Is The Hope Diamond Actually Cursed? (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Is The Hope Diamond Actually Cursed?

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as we continue this week's "Wild Cards" show, we'll turn now to a topic that's most apropos on this here St. Patrick's Day week. Luck. But in the case of this next story, which we first aired back in March, 2011, we're not simply talking about luck of the good kind.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:00:27
This is 1947, a headline. "Young McLean Heir to Decide Fate of Tragic Hope Diamond." That was The Washington Post. "Unlucky McLean Hope Diamond Left in Trust to Grandchildren." I mean, everybody had the curse stories.

SHEIR

00:00:42
And if you check out newspaper clippings from the 1940s...

DICKSON

00:00:44
Let me jump around here a little bit.

SHEIR

00:00:47
As historian Paul Dickson is doing...

DICKSON

00:00:48
So, what else is in here? I don't know.

SHEIR

00:00:50
You'll know exactly what curse stories he's talking about.

MR. JEFFREY POST

00:00:53
"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

00:01:11
So, OK, 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...

POST

00:01:25
The Hope Diamond came here in November of 1958.

SHEIR

00:01:27
It lives right here in D.C.

POST

00:01:29
It's been here ever since.

SHEIR

00:01:29
And where are we right now?

POST

00:01:31
The Harry Winston Gallery, the introductory gallery to our Gems and Minerals Hall at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.

SHEIR

00:01:38
Where Jeffrey Post spends quite a bit of time. He's been with The Smithsonian since 1984.

POST

00:01:43
I'm the Curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection.

SHEIR

00:01:45
So, we 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

00:01:53
By the name of Taverniet.

SHEIR

00:01:55
Who then sold it to Louis the Fourteenth.

POST

00:01:55
And then it became part of the French Crown Jewels.

SHEIR

00:01:58
Which were stolen during the French Revolution.

POST

00:02:00
But, 20 years later, in London, a blue diamond appeared for sale.

SHEIR

00:02:04
The same blue diamond, which many believe was then purchased by King George the Fourth.

POST

00:02:09
And then after his death, was acquired by a private collector.

SHEIR

00:02:12
A certain Henry Philip Hope.

POST

00:02:14
And, of course, it's the Hope family name that stays with the diamond today.

SHEIR

00:02:17
And yet, it can be argued that Hope isn't the diamond's most famous private owner. The gem eventually wound up in the hands of Pierre Cartier.

POST

00:02:24
The famous jeweler in Paris, France.

SHEIR

00:02:26
Who sold it to one of his best clients.

POST

00:02:28
Evelyn Walsh McLean, from Washington, D.C.

SHEIR

00:02:31
Whose name, at the time, was pretty much a household word.

POST

00:02:34
She was in the papers every day. She was very attractive.

SHEIR

00:02:37
And, says Paul Dickson, she and her husband, Ned McLean...

DICKSON

00:02:40
Was the heir to the family that owned The Washington Post.

SHEIR

00:02:42
Threw the most flamboyant parties at their mansion at 2020 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

DICKSON

00:02:47
Which is now the Indonesian Embassy. And then she also, they also had another place, which is now known as McLean Gardens.

SHEIR

00:02:53
They bought the Hope Diamond from Cartier, and this, dear listeners, this is when those curse stories begin.

DICKSON

00:03:00
The following year, in March, her son is playing outside the mansion.

SHEIR

00:03:04
This is her much adored, first born son, Vincent.

DICKSON

00:03:06
And a car bumps into him.

SHEIR

00:03:08
So, the woman driving the car knocks on the front door.

DICKSON

00:03:10
And said, I just bumped into him in my car. She was going at a very slow speed.

SHEIR

00:03:13
As the story goes, Vincent goes to the doctor, he gets X-rays. Everything seems just fine.

DICKSON

00:03:18
And he spends the rest of the day playing out in the yard, comes in at six o'clock, and drops dead.

SHEIR

00:03:23
And Dickson says, the public goes crazy.

DICKSON

00:03:27
This is within months of having fully acquired the Hope Diamond. And, you know, the other 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, etcetera.

SHEIR

00:03:46
That etcetera also includes the death of another relative of Evalyn Walsh McLean. Evalyn Walsh McLean Reynolds, that 33-year-old socialite, from the headlines.

DICKSON

00:03:55
"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

00:04:03
Throw in the fact that Ned McLean winds up dying in an insane asylum.

DICKSON

00:04:07
He had convinced himself that he was an assassin, hired to kill Ned McLean.

SHEIR

00:04:11
And of course, the public is gonna go nuts. But, says curator Jeffrey Post...

POST

00:04:14
No real evidence would back up a curse.

SHEIR

00:04:17
Not so fast.

POST

00:04:19
For example, you know, it didn't come from an idol's eye. And, in fact, Tavernier lived to a ripe old age.

SHEIR

00:04:25
As did many of the diamond's owners, actually.

POST

00:04:27
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. And, in fact, their life span is, on an average, greater than what you'd expect, you know, for an average population.

SHEIR

00:04:38
What's more, many of them enjoy great prosperity.

POST

00:04:41
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

00:04:57
It's all a matter, he says, of perspective. If you want to create a fabulous story about an object bringing bad luck...

POST

00:05:03
Well, you'll focus on all the bad things that happened to anybody who happened to be associated with that object.

SHEIR

00:05:08
And if you want to write a good luck tale.

POST

00:05:10
Then you just focus on all the good things that happened to those people over that period of time.

SHEIR

00:05:13
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

00:05:23
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

00:05:40
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.

SHEIR

00:05:51
How much would it be worth today?

POST

00:05:53
Priceless. I mean, if there ever was anything that you just can't put a price on, I would say it's the Hope Diamond.

SHEIR

00:05:57
And, says Paul Dickson, how could it not be? In addition to being such a rare stone, it's managed to make its way from India to France to Britain, back to France, and, of course, finally here.

DICKSON

00:06:07
And the rest is history.

SHEIR

00:06:08
Or, at least, well, a darn good yarn.
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