The 'curse' Of The Hope Diamond (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

The Legend -- and Curse? -- of the Hope Diamond

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:07:20
But first, a story about lady luck and Mr. Misfortune or whoever the counterpart may be.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

13:07:27
This is a 1947 headline, "Young McLean Heirs To Decide Fate Of Tragic Hope Diamond." That was the Washington Post. "Unlucky McLean Hope Diamond Left In Trust To Grandchildren." I mean, everybody heard the curse stories.

SHEIR

13:07:42
And if you check out newspaper clippings from the 1940s...

DICKSON

13:07:45
Let me jump around here a little bit.

SHEIR

13:07:47
...as historian Paul Dickson is doing...

DICKSON

13:07:49
So then, what else is in here? I don’t know.

SHEIR

13:07:50
...you'll know exactly what curse stories he's talking about.

DICKSON

13:07:53
"Diamond Jinx Blamed For Death Of Heiress." "Evalyn McLean Reynolds Death Linked With Diamond." And the lead to that piece, "The death of Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean Reynolds, 33-year-old socialite, today added another link to the chain that binds the family's fabulous Hope diamond to tragedy."

SHEIR

13:08:12
So, okay, let's back up a bit. The Hope diamond, for those not familiar with the world's most famous diamond, is, well, the world's most famous diamond. It's about an inch in diameter. It's a rare color, a deep brilliant blue and...

MR. JEFFREY POST

13:08:26
The Hope diamond came here in November of 1958.

SHEIR

13:08:28
...it lives right here in D.C.

POST

13:08:29
It's been here ever since.

SHEIR

13:08:30
And where are we right now?

POST

13:08:32
The Harry Winston Gallery, the introductory gallery to our gems and minerals hall at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.

SHEIR

13:08:39
Where Jeffrey Post spends quite a bit time. He's been with the Smithsonian since 1984.

POST

13:08:44
I'm the curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection.

SHEIR

13:08:46
So he can tell you a ton about the Hope diamond, like how it came from India in the 1600s and was sold to a French merchant.

POST

13:08:53
By the name of Tavernier.

SHEIR

13:08:55
Who then sold it to Louis the XIV.

POST

13:08:56
And then it became part of the French crown jewels.

SHEIR

13:08:59
Which were stolen during the French Revolution.

POST

13:09:01
But 20 years later, in London, a blue diamond appeared for sale.

SHEIR

13:09:05
The same blue diamond which many believe was then purchased by King George IV.

POST

13:09:09
And then, after his death, it was acquired by a private collector.

SHEIR

13:09:12
A certain Henry Philip Hope.

POST

13:09:15
And, of course, it's the Hope family name that stays with the diamond today.

SHEIR

13:09:18
And yet it can be argued that Hope isn't the diamonds most famous private owner. The gem eventually wound up in the hands of Pierre Cartier.

POST

13:09:25
The famous jeweler in Paris, France.

SHEIR

13:09:28
Who sold it to one of his best clients.

POST

13:09:30
Evalyn Walsh McLean from Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

13:09:31
Whose name, at the time, was pretty much a household word.

POST

13:09:35
She was in the papers every day. She was very attractive.

SHEIR

13:09:38
And, says Paul Dickson, she and her husband, Ned McLean...

POST

13:09:40
Who was the heir to the family that owned the Washington Post.

SHEIR

13:09:42
...threw the most flamboyant parties at their mansion, at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest.

POST

13:09:48
Which is now the Indonesian Embassy. And then she also -- they also had another place, which is now known as the McLean Gardens.

SHEIR

13:09:54
They bought the Hope diamond from Cartier. And this, dear listeners, this is when those curse stories begin.

POST

13:10:01
The following year, in March, her son is playing outside the mansion...

SHEIR

13:10:05
This is her much adored firstborn son, Vincent.

POST

13:10:07
...and a car bumps into him.

SHEIR

13:10:09
So the woman driving the car knocks on the front door...

POST

13:10:11
...and said, I just bumped into him in my car. She was going a very slow speed…

SHEIR

13:10:14
As the story goes, Vincent goes to the doctor, he gets x-rays, everything seems just fine.

POST

13:10:19
And he spends the rest of the day playing out in the yard, comes in at 6:00 o'clock and drops dead.

SHEIR

13:10:24
And Dickson says, the public goes crazy.

POST

13:10:27
This is within months of having fully acquired the Hope diamond. And, you know, now the story is that Tavernier, the original French merchant, had plucked it from the forehead of a Hindu idol and after he sold it to the French royalty, he was devoured by a pack of dogs and it's also cited as the approximate cause of Marie Antoinette's death, et cetera.

SHEIR

13:10:47
That et cetera also includes the death of another relative of Evalyn Walsh McLean, Evalyn Walsh McLean Reynolds, that 33-year-old socialite from the headlines.

POST

13:10:56
"Hope Diamond Heiress Is Found Dead In Capital." This is the announcement that her granddaughter, beloved granddaughter, has died of an overdose of sleeping pills.

SHEIR

13:11:05
Throw in the fact that Ned McLean winds up dying in an insane asylum...

POST

13:11:08
He'd convinced himself that he was an assassin hired to kill Ned McLean.

SHEIR

13:11:12
And, of course, the public is going to go nuts. But, says curator Jeffrey Post...

POST

13:11:16
No real evidence would back up a curse.

SHEIR

13:11:18
Not so fast.

POST

13:11:19
For example, you know, it didn't come from an idol's eye. And, in fact, Tavernier lived to a ripe old age.

SHEIR

13:11:25
As did many of the diamonds owners, actually.

POST

13:11:28
In fact, one of my colleagues, Richard Kurin, here has done a careful analysis of all the people who have come in contact with the Hope diamond. In fact, their lifespan is on an average greater than what you'd expect, you know, for an average population.

SHEIR

13:11:39
What's more, many of them enjoyed great prosperity.

POST

13:11:42
And you look back and there was a long reign during which the French royalty did pretty well in France. They acquired the diamond in 1668 and it wasn't until 1792 that there was a revolution. Likewise, you know, you look through the people who owned it in the 1800s and many of them did pretty well.

SHEIR

13:11:58
It's a matter, he says, of perspective. If you want to create a fabulous story about an object bringing bad luck...

POST

13:12:04
Well, you'll focus on all the bad things that happen to anybody who happened to be associated with that object.

SHEIR

13:12:09
And if you want to write a good luck tale...

POST

13:12:11
Then you just focus on all the good things that happen to those people over that period of time.

SHEIR

13:12:14
And in the case of the Hope diamond, Post says, the Smithsonian actually has experienced a lot of good since Harry Winston, who bought McLean's jewelry after her death, donated the stone.

POST

13:12:24
These world famous spectacular gems that we have here on display with the Hope diamond, almost all of these came here to the museum after the Hope diamond came here. It was the gift from Harry Winston that really intrigued people to want to continue this idea of building a great national gem collection.

SHEIR

13:12:41
And it's a collection that millions of people come and visit each year. But while they enjoy all of those spectacular gems, the Hope diamond, well it's, pretty much the star. How much would it be worth today?

POST

13:12:53
Priceless. I mean, if there ever is anything that you would -- just can't put a price on, I would say it's the Hope diamond.

SHEIR

13:12:58
And, says Paul Dickson, how could it not be? In addition to being such a rare stone, its managed to make its way from India to France to Britain, back to France and, of course, finally here.

POST

13:13:08
And the rest is history.

SHEIR

13:13:10
Or at least, well, a darn good yarn. To see photos of the Hope diamond, both mounted and in its current setting, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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