Ancient Egyptian curses have been a fashionable source of shivers ever since enterprising members of the British press invented the curse of King Tut’s tomb, shortly after its 1922 discovery. This story, which comes from antebellum Georgetown, South Carolina, predates that event by nearly a century, but it has all the chills one could wish.
It begins with romance–of course–and ends with a haunting.
Anne Withers was a gently bred young belle whose parents had fond hopes that she would marry a man from their class–planter high society–and settle down to be that gem, a great southern lady.
Anne, like daughters all over, had other ideas. She fell in love with a sea captain, somewhat older than herself, named Christopher Corbitt. When her parents saw that disapproval cooled Anne’s passion for her seafaring man not one whit, they agreed to a marriage, to be celebrated as soon as he returned from his latest voyage to the Far East–a matter, in those days, of years.
Anne remained true to her lover, and when word came that he was nearly home, a Charleston dressmaker undertook to make her trousseau. Her wedding dress was a confection of white satin and lace, the likes of which Georgetown had never seen.
Captain Corbitt arrived the day before the wedding, bringing with him a beautiful, exotic gift for his bride to be: a golden bracelet, in a design of carved beetles with ruby eyes, linked together on a thin gold chain. An enthralled Anne listened to his story of how he had acquired the unusual bauble: he had bought it from a man in an Egyptian port city, a drunken disheveled man who told him an involved tale of how it had been stolen from the tomb of an Egyptian princess, how he had purchased it from a man in far-off India, how the bracelet had brought him nothing but bad luck–
all the usual stock in trade. Skeptical Captain Corbitt didn’t believe a word of the tale; he bought the bracelet for its strange beauty, and figured the man was suffering from delirium tremens.
Anne didn’t put the bracelet on then and there; the clasp wouldn’t open for her or the captain. She promised she would wear it on the morrow; her maid Cindy’s deft fingers could surely work the clasp.
The next day, Cindy dressed her mistress in her lovely wedding gown, and then, at Anne’s insistence, placed the beetle bracelet on her wrist.
Anne walked to the stop of the stairs and smiled down at her waiting groom.
And then, without warning, she began to scream.
An instant later, still screaming, she pitched headlong down the staircase. She died at the bottom of a broken neck.
Captain Corbitt and Cindy were the first to reach her. They found, to their horror, that the delicate skin of Anne’s wrist, beneath the bracelet, bore tiny bleeding puncture wounds. The wounds had been made by barely visible claws on the undersides of the golden beetles. As the captain removed the bracelet, the claws retracted.
Anne’s parents and the captain promptly packed up the necklace and sent it off to a London chemist. His report was many months in coming, but all were shocked by what he told them. The claws on the bracelet, he wrote, contained a deadly and ancient poison from the Far East in their wee gold shafts. The warmth of Anne’s body had triggered the mechanism, and the poison had entered her system when the claws punctured her skin. Had she not died in the fall down the staircase, she would have died in agony within a very short time.
Captain Corbitt, heartbroken, left Georgetown and never returned.
The old Withers home was sold, sometime after the deaths of Anne’s parents, to a family called Powell, and was known thereafter as the Withers-Powell house.
For many years, especially in warm weather, there have been reports of a beautiful, ghostly girl in a white bridal gown and veil who walks in the gardens of the Withers-Powell house. Other times, she has been seen seated and rocking in a chair on the veranda.
She could be, so the legend goes, none other than Anne Withers, dead of an ancient curse.
For more about the deadly Egyptian bracelet, see the following sources:
Nancy Roberts, Southern Ghosts (1979)
Michael Norman and Beth Scott, Haunted Heritage (2002).
My Vols are playing the University of South Carolina at Columbia today. The only stories I had to hand that actually come from Columbia involved a) some alien being said to live in tunnels under the campus of the university and b) the ghost of the not-very-attractive Confederate general Wade Hampton. I like this creepy (and possibly apocryphal) curse story much better than either.
And with that said, let’s fry a chicken! GO VOLS!!!!!