The History of the Hope Diamond and its Relation to Bar Harbor – Part IX

published april 10, 2024 | Written by emily cough | edited by bhhs staff

Part 9 – The Hope Diamond and Bar Harbor, Maine

Edward “Ned” Beale McLean, son of the owner of The Washington Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer, enjoyed spending his adolescent summers in Bar Harbor (“The Central House: Bar Harbor, Maine: The Inn,” n.d.).

Already familiar with the area, Ned, together with his newly-wedded wife Evalyn Walsh McLean, received the Briarcliffe summer cottage (also known as Sears Estate, as Evalyn writes in her autobiography) on the Shore Path as a generous gift from her father in 1909 (Helfrich and O’Neil 1982).

Dispelling the “Curse”?

Following the purchase of the renowned Hope Diamond in 1912, Evalyn made sure to get her money’s worth—though that wasn’t to say it didn’t come with a cost.

Upon learning of her daughter-in-law’s procurement of the diamond, Emily Truxtun Beale, Evalyn’s mother-in-law, succumbed to superstition, was aware of the gem’s tainted and storied history. Affectionately referred to as “Mummie” by Evalyn, Emily nearly fainted when Evalyn purchased the diamond, thinking it would bring on misfortune and ill repute to the family (McLean 1936).

Whether weakened by age or the purported curse associated with the gem, Emily died from pneumonia in Bar Harbor merely a year after Evalyn had purchased the diamond. This, in conjunction with dozens of “persons near and far” pouring in letters of concern urging Evalyn to relinquish the supposedly cursed gem, and despite Evalyn’s love of “fresh thrills,” led her to entertain the notion that the diamond indeed bore the mantle of a “talisman of evil” (McLean 1936).

Despite her trepidations, this didn’t completely deter Evalyn from the allure of the diamond.

Encouraged by a friend’s assurance that a priest’s blessing could dispel the curse and purge the gem of its evil, Evalyn sought the intervention of Monsignor Russell.

According to Evalyn, the ordeal was quite the spectacle: “Lightning flashed. Thunder shook the church…There was no wind or rain; just darkness and these lurid lightning thrusts. Across the street a tree as struck and splintered (McLean 1936). Given Evalyn’s penchant for excitement, it’s speculative whether or not she embellished her narrative for dramatic effect.

Either way, she was convinced that once the Father was through with his incantations, the stone was now casted of all evil. From then on, she began to think of the diamond as a good luck charm, donning it wherever she went.

Devil-May-Care

Evalyn was known to have a devil-may-care attitude in regards to the Hope Diamond. Notably, she gained notoriety after proudly displaying the gem on the collar of her beloved Great Dane, Mike.

Richard Kurin, author of Hope Diamond: Legendary History of a Cursed Gem, interviewed the descendants of Evalyn and even reported that she would toss the Hope Diamond in her pool, “like throw a quarter in the pool and dive for it,” simply for the shock and fun of it (Kurin et al. 2018).

Jeffrey Post notes that Evalyn “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” (“Treasures of the World – Hope Diamond,” n.d.). And her flippant behavior towards the diamond didn’t end there—columnist Sarah Booth Conroy asserted that she would wear it on rollercoasters and “fishing in the icy north” (“Treasures of the World – Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

The Former French Blue Comes to Bar Harbor

Evalyn took the diamond everywhere with her, and in spite of her preference for Newport over Bar Harbor, the McLean family continued to spend time at their summer home, Briarcliffe, where Evalyn never parted from the Hope Diamond. The diamond became an integral aspect of Evalyn’s persona, accompanying her on her travels and adventures, regardless of where she went.

In 1911, the Bar Harbor Record reported that “last summer an unsuccessful attempt was made to break into the McLean summer home” (Bar Harbor Record 1911). Curiously, the focus of concern did not center around the safety of the Hope Diamond, but rather on the welfare of the McLeans’ son, Vinson Walsh McLean.

Dubbed the “hundred-million-dollar baby,” Vinson was afforded a level of protection akin to that of the President, with a company of guards and nurses vigilantly overseeing his every movement.

However, despite the level of protection that surrounded young Vinson, tragedy would soon befall the McLean family when, at the tender age of nine, he was tragically struck by an automobile near their Washington, D.C. estate, Friendship (The Washington Times 1919).

Further misfortune befell the McLeans when, only three years later, their second son, John “Jock,” narrowly escaped drowning after an incident while fishing for cod on a boat in the ocean waters near Bar Harbor (Landrigan and Landrigan 2019).

Recalling the Hope Diamond’s Time in Bar Harbor 

Childhood friend Anna Scott Kennedy, who spent her summers in Bar Harbor, shared a close bond with the McLean family. Local historian Debbie Dyer, who cared for Anna during her stays, fondly reminisced about the late Evalyn Walsh McLean and her interactions with the children.

According to Dyer’s recollections, Evalyn frequently put on puppet shows to entertain Anna and the other children during their visits to the McLean residence.

She also recalled that Evalyn would encourage the children to go out on their row boat to explore the waters surrounding their summer cottage, providing them with toys and trinkets to play with on their adventures.

Evalyn had a fondness for sharing her prized possessions, which she affectionately referred to as “baubles,” as noted by Dyer. She would often lend these items to the children, instructing them to return them afterward. Their response was always a respectful “yes, Mrs. McLean, we’ll bring them back.”

One summer day, according to Dyer’s recollection, Evalyn followed her usual routine of lending out her cherished baubles to the children. As they prepared for their adventures, the exchange unfolded much like any other day, with the children being careful with the trinkets entrusted to them.

However, on this particular occasion, Evalyn experienced an unusual sense of relief. Why? Because among the baubles she entrusted to the children was none other than the Hope Diamond itself.

Instead of the Hope Diamond being preserved where it is today at the Smithsonian, the Hope Diamond could’ve been sitting at the bottom of Frenchman’s Bay!

McLeans Further Connection 

Dyer also gave further gems into the history of the McLean family’s time in Bar Harbor.

Dyer shared that Ned McLean was an avid golfer, frequenting his time at Kebo Valley Golf Club. It was a common sight to see local men, and later women, serving as caddies for the summer residents. Among them, Ned had developed a special bond with local Shirley Povich, who became his dedicated caddy. Their relationship grew so strong that Ned eventually invited Shirley to accompany him to Washington. This decision proved pivotal for Shirley’s life, as he went on to carve out a successful career as a sports reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, the very newspaper owned and inherited by Ned himself.

If Shirley Povich’s name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, then surely his son would: the renowned Maury Povich, whom Dyer fondly remembers visiting her at the old Bar Harbor Historical Society location, on 33 Ledgelawn.

It seems this small town and its influence really isn’t all that small at all.

Its Last Changes of Ownership 

Following Evalyn’s passing in 1947, the same year the cataclysmic Great Fire ravaged the Island, her extensive collection of jewels, including the iconic Hope Diamond, required secure safekeeping. In one narrative, it was reported that the jewels were transported to the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for safekeeping. Given that it was a Saturday and bank safes wouldn’t be open until Monday, Hoover’s office provided a secure interim location for the precious gems (Kurin 2017). Alternatively, another account suggests that former Attorney General Justice Murphy took it upon himself to safeguard the jewels. According to this version, Murphy spent the entire night driving around in a taxi, tirelessly searching for a secure location to deposit the jewels (Kurin 2017).

Nevertheless, Evalyn stipulated in her will that her extensive collection of jewels, including the famed Hope Diamond, would be held in trust until the youngest of her grandchildren reached the age of twenty-five. At that point, the collection would be divided among her grandchildren as per her instructions.

However, despite Evalyn’s intention for her jewel collection to be held in trust for her grandchildren, the weight of her substantial debts necessitated their sale. In 1949, Harry Winston of New York purchased the entire collection for approximately $1 million dollars, equivalent to roughly $13 million in today’s currency (Kurin, 2017). Following the acquisition, Winston showcased the collection, which prominently featured the Hope Diamond and the Star of the East Diamond, in his traveling exhibition known as the Court of Jewels. This exhibition ran from 1949 to 1953 and served the dual purpose of educating the public about “precious gems and [to] raise money for civic and charitable organizations” (“History of the Hope Diamond,” n.d.).

Remaining true to his commitment to educational endeavors, Winston fulfilled his promise by donating the Hope Diamond and the rest of the collection to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958. Although the donation was made in 1958, Winston officially transferred ownership of the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1967. Since then, the legendary gem has remained under the ownership of the Smithsonian Institution, where it continues to be showcased for educational and public appreciation, remaining an enduring symbol of beauty and fascination to this very day.

As for Bar Harbor’s story, although its encounter with the Hope Diamond was fleeting, we are fortunate to have played a small role in its remarkable history, which spans across centuries and continents.

References

Bar Harbor Record. 1911. “Armed Man Nightly by Cradle,” February 15, 1911.

“The Central House: Bar Harbor, Maine : The Inn.” n.d. https://www.thecentralhousebarharbor.com/inn.html.

Helfrich, G. W., and Gladys O’Neil. 1982. Lost Bar Harbor: Photographs from the Collection of the Bar Harbor Historical Society.

“History of the Hope Diamond.” n.d. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/explore/collections/hope-diamond-history.

Kurin, Richard. 2017. Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem. Smithsonian Institution.

Kurin, Richard, Tony Cohn, Nancy Pope, Jeff Post, and Smithsonian. 2018. “The Curse of the Hope Diamond.”

Landrigan, Dan, and Leslie Landrigan. 2019. Bar Harbor Babylon: Murder, Misfortune, and Scandal on Mount Desert Island.

McLean, Evalyn Walsh. 1936. Father Struck It Rich. Little, Brown And Company.

“Treasures of the World – Hope Diamond.” n.d. https://www.pbs.org/treasuresoftheworld/a_nav/hope_nav/hnav_level_1/4_legend_hopfrm.html.

The Washington Times. 1919. “The ‘Poor Little Rich Boy’ Killed by Kindness”: How The Extraordinary Painstaking Care to Safeguard Little Vinson McLean, the ‘Hundred-Million-Dollar-Baby,’ From Any Possible Misfortune Led to the Child’s Tragic Death,” June 1, 1919.