Evalyn Walsh McLean
Evalyn Walsh McLean was born August 1, 1886 to Thomas Francis Walsh and Carrie Bell Reed in Colorado. For years, Evalyn and her family struggled financially, until Tom Walsh struck gold during the height of the rush for riches in the San Juan Mountains in 1895. Shortly after, he established the Camp Bird Mine when Evalyn was just ten years old. Walsh did not know at the time that his discovery would fuel a company that remained open for more than one hundred years, bringing in more than 1.5 million ounces of gold. Newly rich and lured by high society, the Walsh family moved to Washington D.C., the center of power and politics, in 1899.
In 1903, after establishing a place in society, the family moved into their mansion. Here, they entertained the rich and the famous. Their home later became the Indonesian Embassy, and is known as the most expensive residence in the nation's capital. In 1904, Evalyn's father sent her to Paris. Evalyn wrote, "An agreement was reached in our family for me to go to Paris to study music, French, and other parlor tricks of ladies. By some school magic, I was to become a lady!" Much to her father's disapproval, Evalyn, excited by her newly acquired freedom, turned wild. She changed her wardrobe and hairdo with the days of the week, and spent her father's fortune on exotic goods. When Evalyn returned to D.C. with an outrageous hairdo, her father was able to bribe her with expensive jewels. Evalyn wrote in her autobiography, "They make me feel comfortable and even happy. I cannot help it if I have a passion for jewels. The truth is, when I neglect to wear them, astute members of my family call in doctors!"
In 1908, upon returning from Paris, Evalyn eloped with Edward Beale McLean, heir to the Washington Post. Both Ned and Evalyn were children of the gilded age, and were known for their frivolous spending. The young couple lacked the ability to manage money, and is blamed for wasting the two family's fortunes by splurging on exotic things. In 1909, the couple had their first child, Vinson, referred to as the "hundred-million dollar baby." Vinson was later joined by siblings Edward, John, and Emily. Aware of the McLean family's fortune, Pierre Cartier tried to sell a 45.52 carat deep blue diamond, known as the Hope Diamond, to Evalyn during one of her visits to Paris. After Cartier remounted the stone to Evalyn's liking, she purchased the stone in 1911 for $180,000 at her home in D.C. In 1916, the McLean family moved to their mansion known as "Friendship," the site of many outstanding affairs and parties hosted by Evalyn.
The curse of the Hope Diamond is said to be given by Pierre Cartier upon his sale to excite Evalyn. She felt immune, but said that she would not let her family touch the stone. However, her life was filled with tragedy. Her son, Vinson, was struck and killed by an automobile in 1919. Shortly after, Ned and Evalyn spilt. Following the Wall Street crash of 1929, The Washington Post was sold. In 1932, Evalyn's mother, Carrie Bell, passed away, and Ned died in a mental institution in 1946. Evalyn's only daughter, Emily, who later changed her name to Evalyn, died of drug overdose in 1947, just months before Evalyn herself died of pneumonia at age sixty. In her will, Evalyn left the Hope Diamond to her family, but Harry Winston bought the jewelry estate, including the Hope Diamond and Star of the East in 1949. Winston gave the famous cursed Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958. Many Americans still blame disasters and issues of the United States to the fact that the Hope Diamond is now American property.
Evalyn Walsh McLean led an extravagant life of glamour, luxury, and power. The eccentric socialite loved the parties that accompanied "the good life." Evalyn is remembered as a fascinating and unconventional young woman. Her name is synonymous with the Hope Diamond, and she helped to make it famous. She wore the diamond almost continuously throughout her life. The diamond was worn while she gardened, went to the movies, and even while swimming. She also allowed her dog to wear the diamond at his birthday party, on which she spent thousands of dollars in preparation. Once, she even wore the Hope Diamond during surgery. She was known for her money, but also for her heart of gold. Undoubtedly unique, in every sense of the word, she enjoyed her eccentricity and used it in a very positive, advantageous manner. She became fascinated by the Hope Diamond and so much of the history can be attributed to her.
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
Formerly on view at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., in the room adjacent to the Hope Diamond