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Famously Mundane, Fictionally Magical

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A sub-trope of Public Domain Artifact, this is the one where real-life objects of notable historical value (that indisputably exist or existed in real life) are given a magical makeover in a work of fiction. Think of it as the inanimate version of Beethoven Was an Alien Spy or a Historical Hero Upgrade. Can be related to Clap Your Hands If You Believe, Weaponized Landmark or Real Event, Fictional Cause.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Steel Ball Run: The Golden Proportion has weird, almost magic powers. If you manage to make an ordinary steel ball to spin forming a Golden Spiral it will carry an immense power, which can be applied for enhancing your strength and resistance, healing, killing painlessly, making paralytics walk again, and disintegrating an object by passing the endless rotation of the ball to its molecules and atoms to the point that the force of the rotation overrides the forces that make them form an object.

    Comic Books 
  • Stormwatch PHD had a villain seeking to mystically weaponize the Nuclear Doomsday Clock.
  • Drawing on fringe occult theories, From Hell suggests that Christopher Wren's churches are examples of occult architecture.
  • The Golden Age DC Comics heroine Liberty Belle somehow derived her powers from the "mystic vibrations" of the Liberty Bell.
  • In Vertigo Comics series like Hellblazer, The Sandman (1989), Shade, the Changing Man, and Doom Patrol, this is an Invoked Trope: well-known artifacts and items often possess mystical properties because so many people know of them, investing them with spiritual significance.
  • One Gentleman Ghost story involves a summoning ritual done with the rope that was used to hang a famous criminal in Victorian England. It was a common folk belief until the 19th century that a used hangman's rope had special, magical powers.
  • The Umbrella Academy shows the Eiffel Tower being a spacecraft/weapon piloted by Zombie Robot Gustav Eiffel.
  • In Doctor Strange: The Oath, Strange is nearly killed by an assassin wielding Adolf Hitler's personal weapon. The combination of that firearm plus a silver bullet has enough negative mojo to get through his shields.
  • Similarly a Ghost Rider story arc involved stopping demonic forces from getting a hold of Judas' thirty pieces of silver to melt down and forge into powerful weapons. A single bullet made from them visibly resonates with evil energies.
  • One character in Requiem Vampire Knight collects historically significant weapons (the guns that killed Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, the sword that killed Julius Caesar, etc.). On Résurrection, the more evil you did in life, the more powerful you are here (to the point where Hitler is a Fantastic Nuke, along with two other, unnamed persons).

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Hudson Hawk, many of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous artworks contain the components of an alchemical device for making lead into gold.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor features the Terracotta army of Shihuangdi coming to life.
  • While most artifacts in The Librarian films are mythic items that are famously supposed to be magical anyway (Excalibur, the Spear of Destiny, etc.) or invented for the films (the Judas Chalice) the second film centres around the original Book of Solomon providing mastery over time and space.
  • Men in Black:
    • In the first film, the flying-saucer-shaped observation towers at the New York State Pavillion really are UFOs, as the whole World's Fair was actually a cover for alien immigration.
    • In Men in Black: International, Gustav Eiffel was an MIB agent and built his tower as an arrival point for alien immigrants.

  • The Porsche, nicknamed "Little Bastard", in which James Dean suffered a fatal car accident, as well as many other supposed "death cars".
  • Artifacts and concentration camp sites from The Holocaust have been described in stories as having dark power from the suffering that was associated with them.
  • Though it has been illegal to take pieces of petrified wood from the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona since it was designated a National Monument in 1906, visitors have ignored the prohibition and made off with samples every year since. But there's allegedly a curse on the wood, and anyone who removes it from the park will suffer the consequences. There have been thousands of tales of woe and misfortune (dating back to the 1930s) from people who have stolen petrified wood and been afflicted by the so-called curse, who returned their ill-gotten souvenirs anonymously in the hopes that putting the wood back will break the curse.
    • Similarly, it's said that stealing rocks and other natural items from the Hawaiian islands will incur the wrath of Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, through to today. Even so, many people take such souvenirs with them when they leave the islands, with many of those eventually mailing them back with an apology for having stolen it after experiencing an unlucky streak.

  • Elizabeth Bear's The Promethean Age books use the Golden Spike as the linchpin of a mystical anti-faerie enchantment. Railroads and iron, dontcha know. They also feature one of the lions in front of the New York City Public Library as a Genius Loci.
  • The Underworld Cycle has Wyatt Earp's handgun, which is capable of killing unquiet dead (ghosts and spookies that walk around in The Between.)
  • In The Dresden Files universe:
    • One short story features the musket ball that killed Nelson at Trafalgar. It is reused as a sorcerer-slaying weapon.
    • The Shroud of Turin also shows up, toying with this trope. Though many people in the real world believe it's by no means mundane, Harry mostly agrees with the theory that it was a medieval forgery. The thing is, in the Dresdenverse, tens of millions of people literally can't be wrong about something being mystically potent.
      • Later, he finds the actual Shroud, which not only proves the earlier one is fake and fueled by everybody's belief, but is also blindingly more powerful.
    • Several more of these are related to the Knights of the Blackened Denarius. Their namesakes are the literal thirty silver coins which Judas was paid for betraying Jesus, each of them imbued with a demon that will attempt to "recruit" whoever holds the coins.
      • The leader of the Denarians, Nicodemus Archleone, also wears around his neck the noose that Judas used to hang himself, which apparently grants him immunity to physical harm.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Pretty much every statue in New York city can be converted into an automaton thanks to the intervention of Daedalus (the one associated with the Labyrinth, yes).
  • In The Kane Chronicles, the Rosetta Stone is this.
    • Any pyramid or obelisk, as well. It doesn't have to be ancient, or even Egyptian in origin. The Washington Monument will do.
  • In The Science of Discworld, the Origin of Species is a major L-Space node. L-Space theory says that large numbers of books warp spacetime, but a single book that spawns an entire subject has the same "weight".
  • Discussed in The Journeyer. Marco, expecting the opulent empires as described in The Bible, is disappointed to realize that the largest cities from the Bible are little more than villages run by tribal chiefs. He also opines that the great leaders, such as King David and King Solomon, were probably also petty chiefs.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's novel The Spirit Ring (set in a Historical Fantasy version of Renaissance Italy) contains a golden saltcellar whose physical form is directly modeled on that of the Saliera made by Benvenuto Cellini (as noted by the author herself in an afterword to the book). The saltcellar in the novel (presumably unlike the real saltcellar) was openly crafted from its inception to serve as a magical object as well as a decorative and culinary one: Salt from the saltcellar magically purifies away poison, while pepper from its pepper receptacle serves as a magical truth serum.
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Past Reckoning" by Jackie Marshall in Decalog 3: Consequences reveals that the diadem discovered by Heinrich Schliemann as part of the "Jewels of Helen" is actually the Jewelled Headdress of Princess Maxtra, a psychic enhancement device of unclear origins. (On its supposed planet of origin, it was actually a mysterious artifact used to bolster a false history, as revealed in the previous story in the collection.) The Doctor speculates that it creates a Glamour that could explain Helen's legendary beauty. It also sometimes kills the wearer, apparently arbitrarily.
  • In Life, the Universe and Everything, The Ashes are not merely a burnt cricket stump, but the remains of the Wooden Pillar of Nature and Spirituality, one of the five Plot Coupons that make up the Wikkit Gate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Giggle", Stooky Bill, the ventriloquist's dummy John Logie Baird used for his early television experiments, was provided by the Toymaker and left a "giggle" hidden in all TV broadcasts as part of a long term plan to unleash a Hate Plague.
  • The entire raison d'etre of Warehouse 13 — in the series, "Artifacts" are objects that were used by famous people or that originated from historically significant locations tend to develop magical effects that range from humorous to helpful to dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. Some examples include Abraham Lincoln's top hat (imbues wearers with the desire to "free" any nearby African-Americans), Sylvia Plath's typewriter (causes a deep depression in anyone who comes near to it), a shard of glass that had been part of the lens of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (acts like a powerful magnifying glass for any light that passes through it), and the Disco Ball from Studio 54 (broadcasts disco music and spontaneously generates a colorful light shows).
  • Wynonna Earp: Upon her 27th birthday, Wynonna inherits the special power to return revenants to Hell with her ancestor's 12-inch barrel special "Peacemaker" revolver. This gun did not exist in the original comic book inccarnation of Wynonna Earp, but has subsequently become a Canon Immigrant.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters has Memorabilia, extremely powerful items given their power by being associated with the deaths of the famous. Such examples include the ring Joe DiMaggio slipped on Marilyn Monroe at her funeral, JFK's death car, the pistol that killed Lee Harvey Oswald, and the National Enquirer's photo of Elvis Presley in repose.
  • The New World of Darkness also has the Reliquary book, which provides rules for building magic items from scratch, as well as a number of sample items. Among them are William Shakespeare's lost play, the Dendera lights, and the Baghdad batteries.
  • Deadlands is chock full of these: the list includes the muskets of the Conquistadors, Wild Bill Hickok's guns, etc. — all magical items.
    • One particularly mundane and non-unique item, "Hoyle's Book of Games", is the In-Universe spellbook for all Hucksters — the setting equivalent of wizards. The earlier editions are more powerful, since editors have messed up the coded secrets the book holds about contacting the Manitou.
  • GURPS Warehouse 23 has a Real Life artifact, the Mitchell-Hedges crystal skull. It allows its owner to cast a powerful Divination spell, and has powerful telepathic abilities in its own right.
  • A Dragon article for epic-level 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons gave epic powers to Stonehenge, the Hope Diamond, the Stone of Scone, the crystal skulls, the First Folio, the Rosetta Stone, the British crown jewels, and the Taj Mahal.

    Video Games 
  • In Broken Sword 3, the Voynich Manuscript contains the secret to extracting life energy from Ley Lines.
  • The World Ends with You turns the Shibuya River into an extradimensional nexus.
  • The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone (AKA "The Zone") as (even more of) a Death World packed with mutants, physics defying fields that appear and reappear in new locations over time and spawning Super Power at a Price giving items. It is the result of mad scientists operating within the conveniently abandoned area to escape prying eyes, not the disaster itself.
  • Assassin's Creed: Crystal Skulls, the Antikythera mechanism, the Voynich manuscript and many more. All ancient Precursor technology, all have seemingly magic powers.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-157-ARC, a bullet that, thanks to its mystical properties, apparently shifts shape to transform into the projectile used in virtually every major modern assassination.
    • Another SCP entry concerns the so-called Demon core, which is apparently sentient or close to it.
    • SCP-099 is the original version of René Magritte's "The Portrait", which has the memetic effect of inducing paranoid delusions.
    • A magma giant buried underground in Pennsylvania, whose very breath is toxic. Fortunately, the Foundation succesfully disguised its awakening as a mine fire.
    • SCP-668 is clearly the knife used in the real life murder of Kitty Genovese.
  • The Academy of Superheroes universe has the Worldmaze, a Portal Network created using the globally-scattered pieces of the Berlin Wall as foci.
    • The Great Pyramid at Giza was revealed to be a power accumulator that after five millennia had enough juice to make one a god.
    • Magellan's oceanbound route around the world is used by Q'Nos to summon Jorumngandr. Peregryn counters the summoning by tracing the path of the Lucky Lady II, the first airplane to circumnavigate the globe.

    Web Videos 
  • In France Five, the Eiffel Tower is a shamanic totem that generates a barrier around the Earth, protecting the planet from a large-scale alien invasion.
  • In Dimension 20's Unsleeping City setting, various iconic elements of New York City are part of its magical otherworld—for example, the lions guarding the New York Public Library are alive, Yankee's Stadium is the entryway to the Hall of Heroes, and the Angel of Bethesda Fountain is a literal angel in physical form.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Historical Object Upgrade