You are hereBritish Museum and the Unlucky Mummy

British Museum and the Unlucky Mummy


Established in 1753 and opened to the public on 15 January 1759, the British Museum has over seven million artifacts mapping human history and culture from all around the globe, spanning from the earliest civilizations to present day. One of those artefacts though has become entwined with the story of a curse, which although being fictional does persist and continues to draw attention.

The Curse of Amen-Ra
This is the usual story told about the cursed mummy, blamed of sinking the RMS Titanic. Amen-Ra was an Egyptian Princess dating from 1050BC or 1500BC depending upon the source. Her Luxor tomb was excavated in the 1880’s. Four young rich Englishmen visiting the dig site were fascinated by the discovery of Amen-Ra and one of them purchased her mummy and ornate wooden sarcophagus for several thousand ponds, having it delivered to his hotel. These four men were to become the first victims of the curse. The man who bought Amen-Ra walked into the desert a few hours later and was never seen again. The day after the visit to the Luxor excavation another of the young men was shot accidentally by an Egyptian servant and his arm had to be amputated. The two remaining men returned home unharmed, however, one of them found that he was financially ruined as his bank had failed and the fourth man fell ill, was made unemployed and forced onto the street selling matches.

One way or another Amen-Ra reached Britain. The mummy was bought by a London business man who donated it to the British Museum after his house nearly burned down and three of his family were injured in a road accident. One of the workers that helped unload the mummy at the museum broke his leg, a second one died mysteriously and the truck carrying Amen-Ra reversed hitting and trapping a pedestrian.

When Amen-Ra was put on exhibit night watchmen started reporting haunting type phenomena, including poltergeist like activity and the sounds of crying and hammering from within the sarcophagus. The mysterious deaths also continued with one of the Night Watchmen dying and the child of a visitor who flicked a cloth at the coffin.

A journalist photographer decided to follow the story of the curse, but when his photograph of the sarcophagus showed a human face he locked himself in a room and shot himself.

Amen-Ra was sold into a private collection and locked in a basement. The man who supervised the move was found dead soon afterwards and one of his assistants fell severely ill. After it had been moved to an attic, the Russian occultist Madame Helena Blavatsky (born 12 August 1831 – died in London 8 May 1891), visited the building, immediately sensing "an evil influence of incredible intensity". The owner asked Blavatsky if she could exorcise the mummy but she replied "There is no such thing as exorcism. Evil remains evil forever. Nothing can be done about it. I implore you to get rid of this evil as soon as possible."

Amen-Ra was finally sold to an American archaeologist who arranged for it to be shipped over to New York in April 1912. That ship was the RMS Titanic and she sank on 15th April 1912 with the loss of 1517 lives.

Usually the story ends here with the mummy lost at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. However, sometimes it is expanded upon to blame the mummy for more maritime disasters.

However, the collector had bribed a crewman to place the mummy in a lifeboat and she made it safely to America. The curse continued to play havoc in America and she was shipped off on another ocean liner, the RMS Empress of Ireland. The Empress was struck by the Norwegian coal Freighter SS Storstad on the St Lawrence River on 29 May 1914 and sank with the loss of 1024 lives. Amen-Ra survived yet again.

In a final bid to evade the curse she was yet again placed on another ocean liner and began her journey back to Egypt. This liner was the RMS Lusitania and she sank off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland on 7 May 1915 after being hit by a torpedo fired from a German World War I submarine. Nearly 1200 people lost their lives. It is believed that Amen-Ra went down with the ship.

The story is obviously fictional but has become linked with an actual museum artefact, BM.22542.

BM.22542
Sometimes referred to as the Unlucky Mummy, BM.22542 is actually a mummy board or the lid of an inner coffin. It is 162cm in length and dates from 900-950BC. It is decorated with the painted face of a woman but it is thought she was a priestess of Amen-Ra. It was donated to the museum on behalf of Mr Arthur Wheeler by Mrs Warwick Hunt of Holland Park, London in July 1889. It has been on display at the British museum since 1890. The mummy from the coffin which the lid is from did not leave Egypt by all accounts.

In ‘The Mummy:A Handbook of Egyptioan Funerary Archaeology’, E A Wallis Budge describes it as being “decorated with an elaborate pectotal, figures of the gods, sacred symbols of Osiris and Isis, and at the foot, between crowned uraei, is a cartouche containing the prenomen and nomen of Amenhetep I, Tcheserkara Amenhetep, one of the earliest kings of the XVIIIth dynasty and a great benefactor of the priesthood of Amen at Thebes. This board was presented to the British Museum in 1889 by Mr A F Wheeler and has been the subject of many paragraphs in the newspapers.”

Even here he refers to the speculation in the newspapers about the “curse” and in 1934 Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (July 27, 1857 – November 23, 1934) an Egyptologist, Philologist, Orientalist and Keeper of Antiquities at the British Museum (until 1924) wrote"... no mummy which ever did things of this kind was ever in the British Museum. .... The cover never went on the Titanic. It never went to America."

What is the Connection?
The following concise explanation appeared in an article entitled ‘Weird Misfortunes Blamed On Mummy’, which appeared in the New York Times Saturday 7 April 1923. ‘So goes the legendary lore, but now comes Sir Ernest Budge with a little common sense. Talking a few weeks ago to the Sunday Times he said the whole myth was founded on a series of misunderstandings. W. T. Stead [William Thomas Stead (5 July 1849 - 15 April 1912) an English (born Embleton, Northumberland) journalist with a very keen interest in Spiritualism, automatic writing and mediumship] and Douglas Murray [Thomas Douglas Murray (died 1911) an amateur archaeologist possibly involved in acquiring the lid for the museum] told the story about another mummy which a lady put as an ornament in her drawing room. Next morning she found all her bric-a-brac smashed to pieces, and when her husband locked the mummy up in a cupboard in an upper room the servants declared they saw troops of beings ascending the stairs all night with lights in order to break all the crockery they could find, and resigned en masse the next day.

Just about the same time a man named Wheeler gave the priestess’ coffin lid to the museum and Mr. Stead and Mr. Murray examined it and declared that to them it seemed the face of a portrait. It looked like a picture of a soul in torment, they said, and they wanted to hold a seance in the museum to see if they could do something to relieve the lady. But naturally the authorities did not agree.

The story got out and the public proceeded to identify the priestess of Amen-Ra with the crockery smashing mummy of the suburban drawing room. People have written from so far afield as New Zealand and Algiers enclosing money to place lilies at the foot of the coffin lid. The money has been acknowledged, but it has been put to the much more prosaic use of the general upkeep of the museum.

As for the Titanic story, Sir Ernest can only say that the museum has never parted with the lid, although during air raids it was removed for safety to the basement and it has, since it became a part of the national collection, never left the care of the museum.

Still its brilliant colors attract most careless visitors and anyone can hear all about its malignant power by approaching tactfully the nearest of the museum's attendants.’

The RMS Titanic connection possibly came about as William Thomas Stead was amongst the 1517 that lost their lives when she sank on 15th April 1912. It has also been suggested that a surviving passenger, Frederic Kimber Seward (Born Wilmington, Delaware 23 March 1878 - Died in Queens, New York on 7 December 1943) had been told about the curse of the mummy whilst on the ship by William Stead the night before it sank.

The extension of the story to include the RMS Empress of Ireland may be the fault of the Egyptologist Margaret Murray who admitted apparently to inventing the story. Murray wrote several books on witchcraft and may have been an inspiration for Gerald Gardener.

Notes:
Stead published a fictional story on 22 March 1886 entitled 'How the Mail Steamer Went Down in Mid-Atlantic, by a Survivor'. In this two ships collide with the loss of many lives because of a lack of lifeboats. In another fictional story entitled 'From the Old World to the New' he has a psychic on a White Star Line ship called Majestic, that realises another ship has hit an iceberg. The Majestic then goes to rescue the passengers of the stricken vessel. This was written in 1892. They may seem like premonitions of his fateful trip on the RMS Titanic or perhaps an understanding of dangers faced by transatlantic shipping and the lack of safety equipment on those ships.

Budge himself was interested in the paranormal and had friends in the Ghost Club.


Javascript is required to view this map.
Ian Topham's picture
Ian Topham
User offline. Last seen 2 days 1 hour ago. Offline
Joined: 22 Jul 2008
Re: British Museum and the Unlucky Mummy

WEIRD MISFORTUNES BLAMED ON MUMMY
New York Times
Saturday 7 April 1923
Beautiful but Malignant Priestess Is Said to Resent Touching Her Coffin Lid

IT IS IN BRITISH MUSEUM

Officials Call Stories Myths, but Superstitious Even Blame Her for Sinking of Titanic

Copyright, 1923, by The New York Times Company
Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES

LONDON, April 6---The death of the Earl of Carnarvon has revived interest in stories told concerning a mummy-case which once contained the mummy of a priestess of Amen-Ra, who died in Egypt 3,500 years ago and which is now in the British Museum. Is it really ill-omened? Can it bring misfortune to all who touch it? Sir Ernest Budge, keeper of Egyptian antiquities at the museum, laughs at those who suggest it, but the guides who show visitors round are not so sure.

In one of the principal rooms of the Egyptian section is a glass case containing a long row of mummy-cases. They are thousands of years old, but one stands out. Its bright coloring catches the eye of every passer-by. It looks almost as fresh as the day it left the painter's hand, and the figure which is its principal feature is extraordinarily life-like. There can be no doubt it is the portrait of the woman who once occupied the sarcophagus. She was a priestess of the great god Amen-Ra, and apart from that she must have been an extremely attractive and clever woman. Even today, after all these years, her portrait seems to retain that enigmatical smile which men associate with the Mona Lisa, and she appears to gaze mockingly at the idle sightseers as if he knew her secret power. And if legend be true, even to this day she has no objection to using it.

It was in 1864 that an Arab found the mummy-case and sold it to a wealthy traveler. Within a few weeks, so the story goes, he lost his money and died of a broken heart. Two of his servants who had handled the case died within a year. A third, who did not touch it, but made contemptuous remarks concerning it, lost his arm through a gunshot accident.

Continues Malignancy in England

The mummy-case was brought to London and wherever it went carried misfortune with it, of which perhaps the most remarkable was the fate that befell a photographer. He took a picture of the case and when he came to develop the negative received a horrifying shock. It was not a picture of a mere painting he had secured, but, so the story goes, a portrait of a living woman whose beautiful features had taken on a look of awful malignity.

The curse connected with the mummy-case became known, and as no buyer was forthcoming it was sent to the British Museum. The man who contracted to take it there died a week later and one of his helpers broke his leg the next day.

Again it was photographed by a well-known London firm and a strange chain of disasters befell the photographer. He first smashed his thumb, and when he got home found one of his children had fallen through a glass frame and had received dangerous injuries. The day he took the picture he cut his nose to the bone and dropped a valuable screen, rendering it quite useless.

Still the picture was taken and there was something uncanny about it. Its eyes seemed to glow with fire and those who saw it could not believe it could be anything but the portrait of a woman filled with a wild malignity.

So the old legend went and grew from year to year. W. T. Stead took great interest in it and publication of myths concerning it have invariably resulted in numberless letters to newspapers detailing how some bank holiday visitors to the museum had been attracted by the freshness of pigments on the mummy-case only to be victims sooner or later of such accidents as stumbling on entering a street car or breaking a mirror at home.

Most disasters, both public and private, seem to have been laid to the account of the beautiful priestess of Amen-Ra, and it was even said that the loss of the Titanic was due to her malign influence. An American, it was declared, had managed to purchase her coffin case from the Museum officials and was bringing her over to the United States on the Titanic. Naturally, the liner struck an iceberg with awful results. But even then its owner was unconvinced of his impiety in moving the mummy-case to the New World and with an enormous bribe induced some of the Titanic crew to save it. He lived to regret it, however, and at last aghast at the misfortunes it brought in its train to himself and his family he palmed it off on an innocent Canadian.

For some reason that gentleman wished to return it to Europe and shipped it on the Empress of Ireland. No one can deny that that ship sank in the St. Lawrence River somewhere, which is complete proof of what the priestess of Amen-Ra can do when she is thoroughly aroused.

Budge Explains it All

So goes the legendary lore, but now comes Sir Ernest Budge with a little common sense. Talking a few weeks ago to the Sunday Times he said the whole myth was founded on a series of mistunderstandings. [sic] W. T. Stead and Douglas Murray told the story about another mummy which a lady put as an ornament in her drawing room. Next morning she found all her bric-a-brac smashed to pieces, and when her husband locked the mummy up in a cupboard in an upper room the servants declared they saw troops of beings ascending the stairs all night with lights in order to break all the crockery they could find, and resigned en masse the next day.

Just about the same time a man named Wheeler gave the priestess’ coffin lid to the museum and Mr. Stead and Mr. Murray examined it and declared that to them it seemed the face of a portrait. It looked like a picture of a soul in torment, they said, and they wanted to hold a seance in the museum to see if they could do something to relieve the lady. But naturally the authorities did not agree.

The story got out and the public proceeded to identify the priestess of Amen-Ra with the crockery smashing mummy of the suburban drawing room. People have written from so far afield as New Zealand and Algiers enclosing money to place lilies at the foot of the coffin lid. The money has been acknowledged, but it has been put to the much more prosaic use of the general upkeep of the museum.

As for the Titanic story, Sir Ernest can only say that the museum has never parted with the lid, although during air raids it was removed for safety to the basement and it has, since it became a part of the national collection, never left the care of the museum.

Still its brilliant colors attract most careless visitors and anyone can hear all about its malignant power by approaching tactfully the nearest of the museum's attendants.

Red Don's picture
Red Don
User offline. Last seen 1 year 7 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 19 Oct 2008
Re: British Museum and the Unlucky Mummy
Quote:

W. T. Stead and Douglas Murray told the story about another mummy which a lady put as an ornament in her drawing room. Next morning she found all her bric-a-brac smashed to pieces, and when her husband locked the mummy up in a cupboard in an upper room the servants declared they saw troops of beings ascending the stairs all night with lights in order to break all the crockery they could find, and resigned en masse the next day.

What about this mummy?  Does anyone know anything about it?

Leekduck
User offline. Last seen 4 years 2 days ago. Offline
Joined: 4 Jan 2010
Re: British Museum and the Unlucky Mummy

I Like this Article



Share/Save

Navigation

Recent comments

Featured Site