|The Scotsman, May 15, 1920, via British Newspaper Archive|
This week's post is a cautionary tale: if you wish to give someone jewelry, turn to a local store or your favorite home shopping channel. Do not nick the item from an ancient tomb.
Odds are good the recipient will not thank you.
In December 1913, a lady in Edinburgh (whose name was never given in the published reports) was gifted with a necklace from an old friend who was in Cairo. This friend explained that it had come from an ancient tomb in her vicinity. It was a simple piece of work, consisting of a string of glass beads. The Edinburgh woman did not think much of the bauble, so she put the necklace away and soon forgot about it.
In the spring of 1920, the woman was browsing through her jewelry boxes when she came across the Egyptian relic. Deciding that it was of no intrinsic value, she put it in the wastebasket in her bedroom.
She was soon to learn what happens to people who treat vintage Egyptian bling with scorn. That evening, as she reached for some slippers that lay beside the wastebasket, she suddenly got the oddest sensation. It was exactly as if some invisible hand was clutching her wrist. Then she began hearing peculiar sounds: whirrings and rustlings, all seeming to emanate from the wastebasket. Mice? She searched the basket. No, no mice. Just that necklace.
The jewelry was beginning to spook her. The woman picked up the necklace and threw it in the hall outside her door.
The following day, she had lunch with her brother, described in the public prints as a doctor, a member of the Royal Scottish Academy, and a person of "unimpeachable solidity of character and status." She told him of her odd experiences of the past night. In the bright light of day, she was able to pass it all off as a fine joke. However, the doctor had his curiosity piqued. Without telling anyone, he brought the necklace to his own bedroom, and put it under his pillow.
During that night, his rest was interrupted by loud tappings on the wall, and other unidentifiable sounds. He found out later that the people in the next flat were wondering why the good doctor chose the middle of the night to nail pictures on his wall. At one point, he felt a movement as if a hand had made a sudden grasp at the beads lying under his head. From time to time, the necklace seemed to be moving under the pillow. The next night, he was rudely awakened when his bed began shaking. For the next five nights, he continued to experience similar disturbances. Just to see what, if anything, would happen, the doctor gave the necklace to a friend. This friend, after getting the same dose of ghostly medicine, passed the jewelry on to someone else. Who quickly chose to give it to yet another person. All these people reported the same experiences noted by the doctor and his sister. In addition, several of them suddenly awakened in the night suffering from palpitations, cold sweat, and a strong feeling of unidentifiable terror. One investigator placed the necklace in the bedroom of a friend, without informing this person it was there. The friend woke up feeling the same palpitations and sense of fear.
Word of this haunted necklace reached the ears of J.W. Herries, a reporter for "The Scotsman." He managed to persuade the doctor--who feared the public would think he had lost his marbles--to give him an account of the strange happenings. Herries published a series of articles about the necklace--with, as he had promised, all the names of people involved discreetly veiled--and this unprepossessing string of beads became one of the most talked-about objects in Scotland.
Herries obtained permission to do a little experimenting of his own with the necklace. He took it to the Royal Scottish Museum, where experts told him it was made of blue ware beads--now gone green with age--and was about 3,000 years old. They said it was a common enough object of the time, with nothing visibly distinctive about it. Herries noted that the object had a "curious snaky, almost live, feeling when held in the hand."
Herries took it home, without telling anyone in the household he had the now-notorious necklace in his possession. When everyone else had gone to bed, he brought the necklace to the dining room and put it on the mantelpiece. Then he settled down with a book. After about fifteen minutes, he suddenly noticed a "curious rustling sound" in the sideboard. When he approached the sideboard, the noises ceased. Then, a knocking sound came from the other end of the sideboard. This was followed by what seemed to be the sound of someone moving around in the hallway. He quickly opened the door and turned on the hall light, but no one was there, and everything was now completely silent.
Herries was shocked to realize that there might actually be something to this spook business. Sure, he had heard similar stories from people whose veracity he completely trusted, but to have such things happen to you personally was something else altogether.
He went back to his book and did his best to forget about the necklace's presence. It was not long before the sideboard began making noises again. This time, it was a series of taps along its side. Then he heard a loud "ping" on a tray standing on the sideboard.
Herries decided he needed a witness. He put the necklace in his pocket, and went to the bedroom he shared with his wife, who was still awake. Without telling her, he managed to place the necklace on her dressing-table, where she could not see it. Instantly, the electric light began to dim, and then slowly return to its usual brilliance. It did this over and over.
"What on earth is wrong with the light?" Mrs. Herries asked. Herries mumbled something about faulty circuits. The light kept waxing and waning until they finally turned it off. The night was disturbed by the usual tappings and rustlings, all coming from the dressing-table.
The next morning, he finally admitted to the household that they were under the same roof with an apparently haunted necklace. By this time, Herries had developed a healthy aversion to the thing, and would have happily brought it back to its owner, but his family was thrilled by the news, and insisted on keeping it for awhile.
The Herries household had the necklace for a week. During that time, nothing of particular significance happened, although they did periodically hear curious and inexplicable noises. The necklace continued to be passed around to various amateur investigators. One was an architect named James Dunn. Dunn was a light-hearted fellow who took possession of the necklace simply as a lark. He found the whole story very funny.
After his first night with the necklace, Dunn stopped laughing. For whatever reason--possibly the necklace wanted to teach this joker that it was not to be mocked--Dunn had the most striking experiences of anyone who dealt with the object. No sooner had he fallen asleep, that he was startled awake by a huge bang on the middle of the room, exactly as if a very heavy object had been dropped. When he turned on the light, he saw nothing there. This was followed by loud taps on the wall, and "an extraordinary trundling and clashing sound." It sounded as if heavy stone balls were being rolled back and forth across the floor. Dunn's dog fled the room in terror, and could not be persuaded to return.
As is generally known, Arthur Conan Doyle had a strong (and at times overly trusting) belief in the occult. When he heard about the necklace, he was naturally intrigued. He told Herries that some believe that the ancient Egyptians had the power to create "spirit entities" to guard their tombs. He suggested that the necklace came from a burial place that had been under the protection of one of these spirits, who was naturally annoyed by the necklace being removed from its tomb. Herries found this "a most fantastic theory," but he admitted he had no better explanation.
As for the necklace itself, its owner grew to hate the very sight of the thing. She gave it to her brother, making him promise to never bring it under their roof again. One day, the doctor was traveling to Loch Leven. He happened to have the necklace in his pocket, and was wondering what in the world to do with it. Then he had a thought: why not just throw the damned thing in the loch and be done with it.
So that is what he did. And it still is there today.
There was one sequel to our little tale. Soon after the doctor dumped the necklace, a young Edinburgh woman believed she had developed the facility of "automatic writing." Her parents, hard-headed Scots skeptics, were alarmed by this, and brought in the family doctor to have a discreet look at her. Without telling the girl that everyone present feared she was barmy, they asked her to show the doctor her new talent. The girl chatted with the doctor and her mother, while her right hand began writing sentences on paper, seemingly without her noticing. When the trio examined what she had written, it initially looked like gibberish. There were clear letters joined in groups, but there were no intelligible words. Then, the mother had the bright idea to try reading the letters backwards, which, much to their astonishment, formed a clear message. It was about the Egyptian necklace. It stated that the object had been dropped into the water, which pleased whoever was communicating with them.
So the necklace is now resting in peace. If anyone fishing in Loch Leven should happen to accidentally bring up a humble string of glass beads, they would be well advised to throw it back.