Friday, September 12, 2008

10 Victims of the Hope Diamond Curse

On this day in 1792, the Hope Diamond was stolen from the house that stored the crown jewels. It’s a pretty fascinating little bauble, if you’re the sort of person who is impressed by 45.52 carat gems (I am). But you probably wouldn’t want to own it – it’s cursed, you know. The story goes that the curse started from the Tavernier Blue, which was the precursor to several large diamonds, including the Hope Diamond. Take this with a grain of salt, because it’s never been proved: Jean-Baptiste Tavernier stole the 115.16 carat blue diamond from a Hindu statue, where it was serving as one of the eyes. Upon discovering it was missing, priests put a curse on whoever was in possession of the gem.

Which brings me to our Quick 10 topic: 10 people who have (supposedly) experienced the Hope Diamond Curse.

1. Jean Baptiste-Tavernier. The story is that he came down with a raging fever soon after stealing the diamond, and after he died, his body was possibly ravaged by wolves. However, other reports show that he lived until the ripe old age of 84, so… yeah.

2. King Louis XIV. He bought the stone from Tavernier and had it recut in1673. It was then known as “The Blue Diamond of the Crown” or the “French Blue”. King Louis died of gangrene and all of his legitimate children died in childhood, except for one. But that isn’t atypical of the times, I don’t think.

3. Nicholas Fouquet, who worked for King Louis XIV, is said to have worn the diamond for some special occasion. Shortly thereafter, he fell out of favor with the king and was banished from France. The Louis changed this sentence to life imprisonment, so Fouquet spent 15 years in the fortress of Pignerol. Some people believe that he was the real Man in the Iron Mask, but other accounts dispute this.

marie4. and 5. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis inherited the French Blue, Marie wore it, and I think we all know what happened there.

6. Marie-Louise, Princess de Lamballe, was a member of Marie Antoinette’s court and was her closest confidante. She was killed by a mob in a most horrific fashion – apparently hit with a hammer, decapitated, stripped, and disemboweled, among other things. Her head was impaled on a pike and carried to Marie Antoinette’s prison window.

7. Wilhelm Fals was a Dutch jeweler who recut the diamond again. His son ended up murdering him and then killing himself.

8. Greek merchant Simon Maoncharides owned the diamond. His curse? He drove his car over a cliff and killed himself, his wife and his child.

evalyn9. Evalyn Walsh McLean. Evalyn was a spoiled heiress who lived a charmed life… until she bought the diamond. She happily wore the diamond and there are stories that she would even affix the jewel to her dog’s collar and let him wander around the apartment with it. But wearing the Hope Diamond came at a steep price: first her mother-in-law died, her son died at the age of nine, her husband left her for another woman and later died in a mental hospital, her daughter died of a drug overdose at 25 and she eventually had to sell her newspaper – the Washington Post - and died owing huge debts. Evalyn’s surviving kids sold the diamond to Harry Winston. Nine years later, Winston mailed the gem to the Smithsonian for $2.44 in postage and $155 in insurance. Which brings us to number 10:

10. James Todd, the mailman who delivered the diamond to the Smithsonian, apparently had his leg crushed in a truck accident shortly thereafter. He also suffered a head injury in a separate accident. Oh, also, his house burned down.

There’s no doubt that Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI and Princess de Lamballe were a tragic bunch; and Evalyn Walsh McLean definitely went through her share of hard times. But lots of these are probably exaggerated and twisted a bit to fit the tale and make the curse seem even more horrible. I wonder if even writing about the diamond can make you fall under the umbrella of the curse? After all, the Princess de Lamballe and the mailman didn’t have much to do with the gem at all.

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