Photographs by Rachel Stern Words by Reyhan Harmanci
Haunted teddy bears, eyeglasses, dolls, and teacups are big business on eBay. So we bought some.
The cardboard box was about three feet long by four feet wide and sealed in at least three layers of packing tape. It was too big to take onto the subway, so I called a car. The driver helped me load the box into the trunk, and on the hour-long ride home we made conversation about the MTA and rent in New York City. It was all very pleasant and normal, but every pause made me nervous. I wanted to tell him there were six cursed objects in the vehicle.
eBay has a range of cursed, haunted, or just downright spooky objects for sale, and as part of my job at Topic, I purchased a range of items to photograph that had been labeled “haunted.” Using that label has turned out to be a weirdly successful way to sell old dolls, or shoes, or mirrors, or a “spirit bra.” The company forces sellers to label their haunted goods as “entertainment,” lest someone actually feel ripped off by the lack of awful occurrences that follow the purchasing of a clown mask.
What is the appeal of owning cursed items? If history has taught us anything, it’s that the legend of a haunted thing is good for business. It’s been good for the cursed Hope Diamond, which is said to bring death and heartache to whoever possesses it (“I like to pretend the thing brings good luck,” an American buyer of the diamond once stated). It was good for an otherwise-unremarkable 1972 painting called The Hands Resist Him, which sold for more than $1,000 after someone claimed to see the painted figures move. It has certainly been good for fictional stories about the curse of the Pharaohs—the idea that people who upset ancient Egyptian tombs will face deadly consequences—the Mummy franchise is now on its two dozenth film since 1932.
The box is still sitting in my house, its contents spilling out. So far, nothing good has happened (it is 2018, after all), but nothing catastrophic has happened either. I did take the haunted teacup to upstate New York, then dreamed my room was inhabited by a Slimer-style ghost. The best outcome, of course, would be if I ignored all the warnings given in the listings quoted below and passed on these goods to the next curse-curious eBay buyer. Our fascination with the spirit world seems to know no price.
“HAUNTED WATCH”(stuck at 11:29 p.m.)
From listing:“The person I received this watch from informed me that Julie owned this watch when she was 24 years old. She set the watch on her nightstand before she set off to jog and she never retuned home. Sadly she was abducted and killed by a crazy person around 11:29 pm, the same time the watched stopped working on her nightstand. I took this watch to my medium friend and she confirmed that Julie revisits this watch time to time. That would explain the unexpected temperature drop I get sometimes when I hold this watch. I felt goosebumps in 80 degree weather.
Watch is not working.
Watch is used.
Please read this disclaimer before you buy this item. I cannot guarantee the same experience I had and I’m not responsible for the experiences you have with this item. This disclaimer is for my protection as well as the Buyer’s Protection. eBay prohibits the sale of intangible items. it’s also their policy for me to State this disclaimer. I am selling this item as is nothing intangible, just a watch.”
Winning bid: $17.50
“HAUNTED SHELF AND MIRROR”
“Purchased at an Estate sale in Kanab, Utah. I’m not sure as to how haunted, and I’m skeptical. However my wife is a believer and apparently it freaks her out. She won’t let me keep it in the house, let alone hang it up.”