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Cursed Bone of Learmonth Gardens
The home of Sir Alexander Hay Seton, 10th Baronet Seton (born 14 August 1904 – died 1963) became the focus of the world media after poltergeist like activity possibly linked to a bone taken from an Egyptian skeleton led to speculation that the Baronet’s family were cursed by a mummy.
Baronet Seton and his wife Zeyla visited Egypt in 1936. Whilst visiting a tomb arranged by a local guide Zeyla took a bone from a body that lay within and after bringing it back to their home at Learmonth Gardens in Edinburgh, the haunting experiences began.
Rather than repeat what appeared in the press or in other ghost books and websites concerning this case, I would like to refer you to the extract below taken from "The Transgressions of a Baronet", written by Sir Alexander Hay Seton. This details the trip to Egypt, the finding of the bone and the experiences that followed as told by the key witness.
“The temple at Luxor is beyond my powers of description - it has to be seen to be believed and many hours can be spent amongst the temples and beautiful buildings all around.
The Valley of Kings disappointed me, except for the tomb of Tutankhamen, there was really little to see.
After two wonderful days we wended our way back to Cairo and this time to the Mena Hotel, on the edge of the desert and only ten minutes walk from the Sphinx. The great Pyramid of course towers right over the hotel and at night its shadow could be seen cast around everywhere.
We did the usual sight-seeing that all tourists have to do, including a ride on a rather unpleasant camel and then retired for a bathe in the swimming pool and dinner on a table at the edge of the pool. In a mood of complete satisfaction, caused by good eating, excellent brandy and the cool of the evening but most important of all the receipt of a very welcome cheque from a Glasgow editor, to whom I had sent a description of my journey by destroyer, I had pleasure in receiving Abdul. He told me that new tombs had been found recently behind the Pyramid and although not of any great historical value it might be as well if we saw the finishing stages of one of these tombs being examined, which was going on the next day. "My brother could arrange" he said. It was arranged therefore, that he would collect us the next morning after an early breakfast, and for an extra fee he would take us into the newly opened tomb - a thing the Egyptians were very much against.
I had a feeling in my bones that something was going to happen over this and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that Zeyla cajoled me into going with her. I wish earnestly to God that we had not gone!
I am not an Egyptologist so I will not attempt to describe the tomb beyond the fact that it was pre-mummy era, we were informed, and had at one time been filled by the mud of the Nile, when it was known in history to have caused widespread damage. When this was I don’t know, but I believe it to be four or five thousand years ago. We went down some roughly hewn rock steps - about 30 of them - and there, lying on a stone slab and uncovered was the remains of a skeleton – water and mud had removed most. You could see the skull quite clearly and the leg bones but few ribs were left although the spine was almost intact.
With a feeling of awe I looked around and could well imagine the placing of this poor body on the slab and the final sealing of the door at its feet. Our guide told us that it was the body of a high-class girl – but there was no question of her being a Princess. I couldn’t find out her age nor could I find out her name - time had erased that information, but that she was one of the countless hundreds that have been unearthed from behind the Pyramids, there is no doubt. The antiquity of the bones could be seen by the fact that although, as light as a feather, they would crumble very soon. As we left I remember thinking to myself, how strange that one day someone may be looking at my bones and wondering what the devil the owner looked like. I said a small prayer and then made the others come on up into the sunshine and life. Zeyla seemed fascinated by it and slipped back past us to have one more look – I was only too glad to have a smoke!
The following sequence of events is exactly what happened in their correct order. Hundreds of Daily Papers and Magazines have given their versions and verdicts but I believe that I am the only person alive who can tell the story of the "Egyptian Bone" as it happened.
On the way back to the Mena House it was suggested that we should call at the Pyramid souvenir shop. To my surprise Zeyla rejected the idea. That night after a bathe, Zeyla told me that she had got a wonderful souvenir in the shape of a Bone that she had taken off the skeleton we had seen that morning. She showed it to me and to my eyes it looked like digestive biscuit, apart from it being slightly convex and the shape of a heart. I told her to put it away and indeed never gave it another thought until we were back in Edinburgh some weeks later after finishing our holiday in Egypt. We had asked some friends around for supper and Zeyla produced this somewhat grotesque relic, much to the amusement of all. I produced a small case, which had once contained a clock, and we put the bone in the dining room on a table.
Just as our friends were leaving there was the most almighty crash and a huge piece of the roof parapet landed about two feet away from us. It could have killed anyone. Whether this can be connected with the Bone or not is difficult to say, but it certainly scared us and was very hard to explain.
A few nights later, after we had gone to bed, Nanny came running upstairs to say that she had heard someone moving about in the Drawing Room. I went downstairs but there was nothing there – just imagination and the rain outside I told Nanny.
That night in my sleep I do remember hearing a crash but didn’t think anything of it at the time. The following morning, however, Zeyla accused me of being careless the night before and of having upset the corner table. Sure enough, there the table lay on its side, with the small glass case beside it and the Bone on the floor. I apologised, thinking that I must have carelessly put the table unevenly against the wall and the vibration of the traffic must have shaken it over.
One night a few weeks later, when Nanny was out, we heard someone on the stairs and not expecting her so early, Zeyla went outside to see if she was alright, but there was no-one there. We didn’t say anything to Nanny about it, but during the following nights something kept waking us up at different times and none of us could explain the noises.
My nephew, young Alasdair Black came to stay for a few days shortly after these strange occurrences, and one morning he calmly announced that he had seen "a funny dressed person going upstairs". He assured me that he had gone to the lower lavatory the night before and had seen this person. He didn’t seem to be the slightest bit scared about it, however, so I didn’t say anything more about it, but decided to sit up one night to see if I could see anything.
We had some valuable snuffboxes in the Drawing Room and I thought that someone might be trying to get at them. So, having made quite sure that the Drawing Room windows were all locked, I locked the door, putting the key into my pocket. For hours I watched from the balcony outside our bed-room, feeling rather foolish doing so.
Nothing happened so I went to bed, only to be rudely awakened by a yell from Zeyla, that someone was downstairs. Grabbing my revolver, I dashed downstairs, to meet a very scared Nanny. Of course the door was locked and the key was still in my pocket. I yelled to Zeyla to get the key and when we finally got in the Drawing Room, it looked as if a battle royal had taken place there. Chairs were upset, books flung about, and there in the middle of the chaos was that damn Bone, looking as harmless and more like a biscuit than ever. The windows were still locked!
It was after this episode that I decided that we were up against something – a poltergeist or some such thing. It had been known, but I had never had the misfortune to come across the results of one. Zeyla, who was very superstitious, found a local soothsayer, who really said practically nothing except that her fee was £1 and was of no help.
Weeks passed without anything unusual happening; then it started again. Noises, banging and always in the Drawing Room. Zeyla thought it was something to do with the bone and had the brilliant idea of moving the articles which had been flung about, except for the heavy chairs, downstairs to my Sitting Room. This we did and of course the Bone, table and all, came down as well.
After a week or so I got fed up with having my sitting room cluttered up and said that I would shift all the things back the following day. That night, however, something nearly did the job for me. As usual there it was – the Bone – on the floor, and as much furniture as could be was tipped up all over the place. This time I did connect this with the Bone, and told Zeyla that I was going to burn it.
Unfortunately, this was met with such a storm of abuse from Zeyla that I was only too glad to leave the whole thing and go out for a drink to forget the whole incident. I told some of the members of my club what had happened which caused much laughter, and was not believed, except for a dear old chap called Col. E V Coates, who had travelled a great deal. We had a long talk about it and when I left the club that night -a little tight - I left with the avowed intention of destroying the Bone.
When I arrived home I found that the Bone had been at it again. This was much earlier than usual but the damage was more severe than usual, as this time it was obvious that the table upon which the bone lay had been subjected to what one might say was severe pressure for one of the legs was cracked. I just couldn’t believe my eyes.
During the course of the next day or so I was pestered by a very charming reporter from the Express who had a cock and bull story that he wanted me to look at. It was such utter tripe that I told him so, and in so doing I opened up the gates of a dam with miles of water behind it!
From then on after the article had appeared in print my life became hell on earth. How the reporters got hold of the story I don’t know, but every paper seemed to want a statement of some description or another but I was adamant. "I had no comment to make." The young Express reporter asked if he could borrow the Bone for a week and write up a daily article on it. I agreed to this, but nothing happened of any note whilst in the reporter’s possession and it was returned to me.
A few more weeks elapsed and still the papers molested me, but I had nothing to tell them, until one evening at about 6 p.m. Nanny was scared out of her life. I suppose her nerves were frayed, we had had a domestic scene and I had gone to the club and Zeyla was with her family and Egidia. The story we heard from Nanny really worried me, apparently the same thing had happened. Noises etc. but this time there was a terrific crash, followed by breaking glass and she had been too frightened to go up to the Drawing Room to see what had happened. By this time I knew what to expect, and I was amazed to find the room untouched, except for the table and the Bone. The table was smashed on its side, the glass canopy under with the Bone rested was in small pieces and the Bone itself was broken up into about five pieces.
I thought, alright you can have your story now – and arranged for a cameraman from the Scottish Daily Mail to take a picture of it. You should have seen the story the next day! I gave the Bone to the reporter who had covered the story. It was returned to me, however, because apparently he became seriously ill – same old trouble or was it? My suggestion that there was a connection with this fact and the fact that the previous reporter had had a car accident was met with a great deal of ridicule, however, so we decided to forget the whole thing and prayed for peace.
This was not to be, however, for on Boxing Day night we had a really cheerful crowd coming to dinner which was scheduled for 7.30 for 8. Cocktails were to be served upstairs in the Drawing Room. Everyone was very happy and in good spirits and as it was very cold outside I had laid a big log fire in the large fire-place of the L shaped room.
Naturally the subject of the Bone came up and to my disgust and dismay, Zeyla, who had got a friend of hers, a doctor, to mend the Bone as far as possible, had placed it on a table opposite the door leading into the room. This of course made a good conversational interest and it came out that the Bone was a Sacrum, or the bone at the base of the spine, joining the hip bones, apparently, although not being a doctor I wouldn’t swear to this. Whilst we were talking, and a fresh round of drinks were being served, the entire table, bone and all, went hurtling onto the wall opposite, with a terrific thump. No-one was standing near it, nor did anyone see it happen – it just happened! Chaos followed, the maid fainted as did Zeyla’s rather hysterical cousin Gert! The party became a fiasco from then on. No-one picked the Bone up because I insisted that my room downstairs should be used. This story was spread of course and all sorts of things said about it.
In the New Year the American papers got hold of the story and they went to town with it, the whole story being magnified and I found myself again the leading figure in a story which I had become to hate. Several spiritualistic meetings were held on the subject, to which literally hundreds of people came and I only wish now that I had had a good agent – I could have made a fortune out of it! Many unkind people thought that I had, and that I was keeping the ball rolling to gather in the money but this was certainly not so.
Amongst the thousands of letters I received was one from a Dr Carter, of Tutankhamen Tomb fame, in which he asked me to respect his confidence by not publishing its contents, but he assured me that things quite inexplicable like this could happen, indeed had happened and will go on happening.
I am not a Roman Catholic although I had a very great respect for my uncle who was Father Benedict, at the Fort Augustus Abbey. I suggested that he should come and exorcise whatever it was. He obtained permission and came to the scene. It was a solemn visit, carried out in Zeyla’s absence. The Bone, having been blessed, was then destroyed by me by burning, and I made certain that it had all gone for good.
The papers were anxious to have this story, of course, but was a personal one and a very devout one, so they extracted no information from me at all, and they reported what they made up themselves. The strange thing is, that after this, we had peace in the house, although Zeyla could not forgive me for destroying the Bone and it didn’t help our already rocky marriage at all.
I can give no answer as to what caused these mysterious happenings but to my mind, there was some strange power released that we humans are apt to laugh at, but which was oh! So very real! Looking back on this experience I still think that it was one of the most horrible experiences that I have been through, happening as it did both in the daytime and the night.
My own interpretation of the matter is that through some uncanny power of religion it was brought under destructive control but if – and I emphasise the world "if" – it really did carry a curse, as many people thought, the curse certainly did not end when I destroyed the Bone by fire, and from 1936 onwards trouble, sometimes grave, seemed to be always around the corner. My daughter Egidia became ill with the result that she had an operation on her ear-drum. Then Zeyla had the same trouble in both her ears. My troublesome kidney was still causing me great discomfort and altogether life was very difficult.”
- "The Transgressions of a Baronet", written by Sir Alexander Hay Seton
Sir Alexander had married Zeyla Daphne Sanderson (born 28 Jul 1904 – died Kent Nov 1962) on 12th March 1927 in Edinburgh. They divorced 13th June 1939. Alexander went on to marry twice more, first to Flavia Forbes on 17th June 1939 (divorced in 1958) and then to Julia Clements on 30 July 1962. I have read other accounts suggesting that Sir Alexander was convinced he was cursed and that on his last honeymoon he foresaw his own death within six months. I don’t know if this is true and would not want to speculate, but he did pass away within a year of his last marriage.
No other accounts I have come across give the exact address in Learmonth Gardens and although I do know which house Sir Alexander lived in I also intend to keep it quiet in respect for the current occupiers.