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Your Strange Casebook — The Lambert Curse

Updated on June 10, 2018
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana is an 'amateur everything' when it comes to space, nature and science. She loves exploring mysteries, both classic and new.


A Fateful Encounter

In 1928, a married couple named Marie and C.J. Lambert traveled through Japan. They were on a cruise destined to visit several countries, and they were excited to explore each before returning home to London. They were in the city of Kobe when somehow, they ended up in front of a junk shop. As the couple peered through the display window, Marie expressed interest in a small statue. She recognized the sparsely clothed figure as the Japanese god of fortune. His name was Ho-Tei but is sometimes also called “the laughing Buddha” due to its jolly expression. They went inside to examine the object more closely. It was exquisitely carved from ivory and obviously very old, so the Lamberts were very surprised when the shopkeeper offered it to them for a small amount. Believing that they had stumbled upon a rare bargain, the deal was made.

Good Luck Charm for Their Voyage

After the statue was purchased, the Lamberts returned to their cruise ship. Settling in their cabin, they decided to have another look and found that the figurine had a small hole in the bottom, plugged with an ivory peg. At the time, they assumed it was the artist's way of closing the natural cavity at the center of every elephant tusk and thought no more of it.

Ho-Tei was legendary for his good deeds. He lived during the sixth century as a Buddhist monk and in death, eventually became a god. Some even believe that the legend of Saint Christopher was based on him. Saint Christopher is best known for medallions depicting him carrying the Christ child across a stormy river. Long before this tale saw the light of day, Ho-Tei's account of carrying a child across a river was already an old image. Since he was a good guy (and then some), Marie and her husband viewed the artifact as a good luck charm to ensure the rest of their trip would go well. They couldn't have been more wrong.

St Christopher's Roots

There is a chance that the popular image of St Christopher hails from the legend of Ho-Tei.
There is a chance that the popular image of St Christopher hails from the legend of Ho-Tei. | Source

The Curse Begins With Mrs Lambert

The next stop was Manila and after two days of sailing, Marie developed a toothache. Under the best of circumstances, toothache is something nobody wishes for but Mrs Lambert's pain became quite severe. The ship's doctor prescribed pain pills but the medication didn't help much. The ache persisted. The ship docked at Manila and gave Marie the chance to make an appointment with a dentist. As bad luck would have it, both she and her husband came down with a fever that set their joints on fire – and because of falling ill Marie had to cancel her dentist visit. When she felt better, Mrs Lambert quickly made another appointment and this time she made it to the dentist chair. However, some more dental bad luck struck. While the dentist worked on her teeth, the drill slipped and cut into the nerve of one tooth. Now, she had more agony than ever.

Mr Lambert's Turn

Toothache hit C.J. during the next leg of the voyage. While on their way to Australia, a debilitating pain kept him confined to his cabin. Like his wife, he visited a dentist the moment the ship hit land. To his surprise – and perhaps disbelief — the dental professional told him that his snappers were in perfect condition. There was absolutely nothing wrong with them. At that moment, Mr Lambert could scarcely argue with the dentist's diagnosis. During the entire appointment, he had been free of any toothache. However, the malady flared up the moment he was back in the cabin. A few days passed and the whole thing repeated itself; the dentist found nothing wrong and the agony stayed away until Mr Lambert returned to the ship. Out of pure desperation, he ordered a third dentist to pull out all of his teeth. After the first crown bit the dust, the toothache vanished. Of course, it came right back when he boarded the ship and reached his cabin.

A Bad Gift

As their journey continued, the toothache periodically visited Mr Lambert. Only later on, when they thought about it, did the couple realize the flare-ups happened whenever they had their luggage with them. When their suitcases were left behind in the hold or the cabin, things were dandy and the strange toothaches were almost forgotten. Unfortunately, at the time, they didn't make the connection with the Ho-Tei statue and the jinx spread to other people who came into contact with it.

After arriving in the United States, the couple visited Mr Lambert's mother. As they discussed their travel adventures, the conversation turned to the small god. When they showed him to her and saw her delight with the beautiful statue, the Lamberts were happy to give it to the older woman. Despite her age, Lambert's mother had great teeth but a few hours after being handed the Ho-Tei figurine, she developed a toothache. The couple already missed the fact that the statue was present every time they cultivated their own toothaches. Neither did they connect the dots when the old lady returned the gift and bluntly called it “bad magic.” Things finally dawned when the Lamberts returned to the ship and allowed a friend, who was also on the voyage, to borrow the statue overnight to show her husband. The next morning, the friend returned Ho-Tei and in passing mentioned that she and her hubby shared such bad pain during the night that both regretted having teeth. After that, the Lamberts began to view Ho-Tei with more than just a little suspicion. Thoroughly disgusted, Marie tried to throw it into the ocean but her husband, fearing a worse supernatural retaliation from the object, stopped her. He had another plan.

Meet Ho-Tei

The happy Ho-Tei is sometimes depicted as carrying a bag and a fan. His main characteristic, however, is a jolly grin.
The happy Ho-Tei is sometimes depicted as carrying a bag and a fan. His main characteristic, however, is a jolly grin. | Source

The Japanese Art Shop

To find out more about the ancient artifact, Mr Lambert took it to an oriental art shop once they were back home in London. When the manager, who was Japanese, saw the little laughing statue, he offered to buy it on the spot. However, Lambert refused money and then told the manager why; that he believed the ivory statue brought suffering, and he didn't want to provoke more bad luck by profiting from it.

Soon, they were joined by an older Japanese gentleman who informed Lambert that it originated from a temple. As such, before being stolen and sold, the little Ho-Tei probably enjoyed being revered as a god. Such temple deities were often given souls. To do this, the artist placed a small medallion inside and this could've been why this Ho-Tei had an ivory peg. The elderly man placed the statue in a place of honour inside the shop, which was a small shrine, and lit incense in front of it. Lambert noticed the deep awe showed by the new owners, but he himself couldn't share the feeling. Lambert never returned to the shop where he left Ho-Tei. As he later explained in an account of his travels, he continued to believe that the statue carried an angry curse because of the disrespectful way it had been removed from its original temple.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit


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