CLOSE
Original image
China Photos/Getty Images

10 Allegedly Cursed Objects

Original image
China Photos/Getty Images

1. The Hope Diamond

Believed to have come to the surface 1.1 billion years ago, this gem is estimated to be worth $200-250 million. It has traveled the world but now resides in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and some believe it is cursed, with a whole mythology claiming that great misfortune and misery will befall any who dares to wear the 45.52 carat diamond. Rumored victims of the diamond have suffered disgrace, divorce, suicide, imprisonment, torture, financial ruin, lynching, or decapitation. One was even said to have been ripped apart by dogs, and another by a French mob. However, skeptics say this curse was a ploy to enhance the Hope Diamond's mystique and value.

2. The Busby Stoop Chair

English drunkard Thomas Busby sealed his fate when he murdered his father-in-law Daniel Auty in 1702. For his crimes, he was executed by hanging at a crossroads near a humble inn. But the story goes that this was not the end of Busby's killing. A chair that looked on to the site of his execution is believed to carry a curse—whoever sits upon it will supposedly die from a frightful accident. Still, the chair lingered in the inn until 1978, when the owner gifted it to the Thirsk Museum, where it now resides high on a wall, where no one need fear an accidental sitting.

3. The Crying Boy Painting

Another curse out of England comes from this popular 1950s reproduction of Bruno Amadio's "The Crying Boy" painting. The superstition goes that the pictures of this mournful child cause fires. Its source was an article in the tabloid The Sun from September 4th, 1985.  A couple’s house burned down, but the fire didn’t burn “The Crying Boy.” A local firefighter then noted that there were other fires that left only an undamaged "Crying Boy" painting.

4. The Hands Resist Him Painting

Another tale of cursed art surrounds this painting of a young boy and a female doll standing before a window. Painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in 1972, "The Hands Resist Him" belonged to actor John Marley before ending up on eBay in 2000 with claims it was cursed. The anonymous sellers said it was found abandoned behind an old brewery. Soon after taking it home, their young daughter claimed the figures in the painting moved at night, and even stepped out of their frame to cause chaos in the home. They posted photos as proof. As may be the case with the Hope Diamond, the curse story drove up the bid to $1,025.00.

5. The Terracotta Army

China Photos/Getty Images

In 1974, seven peasant farmers in China were digging a well for their village when they accidentally uncovered the 2,200-year-old Terracotta Army, an astonishingly detailed series of 8,000 sculptures that had been long buried as part of a grand tomb. The find has been a great one for China, bringing academics and busloads of tourists. But those who found it gained only misery. The Chinese government claimed their lands and destroyed their homes to properly unearth this army, financially ruining not just these men, but most of their village. Painful deaths followed for three of the seven, because as one of the survivors points out, they could not afford health care. Some have blamed government callousness for these men's fates. Others believe that this is a curse similar to that of Tut's Tomb.

6. Tut's Tomb

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Perhaps the most famous curse of all is the Tomb of Tutankhamun, the burial place of the 19-year-old pharaoh. All who enter—be they bandit or archaeologist—are said to be struck with bad luck, illness, or death because of the curse of the pharaohs. Belief in this curse predated the 1922 Howard Carter expedition to find Tut's tomb, but his discovery unleashed new life for this legend. The first to die was the canary that was rumored to have led Carter to the tomb's hidden location. Some say it was eaten by a cobra, a symbol of Egyptian royalty, while others insist it wasn't even killed, but rather given to a friend. Soon thereafter, Carter's financial backer Lord Carnavon died when a mosquito bite became infected. Twenty more deaths of people would get blamed on the curse by 1935. Still, skeptics suggest coincidence or a deadly fungus from the tomb are to blame.

7. Iceman

Another mummy believed to carry a terrible curse is Ötzi, also known as the Iceman. Discovered in September of 1991 in the Ötztal Alps in Italy, Ötzi is a mummy of a man who is believed to have lived around 3,300 BCE. A glacier surrounded him after he died of exposure, and preserved his body. But once unearthed, rumors of a curse surfaced too, and grew stronger as people linked to him began to die, often in violent accidents. All told, seven deaths have been tied to Ötzi's uprooting, including forensic pathologist Rainer Henn who was killed in a car accident en route to give a speech about the Iceman, mountaineer Kurt Fritz who died in an avalanche, and hiker Helmut Simon, who discovered the Iceman on a hike with his wife and later died after falling off a treacherous path.

8. James Dean's Little Bastard

"Little Bastard" was what Dean called his silver Porsche 550 Spyder, the car he died in following an accident in 1955. After that, the vehicle was purchased by hot rod designer George Barris, who planned to sell it for parts. The curse narrative was born when the car fell and crushed a mechanic's legs. As parts of the car sold, the curse is said to have spread. A doctor who bought the engine was killed in a car accident; another victim who bought the transmission was severely injured in a crash. The tires sold from Little Bastard blew out simultaneously, sending their buyer to the hospital. While the shell of the car was being transported, the truck carrying it crashed, and the driver was killed. From there, the shell was stolen and the curse of Little Bastard went quiet as its location became unknown.

9. The Phone Number +359 888 888 888

iStock

You might think a cursed phone number sounds like the plot to an uninspired horror flick, but anyone who had the number listed above since its first issuing in the early 2000s has died. That includes the CEO of a Bulgarian mobile phone company who died of cancer at 48, as well as two crooks—one a mafia boss and the other a cocaine-dealing estate agent, both of whom were "gunned down." All three died within four years of one another. Since then, the telephone number has been suspended, and the company that owns it refuses to comment as to why.

10. The Basano Vase

Legend has it that this silver vase made in the 15th century was given to a bride on the eve of her wedding near Napoli, Italy. Sadly, she'd never make it to the altar as she was murdered that very night with the vase in her hands. From there, it was passed down her family line, but anyone who took possession of it is said to have perished soon thereafter. After untold deaths, the family boxed the vase away. It resurfaced in 1988 with a note that is said to have read, “Beware…This vase brings death.” However, when the Basano Vase was auctioned off for about $2,250, the note had been excluded from the item description. The pharmacist who bought it died within three months. Three more deaths of new owners followed until finally the curse seemed to go dormant when a desperate family demanded the police take it away. It has not been seen since.

Original image
GhostwatchBTC via YouTube
The BBC Halloween Hoax That Traumatized Viewers
Original image
GhostwatchBTC via YouTube

After more than 20,000 phone calls, one induced labor, and thousands of angry letters, the UK's Broadcasting Standards Council convened for a hearing. On June 27, 1995, they ruled that the producers of Ghostwatch, a BBC program that aired on Halloween night less than three years earlier, had deliberately set out to “cultivate a sense of menace.”

Put another way, the BBC had been found to be complicit in scaring 11 million people senseless.

Airing from Northolt, North London, Ghostwatch alleged to report on the paranormal experiences of the Early family, which had been besieged by the actions of a ghostly apparition they called “Pipes.” Four recognized BBC presenters appeared on the show, which took on the appearance of a straightforward documentary and offered only subtle clues that it was an elaborate hoax. For a significant portion of viewers, it appeared as though they were witnessing documented evidence of a malevolent spirit.

Viewers grew so disturbed by the content that the network became embroiled in a controversy over what audiences felt was a ruse perpetrated by a trustworthy news source; cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in children were even reported in the British Medical Journal. What the BBC had intended to be nothing more alarming than an effective horror movie had petrified a country—and would eventually lead to accusations that it was responsible for someone’s death.

There is something of a myth surrounding Orson Welles’s infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of October 30, 1938. As the decades have passed, accounts of how Welles used the H.G. Wells story to fool a nation into believing aliens had invaded have become embellished. Listeners had supposedly become so infused with terror that they leapt from windows and suffered nervous breakdowns. Major cities had streets crowded with people craning their necks and looking for signs of a violent galactic attack.

While it’s true a number of people may have been disturbed by the “accounts” of military forces being overwhelmed by aliens, it’s unlikely to have been as widespread as later accounts would have it. Newspapers eager to browbeat the competing medium of radio exaggerated the show’s effect, then quickly dropped the matter; it’s not likely all that many people were even listening in the first place, with the program going up against a popular comedy show airing at the same time.

As perpetrators of hoaxes go, only Stephen Volk seems to have lived up to the standard Welles is thought to have set. A screenwriter, Volk pitched the BBC on a six-part series in 1988 about a roving paranormal investigation crew that climaxes in a live tour of a supposedly haunted house.

The BBC, however, wasn’t that enthused about devoting that much time to the idea. Instead, the pitch was condensed down to the last episode—a kind of “mockumentary” take on a paranormal occurrence that the channel could air as a Halloween special.

For Volk, it represented an opportunity to explore what he felt was the relative comfort of a television broadcast. Audiences went to horror films, he believed, knowing what to expect, consenting to being scared. But television was more intimate and less predictable. Viewers who tuned in anticipating a spoof or anticlimactic, tongue-in-cheek exploration would be in for a surprise—and not a pleasant one.

To add to the program’s credibility, Volk and director Lesley Manning structured it so two BBC presenters—Sarah Greene and Craig Charles—would be installed at the Early house, while highly regarded broadcaster Michael Parkinson would anchor from a studio. (Both Charles and Greene frequently popped up on BBC children’s programming, which would prove to be a lure when it came to an adolescent audience.)

Actors portrayed members of the Early family: single mother Pam and daughters Suzanne and Kim all reported instances of strange activity in their home, including rattling, mysterious cat noises, and smashed dishes. Suzanne would sport odd scratches on her face, which she claimed to be the work of Pipes, the ghost who refused to leave their home.

(In a testament to Volk’s commitment, he petitioned the BBC to allow him to try and insert a high-pitched warble on the soundtrack that would be audible to animals near televisions, hoping their bizarre behavior would unsettle viewers more. It proved to be technically impossible to do.)

Various ideas were batted around to reinforce the disclaimer, but few made it to the air. Mike Smith, Greene’s real-life husband and an on-air BBC correspondent who appeared on the special, once told the Radio Times that he suspected things might go south. “We had a meeting with the BBC days before transmission,” he said. “And we told them that this was going to cause a fuss. They told us not to worry because it was being billed as a drama in the Radio Times complete with a cast list. But we felt that wasn't enough."

By the time Ghostwatch premiered at 9:25 p.m. on October 31, 1992, the special had already been filmed, showing Parkinson reacting to segments and taking calls—all staged—that invited the audience to discuss their experiences with paranormal activity. In the interests of fairness, he also included an interview with a (fake) skeptic dismissing the Earlys’ claims.

Only highly observant viewers would have done the same. While the show began with a title card indicating it was written “by” Volk, the graphic was onscreen for only a split second; the presence of established and familiar faces to BBC viewers added to the verisimilitude. So did the program’s slow burn. At 90 minutes, it took its time, showing only fleeting glimpses into the Early family’s experiences that were left purposely ambiguous.

In the show’s second half, things took a turn. A viewer called in to tell them that someone had once committed suicide in the home; a mutilated dog corpse was said to be recently found nearby; the Early children were depicted as increasingly upset over the home’s disturbances. Around an hour in, Parkinson even advised viewers they’d be pre-empting scheduled programming to remain with Greene due to the "extraordinary" events taking place: Suzanne speaking in a baritone voice, and unseen cats mewling behind the walls.

Ultimately, Greene disappeared in the crawl space under the home’s stairs while a paranormal expert proclaimed that the television audience had unwittingly participated in a mass séance that had further emboldened Pipes. At the end of the show, Parkinson was seen being apparently possessed by the ghost’s spirit.

The finale laid it on a little thick, but not everyone made it that far in. By the time Ghostwatch signed off, a not-insignificant portion of the show’s 11 million viewers were either convinced ghosts were real, extremely upset at the BBC for traumatizing their children, or both.

The broadcaster had just five operators standing by its phones [PDF] once the show went off air, a number that was quickly overcome by the thousands of calls that flooded in. One woman reportedly went into labor due to the stress caused by watching the program; another reported her husband had soiled himself. Within hours, the BBC aired a brief segment that reminded viewers the show was fictional. It was a little too late.

Public discourse—including on the BBC’s own viewer feedback show, Bite Back—criticized the station for using its reputation to fool viewers into thinking harm had come to both the Earlys and to their hosts. Parapsychologist Susan Blackmore later said that “It treated the audience unfairly. It can be exciting to play on the edge of fantasy and reality, or stretch the accepted norms of television conventions, but this was neither true to its format nor fun. It was horrid to watch the distress of the girls, real or faked. I found it over-long and occasionally disgusting … The lack of adequate warnings was irresponsible.”

Greene quickly appeared on children’s shows to reassure younger viewers she had not been abducted or murdered by Pipes. Volk and Manning offered their own apologies, feeling that the BBC considered them pariahs. They had simply wanted to pay homage to Welles, never imagining the program could have the kind of effect it did.

In a report published in the British Medical Journal 18 months later, doctors in Coventry reported cases they classified as “post-traumatic stress disorder” from consumption of media—in this case, Ghostwatch. Two 10-year-old boys were suffering from panic attacks and sleep disturbances as a result of the broadcast. When the piece appeared, the Journal received correspondence from other doctors relating similar cases.

If not for his reported learning disabilities, 18-year-old Martin Denham might have been more psychologically equipped to deal with some transient nerves from the show. When he became distraught in the days following the broadcast, he began to grow concerned he might make contact with ghosts and committed suicide. His parents, Percy and April, blamed Ghostwatch, leading the Broadcasting Standards Council to rule that the show had been improperly labeled, with too few warnings that it was a fictitious premise.

Later, the handheld-camera, raw-footage approach would unnerve cinema audiences that flocked to films like The Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series. While those films rarely resulted in any claims more serious than motion sickness, Ghostwatch successfully married the BBC’s credibility with an effective ghost story to create an experience that’s unlikely to ever be duplicated.

Not that the network wants to try. Since its original airing, the program has never again been broadcast in its entirety in the UK. (Though it is available to stream via Shudder.)

Original image
Getty
8 Famous Séances
Original image
Getty

For centuries, séances have provided entertainment for skeptics as well as solace for people hoping to catch a glimpse of their deceased loved ones. Here are a few notable times mediums have tried to contact the dead.

1. THE ANNUAL HOUDINI SÉANCE

Getty

Before magician and famous skeptic Harry Houdini died in 1926, he said that he would send word of the afterlife, if there was one, once he was gone. He and his wife, Bess, even devised a code word that only they knew. Though Bess held séances on the anniversary of his death for 10 years, hoping to hear their secret word, nothing ever happened. Still, a variety of magicians, Houdini enthusiasts, and spiritualists have continued the tradition ever since.

2. JANE PIERCE’S WHITE HOUSE SÉANCES

Even if you don’t believe séances can produce spirits, you can’t blame First Lady Jane Pierce for trying. She had already lost two young sons before her husband, Franklin Pierce, was elected president in 1852, so she was particularly protective of Bennie, the only surviving child. Unfortunately, it didn’t do her much good—two months before Franklin Pierce was inaugurated, the family was involved in a train derailment that took 11-year-old Bennie’s life.

She wrote her deceased son a letter not long afterward, asking him to appear to her so she could apologize for failing him. To help him find his way, she hired the Fox sisters, famous mediums who did much to popularize séances. There’s no record as to what happened at the White House séance, but we do know Jane reported that Bennie had appeared to her in her dreams shortly thereafter.

3. LEVITATION SÉANCES

Starting in the 1880s, Daniel Dunglas Home convinced some people of his supernatural ability by levitating during séances. Though the stunts certainly generated publicity, Home's "abilities" were called into question when insiders said he simply stood between closely placed balconies or stood outside on wide windowsills. Home counted many celebrities among his fans, including Queen Sophia of the Netherlands, Napoleon III, and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but he didn't impress everyone. Houdini wasn't fooled, calling Home “the forerunner of the mediums whose forte is fleecing by presuming on the credulity of the public.”

4. THE SÉANCE THAT “RAISED” A JUDGE

Judge John W. Edmonds died on April 5, 1874. A month later, he allegedly gave a speech in London, thanks to medium Cora L.V. Tappan, a young woman who had been giving spiritualist performances since the age of 15. The eloquent speech helped bolster the medium's successful career; she became the pastor of a spiritualist church the following year, and helped found the National Spiritualist Association.

5. THE MARY TODD LINCOLN SÉANCES

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Like Jane Pierce, Mary Todd Lincoln’s interest in talking to the dead is pretty understandable. And, also like Pierce, Lincoln employed the Fox sisters to help her reach a loved one taken too soon—specifically, her assassinated husband. There are no reports as to whether she was satisfied with the result, but the Fox sisters later admitted that their method of communicating with the dead—rapping on tables and other objects—was created by cracking their joints and making noises with their feet.

In addition to Abe, Mary also tried to contact her sons via séance, using a variety of mediums—and was quite happy with how those turned out. “Willie lives,” she once reported. “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of the bed with the same sweet adorable smile he always has had. He does not always come alone. Little Eddie is sometimes with him.”

6. MUSEUM-WORTHY SÉANCES

Georgiana Houghton was an artist who became interested in spiritualism in the early 1860s after the death of her younger sister. It didn't take long for Houghton to combine her two interests, channeling creative spirits during séances to create watercolors and other works of art. Though she originally said that dead family members helped guide her hand, Houghton later claimed to have contacted Renaissance artists Titian and Correggio. Whether or not her works were the result of the afterlife, they're still relevant today—her art was exhibited at a prestigious London gallery just earlier this year.

7. THE BLACK HAWK SÉANCES

In 1913, Mother Leafy Anderson founded the Eternal Life Christian Spiritualist Association in Chicago, an organization partly founded on the messages she brought from her spirit guide, Black Hawk, a leader of the Sauk tribe, during religious séances. Anderson never knew Black Hawk—he died in 1838, nearly 50 years before she was born. Anderson herself died in 1927, but the word she brought from Black Hawk stuck—some faiths still channel Black Hawk to this day.

8. THE PAY-PER-VIEW SÉANCE

Lest you think that séances are ancient history—a silly diversion for people unenlightened by technology—consider Spirit of Diana, a 2003 pay-per-view event in which British mediums Craig and Jane Hamilton-Parker claimed to have contacted Princess Diana. The things Diana "revealed" weren’t exactly shocking or personal: The mediums claimed she said she was “having fun” in the afterlife, chilling with Mother Teresa. She had planned on marrying Dodi Fayed, and was still watching over her sons.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios