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1903, April 2: The Zborowski Family Curse

On April 2, 1903, Count Elliot (or Eliot) Zborowski was killed in his racing car during a competition near Nice, France, when he was "dashed headlong against a stone wall while leading all competitors." He was known to be something of a reckless driver, and his wife and friends had all warned him to be more careful. All agreed the accident was due to his recklessness. However, along with the announcement of Count Zborowski's death was the interesting 'fact' that his death was in keeping with the terms of a family curse that had lasted four generations.

Count Eliot, ca. 1902Count Eliot Zborowski in one of his racing cars, circa 1902 [Larger image here.]

        According to the reports (which were printed as early as the day after the Count's death) the curse was placed upon the great-grandfather of Count Eliot Zborowski by an Irish lord who, having been angered, called upon Heaven to prevent any male Zborowski from ever dying in bed. Apparent confirmation of the curse was that not only had Count Elliot died out of bed, but so had his father Martin (who died in a chair), and the Count's other male relatives; another Elliot who was killed by a train, Francis who drowned, and Max who died after a fall from a horse.

Some Confusions

        Several reports at the time and later mistakenly referred to Count Elliot Zborowski as the last of his line... but he did in fact have a son, Louis, who was about eight years old when the Count died. More on this in a moment.

        Another confusion came from one of the articles reporting about the curse in August, 1903, just four months after the Count's death. The article compared the story of the Zborowski curse to another report about an apparently cursed ring that continued to turn up at the Paris, France, morgue on different corpses; unfortunately, due to the author's choice of words, the article gives the impression that Count Zborowski was also wearing a cursed ring... and for years after, other articles concerned with curses continued to state that the Count died due to the effects of a cursed ring passed through his family.

Pros and Cons... Was There a Curse?

        Though the story of the Zborowski family curse was mostly reported between 1903 and 1911, while Count Elliot's death was still in living memory, for some reason the curse wasn't mentioned when his son Louis also died in a car accident in 1924. Louis had followed in his father's footsteps, and also went into racing; he was well known for building his own race cars, which he rather famously tended to call "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang" -- which is exactly where Ian Fleming later got the name for his book about a magic racing car recovered from a crash.

        Perhaps the curse wasn't mentioned because someone had taken the time to look into it...

Problems.

        There are four main problems with the claim for the curse.

        First, the family tree. So I dug backwards on Count Elliot's family tree, which wasn't easy. Elliot's father Martin had been born with the family name of Zabriskie, and later both changed his name to Zborowski and (through a combination of inventive family past and bribes) became the first Count Zborowski. So most of Count Elliot's male ancestors had a different last name.

        Count Elliot had two uncles, John Zabriskie and Christian Zabriskie... and both were killed by trains, which fits the criteria of the curse. But, dig as I might, I could not find any statement of how Elliot's father, Martin, died; nor could I find a cause of death for Elliot's grandfather -- Andrew -- or great-grandfather -- Christian.

        What I did find was that the details of the reports that claimed Count Elliot had male relatives named Elliot, Francis, and Max who died by train, drowning, and falling off a horse are only mentioned in the reports on the curse... no one by those names associated with Count Elliot turned up while I was checking his family tree.

        Second, Count Elliot didn't have just one child... he had two. Before the birth of Louis in 1895, another son, named Martin, had been born in 1893. The young Martin Zborowski died in the same year; though I could not find details; but it seems likely a baby less than a year old has a very good chance of dying in bed.

        Third, the simple fact that the curse doesn't appear to have been mentioned anytime previous to Count Elliot Zborowski's death in 1903 is a big problem. If the curse really lasted through four generations of the family, I'd expect it to be commented on at previous deaths. Count Elliot's father, Martin, was a millionaire, and news of what his will gave to various people made the news... it's hard to believe something as juicy as a family curse apparently confirmed by his death would fail to be mentioned. So there's a real possibility that the 'curse' was invented upon the death of Count Elliot Zborowski by an creative reporter to describe an apparent pattern to previous deaths in the family of a prominent sportsman.

        Lastly, the criteria of the curse -- male members of the family won't die in bed -- is just too general a curse to be taken too seriously. Most people don't die in bed to begin with, so it's not a very hard curse to fulfill!

        Given these problems, I'm labeling the curse of the Zborowski family as "Unreliable" until both more can be found about the cause of death of males in the family, and earlier mentions of the curse can be located.