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Famous curses through the ages: Real or superstitions?

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Even if you are not over 65, you may have heard your grandparents quote the title of this article from the old black-and-white movies of the early days of cinema.

The villain would twirl his mustache in his despair over the heroine being rescued by the handsome hero. Ah, those were the days.

Of course, there are other kinds of curses. Sports fans feel their favorite team has been cursed when they lose a game. When someone dies from an unexplained origin, folks can just say the person was cursed.

Sometimes nations that experience woe feel they must surely be cursed because they stole another nation’s artifacts. And sometimes, there is no good reason; someone just wants to tell a good story and be the “life of the party.”

So let’s look at some of the most interesting curses. Probably the most famous is the curse of King Tut’s (short for Tutankhamun) tomb. King Tut ruled Egypt during the 14th century. In 1923 a British archaeological group opened his tomb. The head of the team, Howard Carter, commissioned by the Earl of Carnarvon to excavate valuable antiquities, was heard to say “We were astonished by the beauty and refinement of the art displayed by the objects, surpassing all we could have imagined. Two months later, Carter died from a bacterial infection. British newspapers claimed he died because of “King Tut’s curse” for violating the tomb.

Then there’’s the Hope Diamond curse. In the 1660s, a French gemologist named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier bought a large diamond during a trip to India. A strange myth sprang up that Tavernier had stolen the diamond from the statue of a Hindu goddess. No one knows how this myth got started. The newspapers of that day jumped on it and spread the story that the diamond was cursed and brought bad luck to anyone who owned it.

The diamond ended up with a Dutch collector, living in London – Henry Hope, after whom the diamond was named. French jeweler Pierre Cartier next obtained it. Evelyn Walsh McLean, an American heiress, bought the Hope diamond from Cartier in the early 1910s, and when she died the curse story continued. It eventually went to the Smithsonian Institution, where it remains today.

Another fascinating curse is the curse of the play Macbeth. You’ve heard people wish actors to “break a leg” because it’s supposedly bad luck to wish them good luck. Why? It also seems to be bad luck to say the word “Macbeth” in the theater, supposedly because tragedy so often befalls productions of this play.

This legend of a curse began with a man named Max Beerbohm, a British critic and cartoonist, back in the 1870s. Beerbohm made up a story that the first Lady Macbeth dies before the play’s opening night. Nobody knows why he did that — maybe someone he liked didn’t get cast in the role. Anyway, the myth got started.

Actually, there have been real accidents during Macbeth over its history of 400 years. Supposedly, If you make the mistake of saying “Macbeth” in a theater, you can ward off the curse by going outside, spinning around three times and spitting! Weird?

Are you familiar with the presidential 20-year death curse?

David Mikklelson writes that a legend has it that a death curse threatens U.S. presidents elected in years evenly divisible by 20. He explains that with two exceptions, since 1840, Presidents elected in years ending in zero either have been killed, or died of natural causes while in office.

Supposedly, this is the result of a curse put on our Presidents by the Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh because his troops were defeated by William Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe; hence, it’s sometimes called Tecumseh’s Curse.

The curse began with William Harrison and ended with John F. Kennedy, almost including Ronald Reagan who was shot, but lived and George W. Bush who also survived an assassination attempt. The winner of the 2020 election is purported to be next in line for this curse.

And here’s a crazy one for you, the Titanic Conspiracy Curse.

On April 14, 1912, the R.M.S. Titanic hit an iceberg and sank into the North Atlantic ocean, killing 1,517 passengers and crew out of the 2,223 total.

One theory is that banker J.P. Morgan planned this disaster to kill off his rivals Jacob Astor, Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim. This theory gained credence because Morgan had planned to sail on the Titanic but changed his mind. Of course, it doesn’t explain how he could cause it to hit an iceberg.

Another theory is that it was an insurance fraud. This one claims that someone switched the Titanic with another White Star Line ship, the R.M.S. Olympic. The Olympic, which was damaged while sailing from England to New York in 1911, returned to Belfast for repairs. The conspiracy theory claimed some persons found the Olympic too severely damaged to be profitable any longer, so switched it with the Titanic to ditch the damaged Olympic and reap insurance money. Of course, that means it also would kill a lot of people in the process.

A big hole in that theory is that the Titanic’s insurance was not enough to cover the total Olympic loss. Paul Burns, vice president of the Titanic Museum in Missouri and Tennessee, points out “it just doesn’t make any sense.” And J. Kent Layton writes in his book “Conspiracies at Sea,” “the switch conspiracy founders…on its financial merits alone.”

There are more curses, of course, such as the Billy Goat Curse on the Chicago Cubs and the Curse of the Polish King’s Tomb, and probably a host of others, but space would not permit covering them all.

What do you think? Are curses real? In the play “Hamlet,” Shakespeare has Hamlet say to Horatio, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, then are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Could be. ...

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