...becoming a legend
Evalyn Walsh McLean
Evalyn's mother-in-law had been particularly appalled by Evalyn's extravagant purchase of the diamond. "Mummie thought my buying that stone was a piece of recklessness," remembered Evalyn in her autobiography. "Mummie said, 'It is a cursed stone and you must send it back before it ruins us all!' I replied firmly, 'Now Mummie, everybody has bad luck. You never know...'"

But when Mummie died, within the year, Evalyn decided to call on the aid of a higher power. "We went to the church of Monsignor Russell. 'Look Father,' I said to him, 'this thing has got me nervous. Would you bless it for me?' He put my bauble on a velvet cushion, and as he began his blessings, a storm broke! Lightning flashed. Thunder shook the church... I don't mind saying various things were scared right out me!"

Evalyn Walsh McLean
"She loved to tell these stories," says Jeffrey Post of the Smithsonian Institution. "I mean she promoted the heck out of the Hope Diamond. And she just did some wonderful, bizarre things with it. She would hide it behind her cushions and in her toaster; she pawned it; she loaned it to people to wear for their weddings; and she took it to the hospitals where she visited soldiers so they could toss it around from bed to bed.

Every year, it seems, people come up to me and say that their grandmother wore the Hope Diamond to the White House because Evelyn Walsh McLean loaned it to her to wear for the night; or that their kids used to see Evelyn Walsh McLean with the Hope Diamond out in the yard doing yard work. All kinds of unusual stories."

Evalyn showing Hope to friends
"She wore it swimming; she wore it one time when she was having an operation – a serious operation!" adds columnist Sarah Booth Conroy. "She wore it on a roller coaster; fishing in the icy north; just about every place you can imagine. She was supposed to have put it on her Great Dane; the Great Dane would wear it on his collar. She liked to shock people, you know, she liked to surprise them."

She also loved the good life, and no one wanted to miss one of Evalyn's parties. At one event, two thirty-piece bands played jazz and dance music, while a Hungarian band entertained in the garden. The dining tables were stretched out seventy-five feet, each seating one hundred diners, each sheltered by an umbrella of orchids with fountains and changing lights.
Evalyn with guests
The cost of the flowers alone was $48,000; the payroll covered forty-seven servants. On another occasion, a new wing was added to the house to accommodate the overflow crowd, and fifteen detectives kept an eye on the Hope Diamond while she wore it.

"I think Evelyn Walsh McLean is a fascinating character," adds Post. "She's obviously a person who was a little bit eccentric, but she enjoyed her eccentricity; she used it in a very positive way. And she became fascinated by the Hope Diamond. And so much of the history of the Hope Diamond we can attribute to her. I mean she helped to make the Hope Diamond famous."

notorious past | savvy sales pitch | one-of-a-kind | becoming a legend
heart of gold | curses debunked | timeline

Mona Lisa
detail from Guernica
Lilies of the Valley Faberge Egg
Hope Diamond
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