From ancient times, people have believed in the dark power of curses, placing their faith in them for protection or revenge. Whether or not they work is another question. But these five allegedly cursed objects seem to have brought very bad luck to the people who came in contact with them.
1. King Tut's Tomb
The king of all curses, of course, is the tomb of King Tut. Legend holds that when archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb in 1922, he ignored a curse written on the tomb walls condemning anyone who disturbed the pharaoh's mummy to a swift death. There are examples of ancient tombs with curses written on them, but the stories of a written curse on Tut’s tomb seem to be invented. Written or not, the people responsible for opening the tomb started dropping dead pretty quickly.
First was Lord Carnarvon, the financial backer of the expedition that opened the tomb. He died of a blood infection within six weeks of disturbing King Tut’s grave. At least four more people associated with the dig were dead within a year, including the radiologist who x-rayed Tut’s mummy. Carter himself lived for over a decade after discovering the tomb, but some associate his death in 1939 with the curse as well.
The strangest victim of King Tut’s curse was not a person, but a bird. On the very day the tomb was opened, Carter’s canary was killed in its cage by a cobra, the symbol of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
2. The Hope Diamond
Newspaper accounts of the Hope Diamond’s curse go back to the early 1900s, but the history of the massive 46-carat blue diamond goes back much further. It first appeared in India where, according to legend, it was stolen from a statue of a Hindu god. That same legend holds that the French jewel merchant who bought (or stole) the stone in 1666, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, was torn apart by wild dogs. In reality, he seems to have lived a long and luxurious life. But not everyone who possessed the stone had the same luck.
Tavernier sold it to the French King Louis XIV. It stayed in the French royal family until the very unlucky Louis XVI lost his head in the French Revolution.
It later acquired the name “Hope” from the Hope family, who also had bad luck—financial in this case. Lord Francis Hope was finally forced to sell the diamond to pay his debts. The last private owner of the famed diamond didn’t do well either. American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean lost her son to suicide, her daughter to a drug overdose, her husband to another woman, and the family business, The Washington Post, to bankruptcy. The diamond’s current owner is the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. which says it’s had nothing but good luck since acquiring the stone in 1958.
3. The Silver Basano Vase
Created in the 1400s in Italy, this famously cursed object brought almost instant death to its owners, beginning with the young bride for whom it was made. After killing a long succession of owners, the silver vase was finally, according to legend, given to a priest to bury forever.
It reappeared in 1988, according to the story, with a parchment note inside reading “Beware. This vase brings death.” The greedy finder tossed the note and sold the vase at auction. The first buyer was reportedly a pharmacist who died shortly afterward. The second owner was an archaeologist who also died. By now, the vase had reacquired its bad reputation. Its last owners tossed the vase from a window. Museums refused to accept it. Legend says the Basano vase is once again safely in the earth … waiting for a new finder.
4. The Crying Boy Prints
The Italian artist Giovanni Bragolin was known for painting crying boys and girls. His paintings were popular, and prints sold widely in the 1950s through the 1970s. But then, in 1985, curious reports surfaced in British tabloids such as The Sun. The reports claimed that undamaged copies of the teary-eyed paintings were often found in the rubble of houses that had caught on fire. The pictures were allegedly found face down, still in their frames and untouched by the flames. The story caught on, convincing many that wherever the portraits were, a fire was sure to follow. So many homeowners wanted to get rid of their prints that The Sun reportedly organized public bonfires.
5. Ötzi the Iceman
Five thousand years ago, Ötzi was murdered in a pass high in the Alps, shot from behind with an arrow. His body mummified in the frigid climate. He was discovered in 1991, and scientists began inspecting the remains. Ötzi, the oldest mummy ever found, gave scientists a chance to uncover the life of a man living during the Copper Age. But they may have uncovered something else with him...
At least four people closely linked to the discovery have died untimely deaths. Dr. Rainer Henn, who put the mummy into a body bag with his bare hands, died in a car accident. Kurt Fritz, an alpine guide who helped take the mummy off the mountain, died in an avalanche. A journalist who filmed the recovery died of a brain tumor. And the hiker who first came upon the remains died in a fall while hiking. Of course, the many people who have worked with Ötzi since his recovery remain alive and well. But were those who removed the body from its resting place victims of Ötzi’s curse?