Marc Hoover: The curse of Kentucky’s conjured chest

Marc Hoover

The late author Virginia Cary Hudson (1894–1954) told a story about a cursed piece of furniture in a book titled “Flapdoodle, Trust & Obey.” The book told a story about a plantation owner, a murdered slave, a wooden chest, and a curse that brought misery to the Cooley family.

Sometime back in the 1840s, a slave owner named Jacob Cooley owned a large plantation outside Frankfurt, Kentucky. Cooley’s slaves considered him a cruel and evil taskmaster.

Once Cooley learned his wife was pregnant, he wanted a chest built for his newborn. He ordered a slave named Hosea, a skilled carpenter, to build it. Hosea complied and built a beautiful chest of drawers for Cooley’s baby.

Unfortunately, Cooley didn’t approve of the final product. Angered, Cooley beat Hosea unmercifully. Hosea died several days later.

Hosea’s murder didn’t settle well with the other slaves. Among the slaves was a “conjure man,” who practiced spells and curses in his homeland and now in America. The slaves wouldn’t allow Hosea’s death to go unpunished. A group of slaves got the chest away long enough to sprinkle the dried owl blood and chant over the chest. The conjure man then placed a curse on the chest. The curse meant death to future generations of Cooley family members. Cooley did not know about the curse. Had he known, he probably wouldn’t have believed it.

Although Cooley didn’t like the chest, he still placed it in his unborn baby’s room. Cooley soon became the father of a new son. But any joy from Jacob Cooley or his wife was short-lived as the child died within days of birth and become the first victim of the Cooley curse.

It’s believed the curse killed at least sixteen people. Here are a few deaths associated with the curse:

One of Cooley’s sons was stabbed to death on his 25th birthday. His clothes were once kept in the chest.

The chest was given as a wedding gift to a couple. The bride died soon after from an illness and the groom died in an accident.

Author Virginia Cary acquired the chest and used it to store her first baby’s clothing. The baby died.

Cary’s son Stanley placed his hunting clothing in the chest. He was shot.

Cary requested help from a servant to remove the curse from the chest. The ritual to remove the curse involved a dead owl and leaves from a Willow tree. Supposedly, the curse was lifted.

And if you are wondering if the chest is real or whatever became of the cursed chest, it’s now cataloged with the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS). The chest of drawers is called the Conjure chest and the catalog number is 1980.20.1. The society has had the chest since 1976. It’s not kept on display for the public.

I am glad to know it’s no longer sitting in anyone’s home. Was the chest cursed? Does anyone believe a curse could avenge a murdered slave? Although I don’t know for sure, I think it must be considered. Jacob Cooley lived long enough to witness many tragedies happen to family members.

I find this story intriguing. I am surprised we haven’t seen the Hollywood machine crank out something about this cursed chest. And if you have doubts about the curse, the KHS might not share your view. From what I have read, owl feathers were placed on the chest to keep the curse away. But then I suppose it is best not to risk angering any spirits that sought to do Jacob Cooley harm. We wouldn’t want any angry spirits mistaking us for Jacob Cooley or his family.

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page at He also wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on