From chairs and cars to mummies and creepy paintings, these supposedly cursed things are said to bring death, doom, or just plain old bad luck upon anyone within reach.
1. The Crying Boy Paintings
On September 4, 1985, British tabloid The Sun printed a portrait of a weeping toddler beneath the headline “Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy!” The accompanying text told the story of a South Yorkshire couple whose home had burned down after a chip pan caught fire. But the crying boy portrait that had hung inside the house remained unscathed. The husband’s brother was a firefighter who said he and his fellow firefighters kept finding other prints of the portrait—unburnt—in other house fires.
The article ignited a media frenzy, and The Sun stoked the flames by reporting on similar fires in the area, both new and old. It turned out there were dozens, if not more. The Sun also speculated on the origins of the curse. One folklore expert, Roy Vickery, posited that perhaps the artist had abused his muse and the fires were “his way of getting revenge.”
In fact, it wasn’t just one crying boy. At least two artists had painted a number of different works featuring teary-eyed boys and girls. As folklore expert David Clarke wrote years later, “The only common denominator shared by this motley collection was that they were all examples of cheap, mass-produced prints sold in great numbers by English department stores during the sixties and seventies. The geographical cluster of fires simply reflected the popularity of the prints among working-class communities in that part of the north.”
But the general public didn’t much care for reasonable theories at the time—not even when a fire department official said the paintings were flame-resistant because they were printed on a hardboard that didn’t burn easily. One veteran firefighter’s wife offered a different explanation: “I always say it’s the tears that put the fire out.”
Enough people asked The Sun what to do with their crying child paintings that the paper finally instructed people to just ship them to the tabloid’s office. Over the next six weeks, 2500 paintings showed up. The Sun burned them in a triumphant bonfire, chronicled in a Halloween article titled “Sun Nails Curse of the Weeping Boy for Good.” A firefighter who oversaw the event said sarcastically: “We all listened for muffled cries, but all we heard was the crackle of paintings burning.”
2. Robert the Doll
Before there was Annabelle, there was Robert, a 40-inch-tall nightmare created by the German toy company Steiff. One look in Robert’s beady little demon eyes is really all you need to believe he’s bad news. But here’s the story anyway: In Key West, Florida, in 1904, the doll was given to 4-year-old Robert Eugene Otto, who went by Gene. Some reports say it was a present from Gene’s grandfather, while others suggest a disgruntled maid of the Ottos cursed the doll before giving it to their young son. It’s also possible that the maid cursed the doll sometime after Gene’s grandfather gave it to him.
Whatever the case, Robert the Doll, dressed in a sailor suit of Gene’s, quickly became his owner’s evil alter ego. As legend would have it, whenever Gene’s parents would find his bedroom furniture upended or his toys mangled, Gene would say: “Robert did it.”
Gene grew up, became an artist, got married, and then returned to his childhood house, which he christened “The Artist House.” Gene’s wife, Anne, wasn’t a huge fan of Robert the Doll, so Gene set up a new pad for him in the attic. Passersby claimed that Robert would switch positions without any help and watch them from the window while they walked by. People who actually set foot in the house reported hearing footsteps and laughter in the attic.
This activity continued after Gene’s death in 1974, when the estate—Robert included—passed into the hands of one Myrtle Reuter. She put up with the strange happenings for 20 years before handing Robert over to the Fort East Martello Museum. He’s still there today, casting bad luck upon visitors who don’t treat him with enough respect, and then receiving letters from those same visitors asking for absolution.
Robert also recently inspired a series of horror movies. Here’s the tag line for the first one, titled Robert, obviously, and released in 2015: “He wants to be your best friend … Forever.”
3. The Conjure Chest
The Conjure (or Conjured) Chest is a chest of drawers with a body count of about 16. As the story goes, an enslaved man named Remus custom-made the item for his enslaver, Jeremiah Graham, in Kentucky circa 1830. Graham, displeased with Remus’s work, beat him to death. Remus’s friends then cursed the chest by scattering dried owl blood in its drawers.
The oblivious Grahams filled those drawers with clothes for their newborn baby, who died soon after. For the next 140 years or so, the chest was passed down through the family—and death or injury came to anyone who stored their apparel inside. In the mid-20th century, Virginia Cary Hudson Cleveland watched her firstborn child die in infancy and another child contract polio. A son got stabbed at school, and the husband of one of her children died after being rushed to the hospital for appendicitis. A neighbor died after an accidental shooting. All had used the chest.
So Cleveland enlisted the help of her maid, Sallie, to undo the curse. They followed steps that included procuring a dead owl and boiling willow leaves. Sallie said that if she or Virginia then died, it would prove that the curse had broken—and months later, Sallie did die.
When Virginia’s daughter inherited the chest, she (perhaps wisely) opted not to use it, and in 1976, she donated it to the Kentucky Historical Society, where it still is today.
4. Carl Pruitt’s Grave
Elsewhere in Kentucky, in the late 1930s, a carpenter named Carl Pruitt reportedly walked in on his wife in flagrante delicto with another man. Pruitt strangled her to death with a chain before taking his own life. After he was buried—far from his wife—some kids are said to have noticed what looked like the outline of a chain on Pruitt’s tombstone. One kid chucked a rock at it, only to be strangled to death on his ride home when his bicycle chain got dislodged from its track and wrapped around his neck.
After the boy’s mom took an axe to the tombstone, she ended up strangled by her clothesline, and the tombstone appeared mysteriously undamaged. A farmer who shot at the stone accidentally spooked his horses, and got strangled by the reins. You might be starting to sense a theme here: Anyone who messed with Pruitt’s final resting place died of strangulation.
According to legend, Pruitt’s vengeful spirit claimed a couple more victims before the cemetery was demolished by strip-miners in the late 1950s. But the factual basis for this legend is flimsy, to say the least: When Cult Nation’s Jason Bunch investigated, he couldn’t find any record of the deaths, and at least two historical experts from the area hadn’t even heard the story. A Carl Pruitt did die in 1937—but it was in Washington, D.C., and it seems that that same Carl Pruitt was buried in North Carolina.
But just to be safe, maybe don’t deface any tombstone that bears the name Carl Pruitt. Or any tombstone, period.
5. Ötzi the Iceman
In 1991, hikers found a mummified body protruding from a glacier in the Ötztal Alps, which straddle the border of Austria and Italy. It turned out to be a middle-aged man murdered by an arrow over 5000 years ago. People started calling him Ötzi the Iceman, and he pretty much rocked the world of prehistoric research.
Fourteen years later, Australian molecular archaeologist Thomas Loy died at age 63 of natural causes. He had studied Ötzi closely—in fact, it was Loy who found traces of blood from several other people on Ötzi and claimed that he likely died after a skirmish.
To some people, Loy’s connection to the Iceman was an interesting, if unremarkable, sentence in his obituary. To others, it was yet more evidence that the corpse carried a fatal curse.
The trouble with Ötzi the Iceman began the year after he was discovered, when 64-year-old forensic pathologist Rainer Henn perished in a car accident. Henn had moved the remains into a body bag and was actually en route to give a lecture on the Iceman when he died.
Not long after that tragedy, mountain climber Kurt Fritz died in an avalanche. He had arranged the helicopter trip to retrieve Ötzi from the mountain. Then, it’s said Rainer Hults, who’d captured footage of the retrieval, passed away from a brain tumor at age 47.
The Iceman “claimed” three more lives in quick succession between 2004 and 2005. First, Helmut Simon, one of the hikers who’d discovered Ötzi, died after falling 300 feet down a mountain. Then, archaeologist Konrad Spindler, one of Ötzi’s chief researchers, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. In October 2005, Thomas Loy became the final “victim.”
That said, plenty of other people survived contact with Ötzi since he was torn from his icy tomb in the ‘90s. Today, he can be visited in person at Italy’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.
6. The Bronze Lady
Have you heard the legend of Sleepy Hollow? No, not that one—the one about the Bronze Lady, who’s actually much easier to find than the Headless Horseman. She’s a bronze statue located in New York’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, home to the grave of Washington Irving himself. Officially named Recueillement, or Grief, the Bronze Lady was commissioned by the widow of Civil War general Samuel M. Thomas after he died in 1903.
As the story goes, Thomas’s widow was unhappy with the statue because its expression seemed too morose, so sculptor Andrew O’Connor Jr. redid it for her. But instead of handing over the new head, he called it a “monstrosity” and shattered it in front of her.
The disgruntled Mrs. Thomas installed the original figure to watch over her late husband’s tomb anyway. And in the following years, nighttime visitors to the cemetery claimed to have heard quiet sobs coming from the Bronze Lady.
Superstitions got embellished and passed down by neighborhood kids throughout the 20th century. Anthony J. Marmo, who grew up there in the 1970s, shared his childhood memories with The New York Times in 2000: “If you knocked on the door of the general’s tomb and looked through the keyhole, [it was said] you would have a bad dream that night. Of course, that always worked. There was another one where, if you slapped her in the face, sat in her lap and spit in her eye, she would haunt you for the rest of your life. There was always one brave kid who did it.”
7. Delhi Purple Sapphire
Locked away in the depths of London’s Natural History Museum is the Delhi Purple Sapphire, which is actually an amethyst.
The jewel’s cursed history purportedly began during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when it was looted from a temple in Kanpur and smuggled to England by a colonel of the Bengal Cavalry. Bad luck plagued both him and his heir, who passed it off to a polymath named Edward Heron-Allen in 1890. Heron-Allen suffered misfortune, too, and chucked the gem into the Regent’s Canal around 1903. After a dealer returned it to him a few months later, Heron-Allen gave it to a singer who had begged him for it. He later wrote, “The next time she tried to sing, her voice was dead and she has never sung since.”
Back in possession of the amethyst and worried that it would ruin his infant daughter’s life, Heron-Allen encased it in seven boxes and stashed it in the bank. With it was a letter chronicling the gem’s long, wicked journey. He wrote, “This stone is trebly accursed and is stained with blood, and the dishonour of everyone who has ever owned it.”
The letter also mandated that the amethyst remain in the bank until at least 33 years after Heron-Allen’s death. It didn’t.
Less than a year after his death in 1943, Heron-Allen’s daughter gifted both the amethyst and the letter to the Natural History Museum. Since then, the curse has apparently been dormant—if there ever was one.
Not only is Heron-Allen’s note the only detailed account of the gem’s curse, but he also published a short story in 1921 called “The Purple Sapphire.” It’s more than a little similar to his letter. Some museum historians think he may have bought the jewel and created the curse himself to make his short story more believable or compelling.
8. The Little Mannie
Another ominous object possibly purloined from its homeland is a 3-inch-tall stone head known as “the Little Mannie with his daddy’s horns.” After a cleaning lady stumbled upon it in a basement floor in Manchester, England, local scholars Tony Ward and Pat Ellison-Reed explored the site and found evidence of a strange ritual.
As Manchester Museum curator John Prag later wrote, “around it was a circle of candleholders … and inside the circle they found the remains of chicken and hare bones, ivory counters used for scoring at billiards, and other offerings including a ‘mother figure’ whose head had been broken off accidentally.”
Since the Little Mannie looked a lot like Celtic stone heads, everyone generally assumed that’s what it was. But when it was displayed at the Manchester Museum in 1991, a visitor identified it as nomoli, a type of figurine from Sierra Leone. Though the nation’s Mende people had unearthed and named the statuettes, they’re thought to have been created by an older native group that 15th-century Portuguese traders called the Sapi.
And while the Mende people have historically relied on nomoli to bring strong harvests and other good fortune, the Little Mannie seemingly brought a fair amount of bad luck to its British handlers. Manchester Museum staff members suffered car accidents, bike accidents, burglaries, broken pants zippers, and all manner of other trouble. Ellison-Reed actually plucked some hairs from her own head and wrapped them around the statue, claiming that it would be, as Prag recalled, “much warmer and friendlier now.”
It’s not clear whether the gesture had any effect on the Little Mannie’s attitude—or who brought the statuette from Sierra Leone to Manchester in the first place.
9. James Dean’s Little Bastard
On September 23, 1955, James Dean ran into Sir Alec Guinness at a restaurant and showed off his Porsche 550 Spyder, fondly nicknamed “Little Bastard.” In his autobiography, Guinness described the car as “sinister.” He told Dean, “Please never get in it. … If you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
Seven days later, Dean was found dead after crashing the car. The trouble didn’t stop there. Surgeon-slash-recreational-racer Dr. William F. Eschrich rescued some of the Porsche’s parts from a junkyard and passed a few to his friend, Dr. Troy McHenry. They installed parts in their own cars and then both crashed during a race in October 1956. Eschrich survived, but McHenry didn’t, and whispers of a curse began to spread.
The rest of the Little Bastard went to George Barris, the car customizer who tricked out the 1949 Mercury that Dean drove in 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. He’d go on to create Adam West’s Batmobile, the Munster Koach, and other memorable Hollywood vehicles. Over the next several years, the Spyder supposedly caused a handful of incidents. A garage inexplicably caught fire while the car was inside; two tires blew out while affixed to a different vehicle; and a couple of thieves were injured while trying to pilfer some of the Spyder’s remaining parts.
Since Barris himself promoted the stories, some people thought the curse was really just a publicity stunt. And when Barris claimed that the car had mysteriously vanished in 1960, skeptics felt even more vindicated that Barris was behind it all. Or at least most of it.
The car has been MIA since then, but we know where at least one part is: The transaxle, one of the pieces salvaged by Eschrich, was bought by Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans in May 2021. He spent $382,000 on the item, which he planned to showcase at his Haunted Museum in Las Vegas.
10. Busby’s Chair
Visit the Thirsk Museum in North Yorkshire, England, and you’ll no doubt spot a handsome oak chair attached to one wall, a few feet above the floor. That’s Thomas Busby’s Chair of Death.
One version of its origin story goes like this: In 1702, Thomas Busby murdered his partner-in-literal-crime Daniel Auty after an altercation that may have involved Busby’s wife, who was also Auty’s daughter. Others have said that the men fought specifically because Auty had plopped down in Busby’s favorite chair at a local pub. As Busby was marched to the gallows, his executioners granted him one last detour to the pub. “May sudden death come to anyone who dare sit in my chair!” he declared.
And then sudden death came to anyone who dared sit in his chair. Allegedly. A chimney sweep was found hanged after reclining in it in 1894; World War II pilots who took turns in the chair perished during battle; a delivery man died in a car crash right after trying the chair out in the 1970s; and so on. In 1978, the pub’s landlord gave it to the Thirsk Museum, along with strict instructions for it to be suspended above the floor.
According to museum curator Cooper Harding, Busby was executed for murdering Auty, but their argument had to do with a gold counterfeiting scam. There’s no record of Busby’s marriage to Auty’s daughter. Furthermore, furniture historian Adam Bowett has said that the chair is partially machine-turned, and probably wasn’t manufactured until sometime after 1840. So if Busby did curse a chair, it was a different one.
All evidence aside, Harding still wouldn’t take his chances in the Chair of Death. As he told The Northern Echo in 2014, “I’m not superstitious, but I wouldn’t sit in it because if I did and was knocked down by a car everyone would say it was down to the chair.”
11. The Hope Diamond
The history of the Hope Diamond seems to begin in a mine in India, where it was likely discovered in the 17th century. (That diamond was massive—more than 112 carats—but it was cut down over the years as it changed hands.) It was owned by kings in France and England, a banking family, an heiress, and Cartier and Henry Winston Inc., and was exhibited around the globe before it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. The gem is estimated to be worth $350 million … and it’s also said to be cursed.
Supposedly, great misfortune and misery will befall any who dares to wear the 45.52-carat, bluish diamond. Rumored victims were said to have suffered disgrace, divorce, suicide, imprisonment, torture, financial ruin, or decapitation. One was even said to have been ripped apart by dogs, and another by a French mob.
Skeptics, however, say the curse was a ploy to enhance the Hope Diamond’s mystique and value. Jeffrey Post, then curator in chief of the National Gem and Mineral Collection at the Smithsonian, told NPR in 2009 that he believes that Pierre Cartier may have helped perpetuate the curse story. In the early 20th century, Cartier was trying to entice heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean to buy the diamond, and “she was known to be interested in diamonds or other pieces of jewelry that had stories, that had histories associated with them,” Post said. “So it’s pretty clear that Pierre Cartier, if he didn’t completely make up the story, certainly embellished the story to get her interested.”
12. The Basano Vase
Legend has it that this silver vase made in the 15th century was given to a bride on the evening of her wedding near Naples, Italy. Sadly, she’d never make it to the altar. She was murdered that very night with the vase in her hands. From there, the vase was passed down her family line, but anyone who took possession of it is said to have perished soon thereafter—so the family eventually made the decision to hide the vase.
In 1988, the vase resurfaced, supposedly accompanied by a note that read, “Beware … This vase brings death.” However, when the Basano Vase was auctioned off for about $2250, the note had been excluded from the item description. The pharmacist who bought it died within three months. More deaths of new owners followed, until finally, the curse seemed to go dormant when a desperate family demanded the police take the vase away. It has not been seen since.
13. The Hands Resist Him Painting
Another tale of cursed art surrounds a painting of a young boy and a female doll standing in front of a window. The Hands Resist Him was painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in the early 1970s. “I used an old photo of myself at age five in a Chicago apartment,” Stoneham explained on his website. “The hands are the ‘other lives.’ The glass door, that thin veil between waking and dreaming. The girl/doll is the imagined companion, or guide through this realm.” According to Stoneham, the owner of the gallery where the painting was initially displayed and a critic who had reviewed it died within a year of seeing the work.
The piece belonged to The Godfather actor John Marley (who sold it before his 1984 death), and, in 2000, it ended up on eBay with claims it was cursed. The anonymous sellers said they had found it abandoned behind a former 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—and even posted photos as proof. The curse story drove up the bid to $1025.00.
14. The Terracotta Army
In 1974, seven peasant farmers in China were digging a well for their village when they accidentally uncovered the 2200-year-old Terracotta Army, thousands of astonishingly detailed 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 the 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 told The Daily Mail in 2007—they could not afford health care. Some have blamed government callousness for these men’s fates, while others discuss it alongside another tomb famously said to be cursed.
15. King Tut’s Tomb
Perhaps the most famous cursed tomb of all is the tomb of Tutankhamun, the burial place of the 19-year-old pharaoh. All who entered—be they bandit or archaeologist—were 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 discovery of Tut’s tomb, but the excavation unleashed new life for the legend.
The first to die was the canary that Carter had purchased shortly before the tomb was discovered. 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. The deaths of a number of other people associated with the excavation would also get blamed on the curse. Still, skeptics suggest coincidence or a deadly fungus from the tomb are to blame.
16. The Phone Number +359 888 888 888
You might think a cursed phone number sounds like the plot to an uninspired horror flick, but supposedly, anyone who had the number listed above, which was first issued in the early 2000s, 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. The telephone number was ultimately suspended, and the company that owned it wouldn’t explain why.
This story was adapted from a story published in 2016 and an episode of The List Show on YouTube.