The Forgotten Crown (100)
The Empress Eugenie crown, which had escaped the burglary in 1886, was sent to the campus laundry for safekeeping while the chapels were being completed. There it supposedly reposed, hidden away and forgotten. A most unlikely yet reasonable place to conceal it, where it would be in the care of the Sisters who ran the laundry. After all, what thief would look for it there?
After an indefinite period of time it surfaced at the laundry. Mistaken as a stage prop, an imitation, it was borrowed for an altar decoration during the nocturnal devotions, then used in numerous plays on campus. As long as there were devotions and plays, there was a use for the crown. The crown, sadly depleted over the years, was later reported to have been used as a prop in Washington Hall and local South Bend plays, but it was always returned to the attic at Holy Cross Hall for safe keeping.
As years passed and it was no longer needed it faded into deeper obscurity. It was awarded no special significance until, as the story goes, it was too late to rescue it. It remained at the Holy Cross Seminary until it was dropped and shattered after reposing on a peg in the boiler room for a number of years. The crown, stripped of its beauty and fame, reportedly was cast off during one of the housecleanings at Holy Cross.
The University found out the tragedy of the Eugenie crown some years later; the first hint came from Holland in a letter written by an employee of the University.
The incident went like this: One of the university employees happened to find some of the jewels that had fallen from the crown. He picked them up as so many pieces of glass and saved them. Later, when he happened to return to his native Holland for a vacation, the "pieces of glass" were among some of his souvenirs. Upon his return, his sister saw the jewels and thought that it would be a fine trick to show them to her fiance and make him jealous. They looked like diamonds. Fate made the young man a jeweler's apprentice and the "pieces of glass" once more appeared as valuable diamonds. When word reached Notre Dame it was too late. Someone remembered that the old crown had been cast aside.
In spite of a diligent effort to sift through the ashes, remains of it or its jewels were never found. A more detailed description of the story is in Chapter 12, A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto. An article, written by Richard Gerbracht in 1953, -- "The Forgotten Crown," (101) -- recounted the story, the above incidents, and the probable fate of the missing crown:
From the ash pile it went to the dump truck, then to the lake. Thus, the crown of the Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of France, was to become part of the most valuable ash pile in the history of Notre Dame, destined for a watery grave, its ashes reputedly dumped somewhere in St. Mary's lake.