Friday, February 10, 2023

Insight: A curse by any other name

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor
Next week marks 100 years since British archaeologist Howard Carter opened the burial site of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt, and supposedly unleashed an ancient curse upon his expedition of the “most dire punishment for any intruder entering the tomb.”

“King Tut’s Curse” is a curse allegedly cast upon any individual who disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a pharaoh. The curse does not differ between common thieves and archaeologists, and has been claimed through the centuries to inflict bad luck, illness, or even death upon robbers.

Having watched many of the old 1930s classic horror films growing up, I was sure Boris Karloff starring as the Mummy was merely fulfilling an obligation to destroy English tomb invaders as part of the ancient curse. Years later, I am old enough to realize that superstitions, such as curses, are just psychological mind games, and don’t often come to fruition.

Or do they?

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most famous modern curses and how they began.

On Oct. 6, 1945, Chicago tavern owner William “Billy Goat” Sianis was blocked from bringing his pet goat, Murphy, into Wrigley Field for a Chicago Cubs World Series baseball game against the Detroit Tigers. Sianis, who was the model for comedian John Belushi’s famous Saturday Night Live “cheeborger” skit, reportedly placed a curse upon the Cubs that they wouldn’t win the World Series then or ever again.

Through the years, the Cubs became “lovable losers” and came close to reaching the World Series a few times, but always failed. The 1969 team were leading the National League East race by 10 games on Aug. 13 with five weeks left but ended up eight games behind in second place trailing the New York Mets, who went on to capture the World Series championship.

In 1984, the Cubs led the best of five games National League Championship Series over San Diego, 2-0, and needed to win just one more playoff game in San Diego to reach the World Series. Cubs fans blamed the “curse” when their team dropped the next three games.

In 2003, leading the Florida Marlins, 3-0, in the eighth inning of Game Six of the National League Championship Series and needing only one more win to secure a berth in the World Series, the curse struck again when Chicago fan Steve Bartman reached out on a fly ball and deflected it away from Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, who might have caught it. Umpires ruled it was not fan interference, and the Cubs went on to lose that game and the next one to fall one game short of the World Series.

The “Billy Goat Curse” remained alive in the minds of Cubs’ fans. That was until 2016, when the Cubs broke the 71-year-old curse and finally defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games to win their first World Series in 108 years.

The Hope Diamond is another legendary curse that began when newspaper articles reported rumors that the massive gem had been stolen from the statue of a Hindu goddess in India and carried a curse bringing bad luck to those who possessed it. Wherever the diamond went, tragedy, bad luck, and death followed, reportedly claiming 17 lives along the way in Asia and Europe.

Ownership of the lavish diamond was passed along among a series of French collectors before its purchase by Henry Philip Hope, a Dutch art collector based in London who renamed it the “Hope Diamond.” Upon Hope’s death, the diamond was given to several of his heirs, who also met somewhat questionable and untimely deaths and continued public suspicion that the 45-carat gem was indeed cursed.
Eventually the Hope Diamond was sold to American heiress Evelyn Walsh McLean, and in 1958 it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. where it remains on exhibit today in the Harry Winston Gallery there.

Then there’s the curse that all Boston Red Sox baseball fans are aware of, the “Curse of the Bambino.” In the offseason of 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the contract of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to finance the Broadway musical “No, No, Nanette.”

Ruth had been a significant contributor to Boston’s World Series championships in 1915, 1916 and 1918, but in a Yankees uniform, he led New York to four World Series titles and became baseball’s all-time home run leader with 714, a record that stood for 40 years. Boston’s “Curse of the Bambino” for selling Ruth to the rival Yankees supposedly led to an 86-year Red Sox World Series championship drought, not broken until the 2004 Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to overcome the curse.

The mind is powerful and curses, whether real or imaginary, can make some out to be genuine believers.

Howard Carter, however, had none of his “King Tut Curse,” calling it “Tommy Rot.” While others associated with unearthing the Tomb of King Tut in Carter’s expedition had befallen fates such as death by blood poisoning, tragic fires, smothering, suicide, cobra bites and pneumonia, he lived another 16 years, dying of lymphoma in London in March 1939 at the age of 64.

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