Secrets from Ascenzi Square: The Order of Skeletons and the Curse of the Sultana Diamond

SkeletonsOur Ascenzi Square exhibition included this collection of medals and a letter from the Order of Skeletons sent to Charles Ascenzi. In researching the Order and the contents of the letter, we learned even more about the fascinating connections Charles had through his service in WWI.

The Order of Skeletons was a veterans group of the Army & Navy Union (ANU) that playfully engaged macabre imagery and language. Ranks included “Ghoul,” “Body Snatcher,” and “Pound of Flesh.” A 1944 Troy Record article lists some additional spooky titles.

Stehlin detailEqually interesting is the letter’s mention of Col. Joseph C. Stehlin and his upcoming trip to Washington, DC. The letter is dated August, 1950. Just 2 months later, Stehlin led a delegation in DC that presented President Harry Truman with a gold lifetime ANU membership card and plaque.

We found a picture of that moment:

In researching Stehlin further, we discovered a story worthy of Indiana Jones.

Stehlin was a WWI aviator and soldier of fortune. In 1924, he purchased the “Sultana” diamond from Sultan El Mulai Hafid on behalf of “a wealthy Spaniard” and transported it from Morocco to Paris. The stone was supposedly cursed; all who purchased it before Stehlin died tragically and mysteriously, and it always ended up back in Morocco.

But Stehlin had more than a possible curse to face; Moroccan residents thought it would be bad luck for the diamond to leave the country, and they did their best to ensure Stehlin wouldn’t successfully transport it. He took on numerous disguises to travel safely: he first pretended to be a French tourist. Later, with the help of two Arab guides, he disguised himself as an Arab. He escaped on horseback through Tangiers, then caught a private yacht to Cadiz, and finally reached Paris by racecar where he successfully delivered the Sultana to be insured, priced and sold. The diamond’s whereabouts today are unknown. For more of Stehlin’s story, see this Brooklyn Daily Eagle article.

Charles Ascenzi’s intriguing medals take us on an exhilarating international tour, from Williamsburgh to Tangiers to Paris, with a cursed Moroccan diamond in tow. This incredible story is a reminder that any object, no matter how small, can tell any number of captivating stories.

Order of Skeletons membership card and pin

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One Response to “Secrets from Ascenzi Square: The Order of Skeletons and the Curse of the Sultana Diamond”

  1. Vito Ascenzi says:

    Buonasera, mi chiamo Vito Ascenzi e scrivo dall’Italia vorrei informazioni su Ascenzi Square.Grazie