Curses, also known as execrations, have been wreaking hypothetical havoc for centuries. These pesky -- and sometimes deadly -- bearers of bad luck have plagued persons, places and objects ranging from U.S. presidents and ancient tombs to sports teams and sports cars. And throughout the years, tragic events (coincidental or not) have provided plenty of fodder for those who believe that curses exist.
No one really knows for sure whether there's any truth to the 10 famous (and infamous) curses we'll explore in this article, but if you want to take James Dean's car for a spin or dig up an ancient mummy, don't expect us to help!
Head over to the next page to read about the much-rumored curse of James Dean's Little Bastard.
On Sept. 30, 1955, James Dean was killed when the silver Porsche 550 Spyder he called "Little Bastard" was struck by an oncoming vehicle.
Within about a year of Dean's crash, the car was at least loosely involved in two more fatal accidents and two other injuries. The better confirmed series of incidents occurred after hot rod designer George Barris purchased the car. While getting a tune up, Little Bastard fell on a mechanic's legs and broke them. Two doctors supposedly purchased the engine and transmission from the car, of whom one was killed and the other seriously injured in subsequent car accidents (though it hasn't been confirmed that the deaths occurred in cars that contained Little Bastard's parts). Someone else had purchased the tires -- which blew simultaneously, sending the driver to the hospital.
From there, reports get a bit more muddled. We know that Little Bastard's shell disappeared sometime before 1960 while on an exhibition circuit. According to some, a truck carrying it crashed, killing the driver, and Little Bastard was gone by the time the authorities arrived on scene. By other accounts, it was merely stolen en route. Either way, perhaps it's for the best that Little Bastard is off the roads [source: Snopes].
In 1922, English explorer Howard Carter was leading an expedition funded by George Herbert, the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, when Carter discovered the tomb of ancient Egyptian king Tutankhamen and all the riches it held. After opening the tomb, however, strange and unpleasant events began to take place in the lives of those involved in the expedition. Some believe that there was a foreboding inscription, "Death comes on wings to he who enters the tomb of a pharaoh," on King Tut's tomb that put a curse on anyone who disturbed his final resting place.
Lord Carnarvon's story in particular is the most bizarre. The adventurous Earl came to Cairo and apparently died from pneumonia following complications from a mosquito bite. Allegedly, at the exact moment Carnarvon passed away, all the lights in the city mysteriously went out in Cairo and, back in England, Carnarvon's dog fell over dead. In addition, several other people involved with the expedition died, too, including Carter's assistant, his assistant's father and some of Carter's relatives. Carter, however, seemed to escape the curse himself [source: The Museum of Unnatural Mystery].
It took nine years of rehearsals to get the seemingly cursed Broadway musical "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" off the ground. The play, Julie Taymor's reinterpretation of the comic book superhero's bid to save New York City, was plagued by one delay after another despite an all-star cast and crew that included superstars like Bono and the Edge, both members of the band U2.
The trouble began when the show's budget began to blossom uncontrollably, racking up a record $65 million or more in expenses [source: Swed]. Then, in the musical's third year of rehearsing, producer Tony Adams died of a heart attack at age 52. There were so many injuries to the cast during the rehearsal of high-flying Spider-stunts that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration stepped in to investigate. Director Julie Taymor was fired and replaced by former Barnum & Bailey director Philip William McKinley. And then the show's opening date was pushed back at least five times [source: Daily Mail].
When the production did finally open in June 2011, good luck seemed to prevail. During the final week of 2011, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"grossed a record-breaking $2.9 million from just nine performances [source: Healy].
If you're a rock star and you're about to turn 27, you might want to consider taking a year off to avoid membership in "The Club." Trust us: This is an exclusive club that you won't want to join. Take Robert Johnson, for example. Johnson, who Eric Clapton called "the most important blues musician who ever lived," played the guitar so well that some said he must have made a deal with the devil. So when he died at 27, folks said it must have been time to pay up.
Since Johnson, a host of musical geniuses have gone to an early grave at age 27. Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, died at age 27 in 1969. Then it was both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1970, and Jim Morrison the following year. Kurt Cobain joined The Club in 1994, and so did Amy Winehouse in 2011 [source: Grant]. All 27 years old. Is it a coincidence? A tragic combination of fame, addiction and depression at a young age? Or were these musical geniuses paying debts, too?
Gillette, the maker of shaving products like Gillette Fusion Power razors and producer of such helpful Internet videos as Gillette's Guide to Body Shaving, may also be cursed -- at least when it comes to its athletic promoters.
Take its most recent ambassadors, Thierry Henry, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, for example. Each athlete's career may have been cut short by the razor's curse. In November 2009, soccer star Henry was accused of cheating during the World Cup Finals. The same month, Woods's meteoric golf career lost serious momentum when he injured his knee and later got bad press from losing his temper at a tournament -- and that was before his messy public divorce and a media frenzy of confessions from his mistresses. To complete the curse, in November 2009, an undefeated Federer was knocked from the top spot in the tennis World Tour by an underdog.
In addition, the former face of Gillette, soccer celebrity David Beckham, seemingly suffered the effects of the curse for several years -- even after the company ended its agreement with him. Beckham's footing as a fan favorite slipped so far that he was actually booed at a game in 2009 [source: The Independent]. To some, it was proof that the curse could continue long after the commercials stopped airing.
In 1945, William "Billy Goat" Sianis brought his pet goat, Murphy, to Wrigley Field to see the fourth game of the 1945 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Detroit Tigers. Sianis and his goat were later ejected from the stadium after complaints from fellow fans, and Sianis reportedly put a curse on the team that day. Ever since, the Cubs have had legendarily bad luck.
Throughout the years, Cubs players and fans have experienced agony in repeated late-season collapses when victory seemed imminent. In 1969, 1984, 1989 and 2003, the Cubs were painfully close to advancing to the World Series but couldn't hold the lead. Even those who don't consider themselves Cubs fans blame the hex for the weird and almost comical losses year after year. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908 -- no other team in the history of the game has gone as long without a championship [source: Legacy].
If you believe in curses, you should also hope your family didn't originate from Hungary. This country is home to the Curse of Turan, which posits that Hungary and its people have been oppressed by a malevolent spell for centuries. The trouble started in 1000 A.D. when then-despot King Stephen decreed that his people must convert to Christianity. Not all the country's inhabitants met the news with a willing spirit, though. A shaman, believed to have psychic powers because he was born with six fingers on one hand, resisted the orders to leave the old religious ways behind. In protest, the shaman placed a thousand-year curse on all Hungarians.
In the years that followed, Hungary was on the wrong side of several state decisions -- like supporting the Nazis and then being persecuted by German forces anyway [source: Benninghof]. Its people are also believed by some to have experienced increased levels of personal despair and misfortune. As proof, some point to Hungary's inflated suicide rate. During much of the 20th century, the country had one of the highest suicide rates in the world [source: Lester]. But since the 1,000 year mark has passed, perhaps the curse has passed with it.
Rasputin, a self-proclaimed magician and cult leader, wormed his way into the palace of the Romanovs, Russia's ruling family, around the turn of the last century. He did so by telling stories to the heir to the throne, a boy named Alexis. His stories kept Alexis calm and sedate. This was important to the royal family because Alexis had hemophilia, which could have caused him to bleed to death if he were injured. Rasputin's power, however, soon went to his head, and a few of the Romanovs allegedly decided to have him killed. But he was exceptionally resilient.
Reportedly it took poison, a fall down a staircase, repeated gunshots and drowning before Rasputin was finally dead. It's said that Rasputin mumbled a curse as he died, assuring Russia's ruling monarchs that they would all be dead themselves within a year. The Romanov family was brutally murdered in a mass execution less than a year later [source: Rhodes].
Our list of famous curses continues on the next page with curses that have haunted American presidents.
The curse of Tippecanoe, or Tecumseh's Curse, is a widely spread explanation for why, from 1840 to 1960, every U.S. president elected (or re-elected) every 20th year has died in office. Rumor has it that Native American leader Tecumseh administered the curse when William Henry Harrison's troops defeated his forces at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Check it out:
- William Henry Harrison was elected president in 1840. He caught a cold during his inauguration, which quickly turned into pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, after only one month in office.
- Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 and re-elected four years later. Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865, and died the next day.
- James Garfield was elected president in 1880. Charles Guiteau shot him in July 1881. Garfield died several months later from complications following the gunshot wound.
- William McKinley was elected president in 1896 and re-elected in 1900. On Sept. 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz, who considered the president an "enemy of the people." McKinley died eight days later.
- Three years after Warren G. Harding was elected president in 1920, he died suddenly of either a heart attack or stroke while traveling in San Francisco.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president in 1932 and re-elected in 1936, 1940 and 1944. Although his health wasn't great overall, he died rather suddenly in 1945 of a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke.
- John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 and assassinated in Dallas three years later.
- Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, and though he was shot by an assassin in 1981, he did survive. Some say this broke the curse: George W. Bush, who was elected in 2000, escaped and went on to serve for a second term in office [source: Snopes].
All right, so maybe if this family had stayed out of politics and off of airplanes, its fate might have been different. Regardless, the number of Kennedy family tragedies have led some to believe there must be a curse on the whole bunch:
- John F. Kennedy's brother Joseph Jr. and sister Kathleen both died in separate plane crashes in 1944 and 1948, respectively.
- JFK, while serving as America's 35th president, was assassinated in 1963 at age 46.
- Robert Kennedy, JFK's younger brother, was assassinated in 1968.
- Senator Ted Kennedy, JFK's youngest brother, survived a plane crash in 1964. In 1969, he was driving a car that went off a bridge, causing the death of his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, and ending his presidential goals during the investigation that followed.
- In 1984, Robert Kennedy's son David died of a drug overdose. Another son, Michael, died in a skiing accident in 1997.
- In 1999, JFK Jr., his wife and his sister-in-law died when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean [source: Tran].
For lots more information on famous curses, see the links on the next page.
Fairy tales vary across cultures, but they often tell similar stories. Test your smarts on international fairy tales with this quiz at HowStuffWorks.
- Benninghof, Mike. "The Curse of Turan." Avalanche Press. October 2011. http://www.avalanchepress.com/curse_of_turan.php
- Daily Mail. "Cursed $70 million Musical Finally Opens." Daily Mail. June 16, 2011. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2003781/Spider-Man-Bono-gets-standing-ovation-cursed-70-musical-finally-opens.html
- Grant, Drew. "The '27 Club' — Curse of Myth?" Salon. July 26, 2011. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.salon.com/2011/07/26/27_club_curse_or_myth/
- Healy, Patrick. "Broadway Box Office Soars, with 'Spider-Man' Flying Highest Ever." The New York Times. Jan. 3, 2012. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/broadway-box-office-soars-with-spider-man-flying-highest-ever/
- Legacy. "William Sianis and the Curse of the Billy Goat." Oct. 6, 2010. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=william-sianis-and-the-curse-of-the-billy-goat-&id=121
- Lester, David. "Suicide and the Holocaust." Nova Science Pub. 2006. https://www.novapublishers.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=2646
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "Spyder Web." March 12, 2011. (Jan. 11, 2011) http://www.snopes.com/autos/cursed/spyder.asp
- Rhodes, Melvin. "The Real Tragedy Behind Anastasia." Kubik. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.kubik.org/vcm/anasta.htm
- Snopes. "The Curse of Tecumseh." (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.snopes.com/history/american/curse.asp
- Swed, Mark. "Critic's Notebook: Julie Taymor's Tangled Web." July 24, 2011. (Jan. 1, 2012) The Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/24/entertainment/la-ca-spider-man-notebook-20110724
- The Independent. "Henry, Woods, Federer: The Curse of Gillette." Nov. 29, 2009. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/advertising/henry-woods-federer-the-curse-of-gillette-1830663.html
- The Museum of Unnatural Mystery. "Howard Carter and the 'Curse of the Mummy.'" (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.unmuseum.org/mummy.htm
- Tran, Mark. "History of the Kennedy Curse." The Guardian. Aug. 26, 2009. (Jan. 1, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/26/kennedy-curse-senator-ted-death