A Cabinet of Cursed Curiosities
It has been an unexpectedly busy couple of days so here, without much ado, I offer a potpourri of possessed possessions; a cabinet of cursed curiosities; an assemblage of Objects of the Damned.
Belief in mascots, luck-bringers, is universal, and dates back to the dawn of civilisation. It is not peculiar to any race or creed, and is as strong to-day as ever in the past. Numbers of great men, as well as ordinary individuals, treasure mascots and carry them at all times. If now a concrete object such a as gem, a cross or a relic can possess useful properties and bring good fortune to its owner, is it not equally reasonable that the converse is the case? If you read newspapers, if you take any interest at all in this subject, doubt becomes almost impossible.
The most notable of recent instances is that of the bewitched car, the big red six-seater in which the Archduke Francis Joseph [sic] and his wife were assassinated at Sarajevo in 1914, a crime which, as we all know, was the direct cause of the world war. When the war broke out the car was lodged in a Vienna museum as a curiosity, and when peace at last came it passed into the hands of the Jugoslav Governor of Bosnia and Herzegovina. So many small and unaccountable accidents occurred that a rumour gained ground that the car was bewitched, and the Governor, finding his nerves were beginning to suffer, sold it.
Its new owner, a wealthy Bosnian, was driving into Sarajevo when to his amazement the motor, for no apparent reason, began to slow down. He stopped, got out and examined the engine, but found nothing wrong. Then the car refused to car again, and at last the owner was forced to hire a carter and two horses to pull the machine. The horses were being hitched to it when, without warning, the car started again all by itself. The horses ran away, the carter fled, and the car running into a bank, turned over, crushing its unfortunate owner to death.
Another death car is the large Benz originally owned by Prince Henry of Prussia, brother of the ex-Kaiser. When the Prince owned it the car killed a pedestrian and the Prince at once got rid of it. The new owner had hardly taken charge when the car charged another person, a woman, and killed her. The car was sold again, and a third person was killed. Once more it changed hands, and this time it appeared to get suddenly out of control on the Cologne Suspension Bridge and, turning over, killed its driver. One may admit that this chain of disaster may have been pure accidents, yet if so the coincidence is at least strange and unusual.
Speaking of cars, it may be remembered that Count Zborowski, one of the most famous of the early racing motorists, was killed in a motor car accident at Nice. He was wearing at the time a ring of peculiar design, which it is said brought misfortune to every owner. The design made the ring easily recognizable, and five times in fifty years it came to the Paris morgue on the fingers of a corpse. The truth of this remarkable occurrence was vouched for by M. [Gustave] Mace, who was Chief of the Detective Police of Paris for some years at the end of the last century.
[The ring mentioned in connection with Count Louis Zborowski may have been the one mentioned here:
Ring Seems to Be Real Hoodoo
The head of the Paris Morgue is responsible for the statement—and it is vouched for by the late chief of the Paris police—that five times within his experience dead bodies brought to the morgue were found to be wearing a ring of Oriental make, and bearing these words in Oriental characters: “May whosover wears this ring die a miserable death.” Aberdeen [SD] American 1 March 1912: p. 3]
Of gems which bring ill fortune the most celebrated is, of course, the Hope “Blue Diamond,” the story of which is too well know to be repeated here. But from Madame de Montespan, favourite of Louis XIV, through the ill-fated Marie Antoinette down to the American millionaire Mr. Edward McLean, every single person who wore or owned this brilliantly beautiful stone has come to utter grief.
A grim story of a fateful necklace appeared some years ago in the Russian newspaper Novoe Vremya. The necklace was French work of the eighteenth century, but nothing is known of its early history until it came into the possession of the head of a French noble family who, with nearly all the members of his house, was guillotined during the French Revolution. The survivors escaped to Brussels, where they sold their jewellery, including the necklace, and from that time onwards enjoyed good fortune. The necklace brought bad luck to every owner and in the next hundred years, changed hands at least ten times. At last it was sold to a Russian prince for £4,000, who gave it to the celebrated dancer Tzukki. At once the dancer’s health failed, and she had to abandon the stage. She became so poor that she had to sell the jewel, and its next owner, a man named Linivitch, did suddenly at Monte Carlo. His heir, who received the necklace, lost all his money at the tables and was forced to sell the ornament. Its purchaser was M. Andieef, a broker who was a very wealthy man. He paid £2,000 for the necklace and gave it to his wife. From that moment the two began to quarrel, until at last, in a fit of fury, the wretched man cut his wife down with a sword and killed her.
It is not always objects of value which possess unpleasant powers. A few years ago a man who had served in Africa during the war gave to a woman friend a necklace of [native] beads. From the very hour that she accepted them everything seemed to go wrong. If she went out cycling she invariably had a nasty fall. All sorts of troubles afflicted the lady, and on one occasion when she lent the necklace to her daughter, the latter slipped and sprained her ankle.
The owner of the necklace was interested in Spiritualism, and since he had at last begun to suspect the necklace, took it with her to a séance, and asked the medium (a woman) to psychometrize it. The latter at once informed her that it had previously belonged to a [native] chief who had been robbed of it and murdered. Also she said that there was another half to the necklace. The lady saw the man who had given her the necklace, and he at once admitted that this was true, that there had been another half to the ornament.
The medium asked the lady to give her the necklace, in which she was much interested, but the owner refused, for she had made up her mind to bury it. But in the end she did hand it over to the medium, and at once all its ill-luck was transferred to the latter, while the former owner had good fortune again.
[Variations of this story, usually involving Egyptian mummy beads, were a popular urban legend. See, for example, The Mummy Necklace.]
Opals have a bad reputation, but some people seem able to wear them without any evil results. Here, however, is a case in which an opal was the cause of a series of misfortunes. Just a week before Thanksgiving Day in 1901, a friend presented Mr. Maguire, a railway official of Denver, Colorado, with a beautiful opal. Mr. Maguire had hard of the baneful influence of the stone, but considered himself safe from harm. He showed the opal to one of its warmest friends, who admired it greatly. From the friend’s hands it went into the pocket of another intimate, who offered to have it set for him. On the day before Thanksgiving Day, Mr. Maguire received his opal pin and proceeded to wear it on a business journey to Denver.
Things had moved smoothly in the Maguire family, and with those with whom they came in daily contact; but from now on it was to be otherwise. The most remarkable string of fatalities followed on the heels of the delivery of the opal pin.
On his way out to Denver the owner was robbed of many of his possessions while he slept peacefully in his berth. His suitcase was ransacked and cleaned out of dozens of collars, cuffs, and new ties. The pockets of his clothes were turned inside out and rifled of all of the coin they contained, as well as all the railroad passes generally owned by railway officials, a gold watch, and a ring, which as a keepsake had great intrinsic value. Worst of all, Mr. Maguire had to hurry back from Denver and could not wait for his free transportation, but had to pay his way.
On his return to the city he found that the friend who had admired the opal had had his fingers smashed by the door of a pilot-house, and was disabled for several weeks. The man who had it set fell off a street car, while it was going along at the rate of fourteen miles and hour, and had a big bill for renovated clothes and asset of sore arms and hand to show that he did not escape the wrath of the opal, to say nothing of a financial failure down in Texas which involved great loss of money.
While in Denver, the original owner of the weird stone presented it to a friend who, since its ownership, has met with all sorts of disappointments.
In the old days of pedal cycle racing, a well-known rider named Oliver Peterson was killed at Lansingbury in New York Sate. He ran into a post of an indoor track and fractured his skull. He was wearing a ring, a perfectly plain gold band of which the origin or history is unknown. It passed to his friend W.E. Miles, a member of the same racing team, and a few months later he too met with a sudden and violent death. Its third owner was Miles’ teammate, W.F. Stafford. Within six months an accident on the track caused his death, and he too was wearing the ring. When Stafford was killed the ring passed to Mr. Frank Waller, who had been his manager, and he gave it to his wife.
But William C. Stinson, another track racer, begged that he might have the ring as a memento of Stafford, who had been his greatest friend, and it was given to him. Stinson then held the one-hour record, and was reckoned the finest rider in America. Within a week of receiving the ring he had three bad falls, the last time when travelling at forty miles an hour paced by a motor cycle. After that he had wisdom enough to lay the ring aside, and from then on he had no more accidents. In this case it appears that it was only when wearing the ring that the owner was in danger.
The so-called Mephisto’s ring which belonged to the Royal House of Spain became notorious for the ill-fortune which it brought to every owner. Mephisto’s ring contained a large and beautiful emerald and came to Spain—no one knows how—in the reign of Philip II. From that period dated the decline of the Spanish power. At the time of the Spanish-American War it was presented by the Royal family to a church, but the church was shortly afterwards burned to the ground. The ring was saved and given to a museum, which was struck by lightning, so the ring was returned to the Royal Family “with thanks.” Within a week came news of the disastrous defeat of the Spanish navy at Manila. It was decided to get rid of this deadly gem, and it was placed in a strong box and buried. One wonders what will happen if it is ever found again. It would have been safer to consign it to a furnace.
Another Spanish ring which brought appallingly bad luck to all its owners was originally the property of the beautiful Countess de Castiglione, among whose admirers was the Prince who afterwards became Alfonso XII. When he came to the throne he married a princess of the blood royal. The Countess, bitterly jealous, sent him this ring as a wedding present. It was a beautiful piece of work containing a huge and splendid opal. Alfonso gave it to his bride, Queen Mercedes, who at once became ill, and very soon afterwards died. It was then given by the King to his grandmother, Queen Christina, who also fell sick and died in a few months. The King’s sister, the Infanta Maria, next wore it, and in a few days was on her deathbed. The King himself slipped the ill-omened jewel on his own finger, and soon the ring claimed another victim. His second wife, Queen Christina, had the good sense to realise its fearful potency, and had it hung upon the statue of the Virgin of Almudena, where it remains to this day.
[For a longer account of this cursed opal ring, see this post: An Unlucky Ring for a Beloved Royal Wife.}
I will end with a story which was told me recently by a friend in Devonshire and which I have every reason to believe is literally true, though naturally it is impossible to give the names of the actors therein. A young couple, both of whom lived in a small and ancient Devonshire town near the South coast, got married. The husband was about twenty-five and had worked with one firm for seven years. He was as steady, pleasant and good-tempered a young fellow as could be found in the place, and the girl too was popular, pretty and level-headed. They went to London for their honeymoon, returned to their new house, and a fortnight later the young husband came home drunk. His bride was horrified.
Next day the poor fellow was utterly penitent. “I can’t think what made me do it,” he kept on saying. “I don’t really like drink except just a glass of beer.” For a month afterwards all went well, then he broke out a second time. He was carried home and again was miserably self-reproachful. A few weeks later he got drunk for a third time and then his wife went off quietly and consulted a “wise woman.” The latter came to the house and almost at once pitched upon a certain chair. It was a big old-fashioned arm-chair which had been given as a wedding present and in which the young man usually sat in the evening.
“This is the trouble,” said the wise woman. “It is all wrong. If you take my advice you will break it up and burn it.”
The wife did not hesitate. She burned the chair, and after that all went well. The husband has never since had the least inclination to drink.
The history of that chair has been traced. It belonged formerly to a butcher who was a drunkard, and who, in a fit of delirium, killed himself whilst sitting in it. One wonders whether other cases of possession may not be traced to a similar cause.
The Occult Review March 1927: pp: 226-232
The drunkard’s chair suggests the deadly Dead Man’s Chair of Busby Stoop.
Mephisto’s ring was new to me. Any other news of the deadly emerald? Exorcise before sending to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.