There are stories from many parts of the world of objects with curses on them that affect all those who come in contact with them. The most famous of these is a gorgeous, chilly blue-white gem known as the Hope Diamond, now housed at the Smithsonian; the Hope’s colorful backstory–save, perhaps, for the parts about its penultimate private owner, the lovely Evelyn Walsh McLean–is almost certainly made from the whole cloth.
Compared to the Hope Diamond’s legend, this tale of a cursed bowie knife is both commonplace and unsatisfactory, for it’s never explained how it came to be cursed. There is, however, a nasty little shock at the end. The story comes from Beth Scott and Michael Norman’s 1985 book HAUNTED HEARTLAND.
Peter and Jane Ambruster were a childless, fairly well-to-do couple from Topeka, Kansas. In 1929, they happened to attend an auction near their home at which one of the objects offered for sale was an antique bowie knife, that fearsome weapon popularized by Jim Bowie, who used one to kill a Louisiana sheriff in 1827.
This was not that knife, but it was quite a spectacular one. Said to be more than a century old, it was in near-mint condition, and possibly had never been used in a fight at all; with a handle covered in semiprecious stones, it would hardly have been practical. It resembled a presentation knife, more than anything.
The bidding on the knife was fast and furious, but in the end Peter Ambruster made the highest bid, and the auctioneer’s gavel came down: Sold!
The Ambrusters didn’t bid on anything else that day; they collected Peter’s purchase and were leaving the premises when they ran into a strange young man. Jane Ambruster would recall later that he had black hair and eyes and an oddly intense manner.
He wasted no niceties. “Mister,” he said earnestly, “I want to buy that knife from you. I’ll pay double what you just gave for it. You see–it’s a family heirloom.”
Peter shook his head. “Not interested in selling.”
The young man kept talking as if Peter had not spoken at all. “I don’t have the money today, but if you’ll let me take the knife, I’ll get it for you as quick as I–I have fifty dollars on me. I’ll give you that as security for the rest.”
“If you wanted it that badly, you should have bid on it, same as I did. Now good day to you.”
That was when, in our modern parlance, the young man lost it.
“Listen, mister, you don’t understand! That knife isn’t just any knife. It has a curse on it!”
Jane, already badly frightened, began tugging Peter away. Peter, however, repeated, “Not interested in selling.”
“The knife can bring riches to the owner–or bad luck–or even death.”
“Oh, for–” Peter laughed contemptuously. “No. Not for sale.”
The young man tried to hang onto their car as they got in and drove away. When they lost sight of him he was screaming, “I warned you! That knife will bring you only death!”
Jane, frankly, hated the knife, and wanted her husband to get rid of it; she was afraid the crazed young man might come to their home and cause trouble. Peter stubbornly refused to dispose of it, although to placate her he did lock it up in a strongbox and hid both the strongbox and the key.
And, for two years, nothing happened: no bad luck, no financial reverses (unusual in those early days of the Great Depression), no illnesses, no deaths. Peter occasionally would remind Jane of this, always with that scornful laugh.
Then one night, in late 1931, Jane was awakened by a gasping, choking sound from Peter’s side of their bed. Before she could react, he was dead of a massive heart attack.
Jane, numb with shock, made it through the ghastly rituals of funeral and burial. A month after Peter’s death, she paid a visit to their doctor. He was as deeply puzzled by Peter’s sudden death as she was, as he had never shown any symptoms of heart disease.
The doctor, at one point in the conversation, made the comment that Peter’s death was as sudden as if he had been stabbed to the heart.
And that was when Jane remembered the knife, in the strongbox at home.
Could it be–
She made some excuse to the doctor and raced home.
She found the key. She opened the strongbox.
There had been a tangle of objects in that strongbox, a few sentimental trinkets and objects of real value–a fancy gold pocket watch, her pearl necklace, Peter’s silver money clip–the day he put the knife in the box.
Those objects were still there.
The knife was gone.