woods near Iron Mountain, spending the better part of three summers digging for “Indian treasure” under one particularly immovable Upper Peninsula boulder.”
And it seems Rick has taken every opportunity over the years to bring up the island in conversation whenever he could.
Marty’s son Alex told how Rick would always talk about the island while the Laginas were on family holidays. He said: “I’ve been hearing about Oak Island since I was a kid.”
The brothers get a lot out of the show, even without treasure
Anyone who watches the show will know well the close bond shared by the brothers, a bond which extends to the rest of the team, including relatives — Alex and the pair’s nephew Peter Fornetti — and close friends, including Marty’s business partner Craig Tester and his son Jack Begley. Craig’s other son Drake Tester, who tragically passed away earlier this year, was also part of the Oak Island family.
Taking part in the treasure hunt means the group spend many weeks, often months, together each summer. That coming together and the relationships it builds means they get something precious out of the show even in the absence of glittering treasures.
Rick told an AMA (Ask Me Anything) question-and-answer session that he and Marty did on Reddit last year: “I love the fact that my nieces and nephews at a greater or lesser degree are a part of the show. I like having them there.”
Marty’s son Alex said in his interview with Michigan Today: “It’s an opportunity to spend time with my uncle and dad doing this crazy adventure, and that’s a great thing.”
Rick has also spoken about how much he gets out of knowing that other people, the fans, are finding the show educational and inspirational.
He told MyNorth: “One of the most gratifying aspects of being a part of this show is when parents come up and say to one of us, “We watch this as a family”…it has incited interest in our children to do more reading, to realize that science is applicable to what their dreams are. Science, engineering, mathematics, just reading. Where their dreams might leave them.”
It took a lot to persuade them to do it
Rick and Marty bought their part of Oak Island long before there was any talk of turning the treasure hunt into a show.
The brothers were persuaded to do it only when producer Kevin Burns from Prometheus Entertainment heard about what they were doing and travelled to the island to try and convince them to turn it into a series.
Marty said in an interview: “Kevin really had to talk us into it. What carried the day is that Rick is a true believer in this legend. In his heart, he believes something of historical importance really happened in this place. And he wanted to get the story out.”
They really wanted it to be genuine
Rick and Marty were both adamant that if their quest was going to be turned into a TV show then it must be genuine — and depict what actually happens rather than anything staged.
Marty told Michigan Today that there is no script and the team aren’t asked to embellish things. He said: “We said we’re not going to do fake fights and scream at each other.”
Rick, asked previously if Marty was putting on an element of fear in a scene which saw Rick lowered down into the borehole known as 10X, said: “Oh no, we’re not actors. We aren’t capable of acting even if we wanted to!”
They bought Oak Island after seeing an ad in a magazine
Rick and Marty had always been interested in Oak Island ever since the Reader’s Digest article back in 1965.
But they actually first seriously started thinking about getting involved in the 1990s after hearing that Dan Blankenship was looking for investors to help him continue his treasure hunt.
The pair traveled all the way to Oak Island from Michigan on a whim to meet him, but only managed to have a brief conversation with Dan before he had to leave on other business.
This meant nothing came of it at the time, but Rick has previously told how he always had a gut feeling that he would one day return.
That day came when the pair saw an advert that Oak Island was for sale in a copy of Islands magazine.
They initially thought the whole island was up for grabs, but after making an inquiry found out it was just Lot 25. They decided to buy it, then later bought more in 2005 after Dan Blankenship’s fellow Oak Island Tours Inc. owner David Tobias sold his shares.
However, the brothers were almost outbid. The amount that the brothers offered for the shares was actually lower than that of a rival bid from a Swiss developer.
However, Dan Blankenship had the right to pick whichever offer he preferred and decided on Rick and Marty’s, likely because he knew how much they loved the island and its history, and saw a bit of himself in them. Basically, that they were treasure hunters.
They work hard at trying to find treasure
In 2015, Rick said in interview how on average he spends at least five months on the island from the end of May through to October when the cold weather comes in.
During those months, he estimated he usually works five days a week for 10 to 12 hours a day — plus time doing research outside of that.
Asked if there was any downtime, he said: “Not so much. It’s pretty much all consuming.”
Marty spends less time on the island due to his other business interests — but the fact that he finds time to be so involved while also running an energy business and vineyard is pretty remarkable.
Rick doesn’t watch the show
Amazingly, Rick doesn’t watch the show — because he doesn’t like to watch himself on television.
Referring to the pair as “Yoopers”, the colloquial term for people from the Upper Peninsuala — the “UP” — he told MyNorth: “Yes, I am serious. We’re just a couple of Yooper boys, ya know, it’s hard to watch yourself on TV in my opinion. I am not a big fan of that. But I am a big fan of Oak Island, I believe in it.”
Knights Templar treasure would be the ultimate jackpot
In their 2016 AMA on Reddit, Rick and Marty chose different things when asked what they would most like to find on the island — with Rick saying historical artefacts and Marty saying gold.
However, they then both said in other responses how of all the things they could find, Knights Templar treasure was the one thing they were really hoping for — because it would be both valuable and hugely historically significant. Rick said: “It’s not only a treasure, but it fills in the gap for history.”
They aren’t the kind to give up
Ahead of Season 5, the brothers viewed their most significant finds as the coconut fibers that were found in Smith’s Cove, and the coin from the swamp which was dated back to the 1600s.
But despite their haul of booty remaining low, Rick says they’re not the kind to give up. He once recounted how a grade-schooler said that if she’d found as little as the brothers had in so many years of digging that she’d have packed it in by now.
But he said the reason they kept going was they’re “Yoopers — and Yoopers don’t give up.” He also goes by the motto “once in, forever in”. However during last year’s Reddit AMA he did concede that they couldn’t continue the hunt unless they continued to get results.
Asked how long the brothers would keep looking, he said: “I’d like to say as long as it takes but one has to be realistic and at some point if we don’t feel we can make progress, we’ll hand the mystery to someone else.”
The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History.