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The Sinister Story of the Hope Diamond Curse

Gemstones have attracted the admiration and wonder of mankind since time unremembered, and as such have conjured up legends and lore around them to the point that they are almost otherworldly at times, and sometimes even downright dangerous. By far the most famous and indeed notorious example of a cursed gemstones is none other than the one called the Hope Diamond. The diamond itself is quite an enchanting sight, not a brilliant white as one would expect from such a stone, but rather a very rare beguiling blue color, and at an original rough-cut weight of 112 carats and present weight of 45.52 carats it is the largest such diamond ever found. Making it all the more unearthly is the diamond’s habit of generating a sort of ethereal luminescence when the lights are turned off, making it seem to be almost a magical stone from some fantasy story, actually a product of very specific impurities within its composition. It is a quite a surreal and mystical, hauntingly beautiful sight to see, but beneath its veneer of scintillating beauty lies a dark history full of mystery, death, and whispers of ancient curses.

The Hope Diamond has origins that are rather shrouded in mystery. According to the legend associated with it, it originally began its life in India within the forehead of a Hindu idol, from which it was plucked by a thief. Unluckily for him, the diamond was guarded by a potent curse, and the thief would die an agonizing death long after. The diamond then somehow found its way to a place called the Golconda mines, which at the time was one of the only sources of diamonds in the world and which produced some of the largest, among them the monstrous, rare blue hued rock that would go on to become the Hope Diamond. It was here where the French gem merchant and adventurer Jean-Baptiste Tavernier would acquire the gem in the 17th century, by some accounts stealing it, and at this point the curse would rear its ugly head by apparently making Tavernier severely ill not long after.

Tavernier was able to sell the stone to King Louis XIV in 1673, who had the monstrous diamond re-cut down to 67 carats in order to increase its eerie brilliance, placed in a ceremonial blue ribbon and called the diamond “The Blue Diamond of the Crown.” According to the spooky lore, Tavernier would take a trip to Russia and supposedly be ripped to shreds by a pack of wild wolves, although it is in fact not known how he really died. In the meantime, King Louis XIV would die of gangrene, and to make it all even worse he is said to have had all but one of his children die at a young age. During his reign there was also one of the King’s advisors, who is said to have once worn the diamond and then been shortly after banished and imprisoned. The insidious diamond would pass on to King Louis XV in 1749, who had it fitted within an extravagant pendant called the Order of the Golden Fleece, and he would seemingly manage to avoid the curse, but those who acquired it afterwards were not so lucky.

The Hope Diamond

Both King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette would inherit the diamond and have their lives ended minus their heads at the guillotine during the French Revolution, and Princess de Lambelle would be beaten to death by an angry mob and have her head placed upon a pike. It might be just a coincidence that she was known to often wear the diamond, but maybe not? Then the diamond was stolen and sort of vanished in 1792, disappearing for decades until it mysteriously reappeared in 1812 in the possession of a London diamond merchant named Daniel Eliason. While the diamond in this case was somewhat smaller than the missing one, it was still that incredibly clear blue, and it was thought that it had merely been recut again to hide its trail from those who had been looking for it, although how it had made its way to Eliason is unknown.

With its rediscovery the Hope Diamond, which at this point was mostly called the “French Blue” really started its curse back up with a vengeance, and a whole string of owners would allegedly meet misfortune and horrific ends. It was first bought by British King George IV, who had to sell it off in order to pay off debts from financial failure, and it was bought by the wealthy Hope family, from where it gets its modern name. By 1887 the family had squandered its wealth, and the diamond was eventually sold off in 1901 by Lord Francis Hope, who had lost vast amounts of money on gambling and had lost his wife as well. The company that bought it, New York jeweler Joseph Frankel’s Sons & Company, soon had massive financial woes during a recession called the Banker’s Panic in 1907 and had to offload the gem.

After that the supposed “curse” kept itself quite busy as the formidable diamond changed hands numerous times and seemed to bring misery and death wherever it went. Dutch jeweler Wilhelm Fals was viciously murdered by his own son, a Greek owner named Simon Maoncharides went careening off of a cliff in his carriage, crashing to the rocks below, killing him and his entire family. Many other owners also supposedly suffered from the curse as well. An owner named Jacques Colet killed himself, Russian Prince Ivan Kannitovitsky was murdered, a concubine of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid received it as a gift and was then murdered by him right before he was dethroned. It was eventually purchased by the renowned French jeweler Pierre Cartier, and by this time the Hope Diamond had accrued a healthy reputation as being a deeply cursed item, keeping potential buyers at bay.

Cartier took a rather innovative tactic in the face of swirling rumors of a malevolent curse imbuing the otherwise sparkling rare blue diamond, and instead of trying to hide this sinister aspect played it up to the hilt. The diamond was actively advertised as being a spooky cursed object, and unbelievably a buyer came forward in the form of a rich newspaper heiress named Evalyn Walsh McLean, who purchased it precisely because of its status as a bringer of strife. Mclean made the rather colorful claim that she had the power to transform unlucky objects into lucky ones, that she could mold these forces into the opposite of what they had been and that the effect was in direct relation to the power of the curse. In the case of the infamous Hope Diamond, she believed that in her hands it would become an incredibly lucky, blessed object that would bring fame and fortune.

By all accounts McLean was eager to flash about her new possession, often wearing it out around town and showing it off. She was a bit of an eccentric and subjected this great historical treasure to some rather questionable treatment, such as putting it around her dog’s neck or holding parties in which she would hide the diamond and have guests try to look for it, like some kind of high society Easter egg hunt. Her powers of taking off its bad luck would fail miserably, though, and the Hope Diamond took out its wrath on her with a vengeance, perhaps due to the disrespect she had shown it. In rapid succession her mother-in-law died, her young son was killed in a car crash, her daughter became addicted to drugs and overdosed, McLean herself would become hooked on morphine, and her husband would leave her for another woman before himself going insane and being committed to an asylum. McLean would go on to meet with catastrophic financial doom, selling her newspaper, The Washington Post, and eventually dying dirt poor.

After McLean’s death her family would have the diamond sold to the gem magnate Harry Winston, who from 1949 to 1953 toured it around the United States with other impressive gemstones before donating it to the Smithsonian Institute in 1958, oddly in a normal brown package by regular postal mail. The Hope Diamond would allegedly get in one last victim of its nefarious curse en route, when the postal worker who delivered it to the National Museum of Natural History went on to break his leg in a car accident, suffer a serious head injury in another accident, lose his wife, and have his house burn to the ground. After this the diamond fell into a seeingly dormant state, satiated and its curse inert, causing no further trouble as it was displayed for all to see as part of the Smithsonian’s National Gem Collection, where it still remains to the delight of millions of visitors annually. And what about the curse? Does that surround it still, circling about hunting for a new victim? Did it ever really exist at all? That depends on who you ask.

Evalyn Walsh McLean

The Smithsonian itself has dismissed the curse as a bit of sensationalism drummed up by Cartier when he was trying to woo McLean into buying it. He basically went through and found anything bad that had ever happened to anyone even tangentially associated with it, in some cases not proven to have even connected to it at all, took the rumors that had already been floating about a “curse,” added in embellished stories of stolen Hindu gems, ancient curses, and likely other fictional elements like people dying in vicious wolf attacks, and turned it all up to 11, really playing it all up in a macabre tale. Newspapers picked up the talk of curses and went with it, splashing it all over the news even as it picked up momentum and further exaggerations and embellishments. In the end, although many of the tragedies and deaths were indeed real, their link to the Hope Diamond and its supposed curse were amplified and mixed with bits of fiction and exaggeration until it was hard to disentangle fact from fiction. It seems to be a sort of manufactured urban legend, and this is only amplified by the large amount of superstition surrounding diamonds in the first place, and author Claudia de Lys has said of this:

Diamond superstitions are now found everywhere in the world. A typical Eastern superstition is that the possession of extremely large diamonds always brings misfortune. A long history of blood, theft, intrigue, loss of empire, loss of life and other disasters belongs to each of the most celebrated diamonds, and for the most part the stories are historically true. This fact only strengthens the belief in the minds of the superstitious that large diamonds are the cause of the misfortune of their owners.

However, others say that the tragedies are beyond coincidence, that this can only be the product of malicious evil forces. The rationale here is that even discounting the tales we cannot confirm and looking at the historical facts it at first does seem quite ominous that so many bad things should happen to so many of those who have possessed the diamond. Wouldn’t this be indicative of a curse? Maybe, maybe not. It is hard to say, as the dark powers of the Hope Diamond have been played up so much and become so legendary that it is hard to look at it with an unbiased mind. With any supposedly “cursed” item anything bad that has ever happened to anyone associated with it immediately becomes part of the curse, ignoring all of those who have had nothing bad happen at all. Bad things happen, cursed object or not, so it could just be reading paranormal causes into coincidence and the natural order of things, or then again maybe it is cursed, who knows? Regardless of what the answer is, the curse of the Hope Diamond is still discussed and debated to this day, and the object of all of this remains on display for all to see, its magnificent blue surface hiding underneath it unsolved mysteries that still manage to provoke wonder.