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Do those huge stone images of the gods
carry the promise of an eternal curse?

EASTER ISLAND, the Island of the Dead, has been a puzzle of the southern ocean since it was first discovered by Captain Davis in 1687. He reported the sandy beach and high, fair island in the Pacific in latitude 27 degrees south and five hundred miles west of the South American coast. It was marked on all the charts and given the name of its discoverer, "Davis Land," and would' still have this name today except for one thing . . . it vanished. There were other adventurers and naval explorers who were anxious to fly the flag of their country over this unclaimed island if it could he found. Fifty years after Davis made his discovery, the Dutch admiral Roggeween came through the Strait of Magellan and went west along the twenty-seventh parallel, but unlike his predecessors who were in search of the mysterious island, he failed to turn back after the first thousand miles. As a reward on Easter morning in 1722, the sun came up to reveal the island on the horizon ahead of him. The admiral landed and claimed the island, named it in honor of the day, and thought he had solved one of the most amazing puzzles in the history of man.

But just a few years ago some naval officers of the British Naval Reserve reported that they passed over the latitude and longitude of Easter Island and did not find a trace of it. They thought the island had sunk. So that ended for a time the history of this strange disappearing island. Some time later a gunboat put out from Valparaiso to investigate. They had no trouble in finding the island just as it had been. By the looks of things there had been no earthquake or tidal wave on Easter Island. The stone gods were still leering from the desolate hills and the natives still huddled in their village and talked of the terrible things yet to come. But the captain of the gunboat was not interested in their talk of ghosts and dooms yet to happen. He checked to make sure the granite spike twelve thousand feet high had not shifted its position on the ocean floor. The error of the British officers has not yet been explained. One would have to charge them with a mistake in this were an isolated case, but this was a repetition of what had happened several times since the island was first reported by Captain Davis.

THE Dutch admiral, Roggeween, went home to Rotterdam with tales of tall gods who wore red hats and cast a gloomy spell over the island. He told of great engineering feats accomplished by the natives who had no tools or equipment. Most of his countrymen doubted him for years till his reports were verified by successive adventurers. On this pinnacle of rock hundreds of miles from the nearest land, a wretched people had come close to culture and civilization. Monuments that seemed beyond all natural explanation stood in grand pride to mark their hour of power and accomplishment. Hundreds of men have been to Easter Island since and have brought facts and theories and stone carvings from the graveyard of the gods. Survey ships have traveled for hundreds of miles over the South Pacific trying to find some trace of an archipelago in which Easter Island might have had a place. Linguists are still searching for it Rosetta stone by which they may decipher the island's hieroglyphics, characters which resemble those of ancient Crete. Some imaginative people associate the weird altars of Easter Island with the curse of the lost Lemuria.

FEW people of recent years have seen Easter Island. The Whalers from New Bedford used to make it a port of call, but even before the collapse of the whaling industry, these calls were not frequent because it was rumored among sailors that bad luck had taken permanent residence on the island, and that somewhere among its craters was the entrance to hell. Today the island is cut off from the world except for one ship a year that anchors as far as possible from the wreck-strewn coast. It may be that the old curse is still in action or it might be that the wind is treacherous and has a habit of shifting suddenly, but terrible things have a way of happening to ships that loiter in the shadows of the cliffs. The known history of the island has been evil enough to bring about the belief in its curse. In 1862, Peruvian slave traders raided the island and carried off half the population to slave and die in the South American guano fields. In 1867, Bornier, an adventurer, took possession of three-quarters of the island in exchange for some red calico and other cheap goods. He established a sheep raising ranch to supply fresh meat to the ships passing on their way from the Strait of Magellan to Tahiti, and then he was murdered. A few of the inhabitants taken off by the Peruvians came to their island after many countries had protested against them. With them they brought smallpox. Only a few were able to survive this plague. Most of the surviving natives sailed away to work in the sugar plantations of Tahiti, but years later, homesick, without spirit, and hoping for death, they came straggling back again. The proud history of the image builders was ended, and the remnants of an intelligent people huddled together in their squalid village, ignoring the difference in breeding and tradition that had for so long kept them in distinct castes.