The Mystique of the Cursed Figurehead

My name is Heather and I am the Development Associate for the Bostonian Society, but before that I was an Educator at the Old State House for several years. That is when I learned about the building's history, and the Bostonian Society’s collections.

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My favorite object in the museum collection is the cursed figurehead, which was a gift of John Lynch to the Society in 1908.  Edward Rowe Snow, an author and nautical historian from Massachusetts, said that this figurehead was known to bring bad luck to its owners. The story of the figurehead was one of my favorites to tell on my tours around Halloween - I love dark and mysterious stories and this item’s story is interesting to me.

A figurehead is the carved figure of a person or an animal that can be found on the front of ships. This painted lady was on the bow of a ship called the Caroline that wrecked off the coast of Maine. Then she was put on a ship called the Maritana. The Maritana is a famous ship in Boston. In November 1861 she ran into some jagged rocks in Boston Harbor in what is now called the worst wreck to ever occur in Boston Harbor! The New York Times published an account of the shipwreck the day after it occurred.

The figurehead survived that wreck with no damage.

She was now deemed unlucky and no ship’s captain wanted her aboard. She was sold and placed in a shop on Lincoln’s Wharf in Boston and became a curious attraction. The wharf promptly caught on fire and burned!

Later she was donated to the Bostonian Society, who put the unlucky lass on display inside the galleries of the Old State House. A fire in 1921 started, some say, near the cursed figurehead, and yet she survived it! That was the last fire in the Old State House. The cursed figurehead is not currently on display, but she lies in wait for her next victims.

By Heather Rockwood, Development Associate