Friday, November 17, 2017

Mystery Surrounds the Hope Diamond

The Hope Diamond
The Hope Diamond is the most famous diamond in the world. But fame comes at a cost … more than a dozen owners of the diamond lost fortunes, attracted suspicious circumstances, or suffered tragic deaths, all supposedly due to the diamond’s curse.

Jean Baptiste Tavernier
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier
It was originally called the Tavernier Blue Diamond and came from India in 1666. French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier sold the 112-carat diamond to King Louis XIV in 1668. Legend has it that marauding dogs killed Tavernier as part of the curse. It seems Tavernier acquired the diamond through deception and murder, and in retaliation; a curse was put upon the stone.

King Louis XIV
King Louis XIV and Louis XV
Ten years later, King Louis XIV had the court jeweler recut the stone into a 67-carat diamond that became known as The Blue Diamond of the Crown. In 2009, it was discovered that the gem had been specially cut to create an effect of a sun in its center. The jewel was then displayed on a gold background to heighten the sun effect. Louie gave the stone to his mistress, who he later abandoned - but kept the diamond.

Kind Louis XV
In 1749, Louis XV had the diamond set in an elaborate pendant to be worn as a ceremonial piece for the Order of the Golden Fleece. Louis XVI died of gangrene.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
After Louis XV’s death, his grandson Louis XVI inherited what was now called the French Blue. Rumor has it that Marie Antoinette may have worn the diamond; although historians say the king would have worn the diamond, just as his grandfather had with the Golden Fleece. Regardless of who wore the jewel, it was said that their beheadings in 1793 were a result of the cursed stone.

The Recut Diamond
Daniel Eliason
Stolen in 1792, the diamond was never seen again in its original shape. But in 1812, a blue diamond surfaced in England owned by diamond merchant Daniel Eliason. Although it had been recut, it appeared to be the same stone. Speculation was that King George IV may have owned the stone but at his death in 1830, everything of value was sold to pay off his debts. 

Henry Philip Hope
The Hope Family
London banker, Thomas Hope, purchased the stone from Eliason in the 1830s. It then became known as the “Hope Diamond.” Henry Philip Hope was the next owner, followed by his nephew Henry Thomas Hope, and the gem eventually went to Lord Francis Hope.

May Yohe
Lord Francis Hope and May Yohe
 Lord Hope married actress May Yohe in 1894. Yohe, who performed in musical theatre, divorced Hope eight years later; the same year he sold the stone to pay off his debts.  Yohe also died penniless. Part of the Hope diamond curse?

Selim Habib
Death at Sea
Turkish diamond collector, Selim Habib purchased the diamond in 1908. The next year he sold his collection of gems due to financial trouble. Habib died at sea -  contributing to the diamond’s curse.

Pierre Cartier
Pierre Cartier
Paris jeweler Pierre Cartier was the person who gave the curse some sparkle. When he talked to people about the stone, he always mentioned that it was cursed. When he sold the diamond to the owner of the Washington Post, Cartier included a statement that read, “Should any fatality occur to the family of Edward B. McLean within six months, the said Hope diamond is agreed to be exchanged for jewelry of equal value." The "curse" became famous.

Evalyn Walsh McLean
Edward B McLean and Evalyn Walsh
When McLean purchased the stone in 1911, his wife, Evalyn Walsh had it made into the diamond pendant necklace that exists today. Newspapers carried headlines linking the McLean’s to the “sinister” diamond. Evalyn was fascinated with the story and believed that what brought bad luck to others would bring her only good. Then, in 1919, their nine-year-old son Vinson Walsh McLean was killed by an auto outside the family residence.  Edward left Evalyn for another woman and the couple divorced. But in 1933, Edward was declared legally insane. He died eight years later of a heart attack. Evalyn’s 25-year-old daughter died of a drug overdose, and Evalyn was eventually forced to sell The Washington Post. She continued to own the stone until her death in 1947 when diamond merchant Harry Winston purchased all of her jewels, including the Hope Diamond, to settle her debts.

Harry Winston
Harry Winston
Once Harry Winston had the diamond, it was put on display in the “Court of Jewels” exhibition for over a decade. The diamond was exhibited at charity events throughout the world. Then, in 1958, Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. But he didn't take it to the Smithsonian, instead he sent the diamond through regular mail, insuring it for roughly $150.

James Todd
Rumor has it that the mailman who delivered the package bearing the diamond had his share of cursed luck. James Todd suffered a crushed leg in an accident soon after. He also sustained a head injury in another accident, and his house burned down.

Smithsonian Institution
Embracing Hope
Once the gem arrived at the Smithsonian, the “curse” appeared to end. The Hope Diamond has remained at the institution, leaving the premises only four times in the past sixty years. Today, the diamond has its own room. In 2009, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the diamond’s arrival to the Smithsonian, “a modern design consisting of three ribbons set with baguette-cut diamonds wrap around the Hope Diamond in an exquisite embrace.” Known as "Embracing Hope," the necklace was displayed for more than a year before the stone was returned to its original setting. 

Hope Diamond Today
Once again, the Hope Diamond is surrounded by 16 white diamonds on a necklace chain of another 45 white diamonds. The cut of the diamond is described as “cushion antique brilliant with a faceted girdle and extra facets on the pavilion.” The diamond itself is 45-carats: about the size of a walnut, and worth an estimated $250 million dollars.
~ Joy

Make holiday shopping easy. My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide is now available at bookstores across the country. Click here for book information.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Help Preserve Our Veteran’s Histories

President John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.”
November 11 is Veteran’s Day – a day set aside to honor all American veterans who have served in our wars.  But time is passing and each day we lose more veterans, and their stories. 

US Department of Veterans Affairs
According to US Department of Veterans Affairs, the last WWI veteran died in 2012 at the age of 110. There are only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II still alive. A million and a half Korean vets remain. Surviving vets of Vietnam total 6.7 million while there are 7.13 million Gulf War veterans alive, and 4.5 million who served during peacetime. These stats are current as of September 2017. But how many veterans have we lost since then?
There are several groups and organizations across the country that take these interviews and preserve them for future generations. Here are just a few:

This popular genealogy site is focusing on saving the stories of WWII veterans before it’s too late.  Millions of records were lost in a fire in the National Personnel Records Center destroying about 80-100 pages per soldier. Information that included battles fought in, medals and honors received, occupations held during the war, diseases and injuries suffered, parental information, affidavits of character, photographs and letters from commanding officers - all of the details that make a service record a story. Ancestry provides a list of questions that can jump-start the conversation. All you have to do is capture your WWII veteran’s reminisces on video (Please edit it down to no longer than 4 minutes.) and upload it to the Ancestry site where it will be included in a free collection for anyone to view. 

It takes only one person to start a movement and that is what 20-year-old Rishi Sharma is doing. After graduating from high school, Sharma decided to try to preserve as many veteran’s stories about WWII as he could. With 372 of those vets dying each day, Sharma has his work cut out for him. Sharma began Heroes of the Second World War, a web site where the videos of these soldiers are available for viewing. He also makes sure the veteran, and his or her family, have copies of the interview. It takes between 4-6 hours to record an interview but Sharma intends to interview at least one WWII vet each day until the last one is gone.

In 2000, Congress created the Veterans History Project to preserve veteran’s personal stories. The VHP maintains not only video stories but materials veterans and their families donate including uniforms and medals. Each veteran has an individual web page that includes his or her service history along with other information provided. Check out the FAQ page before starting. Then visit the Participate page to take part in the project, and print out the VHP field kit forms. Fill them out and submit the entire kit with a video to the VHP for inclusion in the Library of Congress.

Witness to War is a non-profit private preservation organization that records the digital stories from veterans who served in all American wars. The interviews are then professionally edited into 2 to 5 minute war stories and are available on the WTW web site for viewing. The short format makes the interviews more interesting and approachable to today’s media savvy generation. The organization has an extensive collection of combat narratives - close to 1,500 interviews, and counting. To request an interview visit the WTW web page.

If you know a U.S. veteran, set a date, grab your questions and head out with your phone to capture his or her story for posterity. More than 600 WWII vets die each day … there’s no time like the present to get started.
~ Joy

My new book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide is now available at bookstores across the country. Click here for book information.