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.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Eastern Cemetery – Haunted by the Past

Gateway to Eastern Cemetery
From the moment you arrive, you can feel that things are a bit off kilter. Of course, the look of the place does nothing to dispel this thought.
Welcome to Eastern Cemetery, 28-acres located next to the famous and well-groomed Cave Hill Cemetery where Colonel Sanders and Muhammad Ali are laid to rest. But across the concertina wire, Eastern Cemetery lies in tatters, abused by the elements, and vandals, for over thirty years.

The Wake House
Eastern Cemetery was founded in the 1844 by two Methodist churches. At that time, it was known as The Methodist Cemetery and was one of the earliest burial grounds in the city to allow people of different races and religions to be interred together. The cemetery is home to some of the movers and shakers of early Louisville along with regular citizens. This includes state officials, mayors, soldiers, slaves, and musicians. Charles Clarke and Arthur Lommis designed the original Richardsonian Romanesque wake house in 1891. And Eastern was also the first cemetery in Kentucky to have a crematorium. 

But Eastern Cemetery has a decidedly dark past. Records from as early as the late 1850s indicate that bodies were being buried in graves already occupied. The New York Times did an article on the cemetery back in 1989 describing how the graves were being resold after the remains and headstones had been removed – at least most of the time. There were also indications that bodies were stacked on top of one another – some buried only a foot or so deep – in order to maximize that burial space, and make more money. In a cemetery with room for 16,000 burials, experts estimated close to 50,000 people have been “laid to rest” here.

Records shows that of the four grave maps made of the cemetery, covering the years 1880, 1907, 1962 and 1984 – all are inconsistent in grave placement from time period to time period. Sections have been redivided and renamed, all in keeping with the reburial of bodies.

 About ten years ago, an unlocked building was discovered to contain dozens of cremated remains And state investigators reported that more than 90% of infant burials were done in a foot or less of soil.
Today, the graveyard is a tangle of weeds, downed trees and toppled stones. Vandalism is apparent but not as rampant as might be expected. Maybe the negative vibe of the place is off-putting even to those miscreants. 

When you enter the cemetery, the air is oppressive and you feel watched from every corner. This is not a cemetery that encourages wandering, or even loitering. This is an in-and-out cemetery: in for photos and out as fast as possible. Rumor has it that a nineteenth century lady wanders the cemetery trying to care for the infants graves. Footsteps and voices can be heard, and ghostly figures have been seen in the chapel, and wandering the grounds. But knowing the story, is it any wonder that this City of the Dead is restless?

Today, a non-profit organization made up of a caring group of volunteers are working to take back the cemetery. Friends of Eastern Cemetery do what they can to keep the cemetery grass cut, downed trees cut up, and stones repaired. But it seems to be a never-ending job. If you’d like to volunteer, visit their web page for more information.
~ Joy

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

Friday, October 20, 2017

A Haunted Hoosier Cemetery - Oak Grove

Oak Grove Cemetery
On a wind-swept hill in broad daylight, the sounds of children laughing could be heard. But in the middle of this 23-acre cemetery, there are no children to be seen. Welcome to Oak Grove Cemetery in Washington, Indiana.

Arthur Greenwood
Oak Grove was once the burial place of the movers and shaker of the community. Congressman Arthur Herbert Greenwood served as Indiana’s representative for the 2nd District from 1923-1933, and represented Indiana’s 7th District from 1933-1939 in the US Congress. He was also House Majority Whip during the 73rd Congress. Greenwood began his foray into politics in Washington Indiana when he served as a member of the Board of Education in Daviess County from 1911-1915. He died in 1963 in Maryland and was buried in Oak Grove.

William Bynum
Another US Representative from Indiana buried here is William Dallas Bynum who served as Washington Indiana’s first City Clerk. Bynum was also City Attorney and Mayor. He was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1881 – 1885, and was elected to the 49th and four succeeding Congresses, serving from 1885- 1895 during which time he was House Minority Whip. Bynum died in 1927.

A stone is hidden by growth
Oak Grove Cemetery began to fall into disrepair at the beginning of the 21st century. With no perpetual care money left to maintain the cemetery, the grass and weeds were left to grow in the older sections. These are the sections where unrest has been felt – and experienced.

Then they were gone
I have visited this cemetery three times in the past few years with different people. Each time we’ve come away with otherworldly stories to tell. My first time there I discovered a large black dog roams the cemetery. I heard a large dog running up behind me with the tags rattling on his collar but when I turned, there was nothing there. When I looked over at the woods that borders the property, a man, dressed in black, stood there with his black dog. They looked at me for a moment, took one step back and they were gone.

An encounter was experienced down this lane
A friend who had never had any paranormal experiences was given quite a scare when we decided to roam the grounds to photograph graves. Meeting up later, we discussed the condition of the cemetery. At that time, it was privately owned and was not being properly taken care of. The grass in the older section where we stood was knee high. After chatting a few minutes, we each headed out in different directions. Half an hour later she came rushing over the hill. Tossing her camera into the car she asked if I had slipped up behind her and called her name in an attempt to scare her. But I and our other cemetery buddy had already packed it up and were sitting in the car talking. The fact that the spirit had mimicked my voice frightened her the most. When we drove to the location where the incident occurred, there was nothing: no sounds, no odd feelings, no one we could see.

The boy who watches
There is a lifelike statue of a small boy who died in the 1800s. He sits on his stool as if unsure what to do, but his eyes seem to follow you around the cemetery. The truly weird part is when you approach the stone - the eyes appear to go flat and are covered in lichens.

I have also encountered a portal of some sort in the middle of the cemetery, which opened with an odd sound and a quick blast of air, and closed the same way – similar to an elevator. Voices can be heard talking, but the words are undistinguishable.

An untended area of the cemetery
Apparently, some “residents” are not pleased that their burial sites have been ignored. The cemetery had not been adequately cared for in over half a dozen years, and since it was privately owned, little could be done about it. But earlier this year a group called the Oak Grove Caretakers took over the cemetery promising better maintenance and upkeep for the more than 12,000 graves.

Where children play
Several people have heard the children playing high on the hill. Their laughter floats through the air as they go about their ethereal play. Let’s hope the remainder of the spirits will be appeased once their graves are giving the care and respect that is deserved.

~ Joy

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Haunted Blackfoot Cemetery

Once again, it's October - a time for hauntings, Halloween - and all things spooky.  This month, A Grave Interest takes a look at several haunted cemeteries. Get ready as we explore some ‘lively’ places, and the people who make them so…….

Pike County Indiana
Located in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, Pike County is a coal-mining region and farming community. A visit to the area in October offers a pleasant and scenic drive as leaves change colors, and farmers work to bring in the harvest.

The largest town in Pike County is Petersburg, known once as White Oak Springs by the earliest settlers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Pike County Indiana boasts numerous cemeteries but the one that is rumored to be haunted is called Blackfoot Cemetery. Located in Morgan Township, there are over 800 interments in the cemetery, many of those early settlers to the region. The first burial was that of a woman in a group of settlers passing through. The Indians, thought to be Blackfoot, showed the group where to bury the woman at the top of a hill. This became the first burial ground in the region.

At one time, the Blackfoot Church was located near the cemetery. There were actually three churches by that name. The first pioneer log church was built around 1800 by the early settlers and named for the Indians. (My ancestors were part of the first settlers in this region and visits from the nearby Indians were common.) The first person buried in the cemetery after the church was built was Mrs. John Almon.

Interior of a Log Church
The second church was built in 1860 and stood until it was destroyed by a storm in 1896. The final Blackfoot Church was constructed in 1897. That church stood for almost 100 years. It was razed in 1992 after vandalism became so bad, the trustees decided it was the best course of action.

Blackfoot is a popular name in the region. Besides Blackfoot Church and Blackfoot Cemetery, there is also the Blackfoot Mine, and Blackfoot Landfill.

Down a lonely country road, Blackfoot Cemetery appears to be a quiet haven of peace, but visitors have reported seeing shadows dash past and hearing voices and noises whose sources could not be found. Legend has it that a grave set off by itself is that of a witch. When darkness falls, the cemetery takes on a life of its own – lights and orbs dart past, and the noises get louder, more intense. No one spirit is said to haunt this cemetery – maybe it is the Blackfoot tribe members, still enjoying the life they knew here over two hundred years ago.

~ Joy

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