Mummy Stories

From the first time I saw a mummy movie on TV, I developed a lifelong interest in mummies: Egyptian and otherwise, factual and fictional. One of my favorite activities in childhood was watching old mummy movies on television--especially on Saturday afternoons.

These movies fascinated me--the idea that someone could come back to life (all wrapped up in tattered bandages) was very interesting to me. Although as a child I never had a chance to see a real mummy or learn about ancient Egypt (because it wasn't covered in my school's curriculum), I maintained this fascination to adulthood. In 1990, when I was all grown up, I was inspired to write a book about mummies.

I was in the British Museum in London, climbing up the long staircase to the second floor when I came across a mummy that I couldn't ignore. It was Lindow Man, and he was in a display case in the middle of the second floor foyer. Lindow Man is a bog body, a kind of mummy I had never before encountered. One look at his preserved body, and I knew that I wanted to write a book about all the different types of mummies in the world. That's what I accomplished in my book, How to Make a Mummy Talk. During my research, I read many books and articles about mummies. I spoke to a number of mummy experts. I also visited many museums that exhibit mummies. In the end I wrote a number of books related to preserved human remains.

Here are some mummy stories that I have written.

A Popular Tall Titanic Tale

According to some sources, when an Egyptian princess named Amen-Ra died some 3,500 years, she was laid in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile. In the late 1890s, four rich young Englishmen visiting the excavations at Luxor were invited to buy an exquisitely fashioned mummy case containing the remains of Princess of Amen-Ra. They drew lots. The man who won paid several thousand pounds and had the coffin taken to his hotel. A few hours later, he was seen walking out towards the desert. He never returned.

The next day, one of the remaining three men was accidentally shot. His arm was so severely wounded that it had to be amputated. The third man found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The fourth man suffered a severe illness, lost his job, and was reduced to begging in the street.

Nonetheless, the mummy and its coffin reached England (causing other misfortunes along the way), where it was bought by a London businessman. After three of his family members had been injured in a road accident and his house damaged by fire, the businessman donated it to the British Museum. As the coffin was being unloaded from a truck in the museum courtyard, the truck suddenly went into reverse and trapped a passer-by. Then as the casket was being lifted up the stairs by two workmen, one fell and broke his leg. The other, apparently in perfect health, died unaccountably two days later.

Once the Princess was installed in the Egyptian Room, trouble continued. The museum's night watchmen frequently heard frantic hammering and sobbing from the coffin. Other exhibits in the room were also often hurled about at night. One watchman died on duty, causing the other watchmen wanting to quit. Cleaners refused to go near the Princess, too.

Eventually, the museum sold the unlucky mummy to a private collector who tried to have the mummy exorcised. When he could not arrange it, he sold it for a handsome price to an American archaeologist who dismissed the happenings as quirks of circumstance.

Then the new owner arranged for the unlucky mummy to be shipped to New York aboard a sparkling, new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage. On the night of April 14th, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Princess of Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Of course, the name of the ship was Titanic....

The unlucky mummy had struck again--for the final time!

But is this story true?

 

The Facts

The Mummy on the TitanicThere is an "unlucky mummy" at the British Museum, but it has no name, only a number (No. 22542). More important, No. 22542 isn't even a mummy at all, but the lid of an inner coffin. And there's nothing unlucky about it.

According to one of the foremost authors on the subject of mummies, Carol Andrews (in the book Egyptian Mummies), although the mummy was reported to be aboard the Titanic, No. 22542 (the coffin lid) hasn't left the British Museum since it was delivered there about 1889. Andrews writes that No. 22542 has never "brought-ill luck or caused death."

Professor Bob Brier (in his book The Encyclopedia of Mummies) explains the beginning of the hoax this way:

The story was initiated early in this century by Douglas Murray and T. W. Stead, two Englishmen who claimed they knew of a mummy brought to England and placed in a drawing room of an acquaintance. The morning after the mummy arrived, everything breakable in the room was destroyed. The mummy was moved to several rooms in the house, each time with the same result. Soon after these supposed events, Murray and Stead visited the First Egyptian Room of the British Museum, where they saw the coffin lid (No. 22542) of a Priestess of Amun. They decided that the face on the lid was that of a tormented soul and told this to the newspapers, which were eager to print sensational stories [especially about mummies and curses]. Soon the coffin lid became identified with the destructive mummy....

So the story is clearly a hoax. If you go to the British Museum, you will find No. 22542 in the Egyptian Mummy Rooms on the second floor.