You were thinking Tutankhamun, weren’t you? Certainly when modern readers are told to think of a cursed tomb, the first thing that comes to mind is the famously treasure-filled chambers of King Tut.
Howard Carter’s 1922 discovery was however not the first time an Egyptian tomb had been rumored to be cursed. The rise of excavations and rash of discoveries as the necropolises of ancient Egypt were opened came with increasing uneasiness amongst the populace and warnings not to disturb the dead.
Curses also appear to be baked into the human psyche, as many disparate civilizations across the globe have formed the concept independently of each other. It seems the need for an invisible warning, from the ghost fences of ancient Celtic druids to the witches of northern European folklore, permeates human development.
Curses can of course be levelled at an individual or placed more generally on an object. Happily, some of these cursed objects survive to this day. Here are eight.
1. The Tomb of Tutankhamun
Let’s start with the big one. Howard Carter and his team, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, uncovered something almost unbelievable in 1922: an intact tomb of an ancient pharaoh that had not been plundered by graverobbers.
Strange things started to happen almost immediately after Tutankhamun’s tomb was opened. Carter’s canary was killed in its cage: a cobra had somehow climbed in. Then Lord Carnarvon died unexpectedly when an insect bite became infected, and the rumor mill went into overdrive.
Three more members of the expedition, including Carter would die in the following years (although in fairness Carter died in 1939, 16 years later) as well as a tourist who entered the tomb. Carter himself never believed in the curse, but the rumors have persisted ever since.
2. The Tomb of Casimir IV Jagiellon
When, in 1973, permission was granted for King Casimir IV Jagiellon’s burial coffin to be exhumed, Polish archaeologists were ecstatic. Such permission is given only in extremely rare cases, and they would be offered a privileged opportunity to inspect the tomb of a dead king.
Researchers opening the tomb found the wooden coffin had rotten away and what remained were sections of the king’s decaying corpse. But the curse was quick to strike. Four researchers who had been working in Wawel Cathedral on the exhumation of the tomb passed away from infections in the following few days.
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Unlike the Egyptian tomb however, a material cause was found for this curse. From a 1999 study of mummified remains it was uncovered that most of them contained a saprophytic and pathogenic fungus called Aspergillus Flavus. These fungi infect animals and cause allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems in healthy individuals, but if they were to enter the body of an immunocompromised person, they most likely be fatal.
3. The Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond is one of the most famous and beautiful gemstones in the world, a 45.52-carat blue diamond which comes from Guntur, India. It can be traced back to the 17th century and was once in the possession of the King of France.
Rumors started to circulate in the 19th century that the diamond had originally been the eye of the Hindu goddess Sita in a colossal statue, hidden in a secret sacred shrine. Over the years dozens of people who owned or wore the diamond started to experience ill fortune, and it was whispered that the diamond was cursed.
Honestly, the story of a giant statue was likely inserted into the narrative to increase fascination with the stone, and maybe therefore its value. The rest could be confirmation bias and seeing a pattern in random events. Or maybe there truly is something to the tale.
4. The Crying Boy
From the 1950s, many British houses had a picture hanging somewhere or what was known as The Crying Boy. This mass produced print was extremely popular and many were bought over the next few decades.
Then, in 1985 British newspaper The Sun ran a story about a firefighter who had noticed something weird. Having attended dozens of fires in houses over the years, he had noticed that these pictures, whenever they were found in houses after the blaze, were mysteriously undamaged. Stories that the man who had painted the picture referred to the boy in the painting as “Diablo” did not help.
Was the painting cursed, able to withstand the hottest fires of hell? Or was the fire-retardant varnish on the surface of the prints, combined with such pictures often falling face down as the string holding them burned through, leading to them being protected from the blaze? Who can tell.
5. The Gold of Tolosa
The French city of Toulouse has an extremely long history. Two millennia ago it was Tolosa, home of the Volcae, a large federation of Gaulish tribes who dominated the area and fought as far afield as Thermopylae in 279 BC where they defeated the Greeks.
Dominant at least until the arrival of the Romans, who had heard about all the gold and plunder the Gauls were bringing back from their adventures in Greece and fancied taking that for themselves. So when the tired Gauls finally made it home, leaderless and war-weary, they found the Romans blocking their path.
In truth, some stories say the Gauls already knew the treasure to be cursed and had thrown some of it in a lake. They still retained a horde of treasure however, and when the Romans took Tolosa they confiscated it and headed back to Rome. They were never seen again, and the cursed gold remains out there somewhere hidden to this day.
6. The Black Prince’s Ruby
This giant red gemstone, actually a spinel if we’re going to split hairs, has brought misfortune and death to a string of people through its long history. Taken from the body of a murdered Muslim prince, it came into the possession of Don Pedro the Cruel of Spain.
Pedro would almost immediately faced an uprising led by his usurping brother, and was forced to seek the assistance of England to avoid being deposed. English assistance was duly provided and the English captain, Edward Black Prince of Wales, demanded the ruby as payment.
Edward was wearing the ruby when he died on the battlefield, as was Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry V wore it in his crown at the Battle of Agincourt and nearly lost it, having his helmet and the ruby dashed from his head by a mighty axe blow.
Still not convinced of the curse? Well, the ruby today is mounted on the Imperial State Crown worn by the monarch of England. And every single king or queen to have worn that crown, apart from the current one, is dead…
7. The “Little Bastard”
On 30 September 1955 James Dean’s Porsche 1955 Spyder would crash almost head on with another car, killing the rising movie star and cementing a legend. The Spyder itself was already considered a cursed car before the crash, with Dean’s friend Alec Guinness warning him not to drive it only a week before.
The Spyder itself was almost totally destroyed in the accident, but it was rebuilt and passed through several owners into the 1960s. As time went by, people started to notice strange things happening around the car. It caught fire for no reason, for example, and was involved in a string of accidents. On one occasion the car carrying the transplanted engine crashed and killed its driver.
Many of these stories may have come from an attempt to drum up interest in the car as a piece of pop culture. However as the 1960s progressed American tastes shifted to larger, more powerful “muscle” cars and as the Porsche fell out of fashion the stories stopped.
8. Portrait of Bernardo de Gálvez
A prominent landmark in Galveston, Texas, the Grand Galvez Resort & Spa is a historic 226-room resort hotel dating back to 1911. At the end of one of the corridors hangs a painting of Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez which is said to be cursed.
It is said that the painting resists attempts to take photographs of it. The painting itself is not well lit but if you try to use flash photography your photos will have the image of a skull on them. The skull itself can never be found in the original painting.
Happily though there is a way to circumvent the curse. If visitors are to politely ask permission of the painting to take a photo, then the skull will not appear and the reproduction will be flawless.
Top Image: Voodoo dolls are a common curse in some cultures. Source: DedMityay / Adobe Stock.
By Joseph Green