Happy Halloween guys. As is the nature of the holiday, I’ve resurrected The Thing That Should Not Be, for this one shot. As I’m about to review three horror games back to back, it only seemed appropriate. What follows are fourteen pages of your favorite articles from the archives of Nyogtha, the longest running column in IP history, as well as the only one which never missed a deadline. What can I say? I like touting that little fact.
Behind the Scenes of Dracula
Although it is well known that Stoker was almost anal-retentive in the way he tried to preserve folklore and myths in his stories (Wolfe, xiii; Florescu, p.7), no author can write a tale without adding his emotions or personal outlook of a myth. As well, some of the texts Stoker used as his folkloric sources contained incorrect data. As such, even though Stoker tried to make his tale as authentic to the Old World Tales as possible, Dracula
is an amalgamation of Folklore, history, and Stoker’s own personal touches. As such we will take a look at how Stoker’s attempt to transform a Wallachian Prince into the Lord of the Undead, and how he both succeeded, added some personal touches, and made some foul-ups along the way.
The biggest mistake in the text comes when Van Helsing says, “The Nosferatu do not die like the bee when he stung once (p.287).” Van Helsing uses Nosferatu as a synonym for Vampire. However, Nosferatu actually means, “Plague of Rats.” It is a Slavonic word derived from the Greek word, “Nosophoros,” which means: Plague carrier. Romanians use the word Nosferatu in conjunction with vampires, because Old World vampires were believed to be the cause of plagues like tuberculosis and the Black Plague. However, Stoker used this erroneous information only because of one of his folkloric sources, Emily Gerard’s travelogue entitled, The Land Beyond the Forest (1885). Gerard’s book captures the feel and look of Transylvania/Wallachia/Romania very well, but Emily did not speak the language well and as such assumed Nosferatu and vampire were interchangeable words. In her text she writes, “More decidedly is the Nosferatu, or Vampire, in which every Roumanian peasant believes as firmly as he does in heaven or hell…even a flawless pedigree will not insure any one against the intrusion of a vampire into their family vault, since every person killed by a Nosferatu becomes likewise a vampire after death…(p. 185-186).” Because Stoker was determined to add every possible folkloric reference he could find to his text, he accidentally perpetuated a mistake that continues in the Western World to this day, as we see in films, books and even role-playing games. However, if you go to Romania, or any Eastern European country…the two words are still exclusive. The true Slavonic word for vampire remains “Stirgoi.”
One of the most overlooked and important details about Dracula is that Stoker did expressly plan for his vampire to be Vlad the Impaler himself. However, when Stoker set out to right his vampire tale, he had no knowledge of Vlad. The Book was going to be called, The Un-Dead until the day he ran across a set of old books in the British Museum Reading Room (Florescu, 150). Stoker become fascinated with The Impaler Prince, and quickly gathered all the information he could find on Vlad. The sources ranged from texts written during Vlad’s life, like The Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia, written by the poet laureate Michel Beheim in 1463 for the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, to speaking with actual well-known experts on the leaders of Western Europe, such as Arminus Vambery (Florescu p. 7; Wolfe; P.291), who as thanks, was placed into Stoker’s novel as an ally of Van Helsing. Stoker’s own letters and journals that he made over the seven years it took to write Dracula are now housed in the Rosenbach Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I myself have been lucky enough to read through them. In one journal entry Stoker writes how he came across a book by William Wilkinson which he checked out of the Whitby Public Lending Library. In fact, Stoker even recorded the call numbers of this book and others he checked out about Vlad (Florescu, 148.)! Within Wilkinson’s book, Stoker found information about Vlad’s betrayal by the boyars and his brother Radu. Stoker notes how important details like this are, so he can place them in the Count’s life. And so Stoker does at the beginning of Chapter 3 when he has the Count say, “Who was it but one of my own race who at Voivode crossed that Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground? This was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother, when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery upon them (p. 41)” Dracula goes on ranting about the greatness of this Dracula for another page or so. But unbeknownst to the casual reader, or to Harker, the Count is actually speaking about himself, but must refer to himself as a separate person, so as not to reveal his true nature to Harker. Thus Stoker has managed to give Vlad real immortality, by transforming him into the Undead Count that shall never be forgotten by the race of man.
Yet, Dracula/Vlad is not the only real life person carried over into this novel. Parts of Dracula actually tell the history of Bram Stoker. You see, many of the characters in the book are based on real people Stoker knew or was fascinated by. Obviously we have the Count and Vlad, but every main male character has a real life counterpart. Harker’s real life counterpart is scene designer Joseph Harker (1855-1920) who Leonard Wolfe tells us was the scene designer or the Lyceum Theatre where Stoker worked (p.1). As well, Stoker mentions the real Harker in is book, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. In this biography/memoirs, Stoker mentions Harker only is passing by saying he was a great painter and did many of the sets of Shakespeare plays at the Lyceum (p.110, 156). Quincey Morris was a very important character to Stoker. He was one of the few Americanophilles in England in the 19th century. He was good friends with Walt Whitman and Mark Twain whose work he defended across the Atlantic to his fellow Europeans (Wolfe, p.78). Stoker published a pamphlet entitled, “A Glimpse of America,” which he called America, “a nation not merely like ourselves—the same in blood, religion, and social ideas, with an almost identical common law, and with whom our manifold interests are not only vast, but almost vital (Wolfe, p.78).” Quincey was added to Dracula to basically spite the Anti-American sentiment that was all around him. Quincey was based on Joaquin Miller, an American frontier poet who was writing the same time as Stoker. Miler moved to England where he was renowned for his rustic cowboy look and his outfits. Morris reputedly talks similar to how Miller spoke. As well, Stoker based Quincy on John (not David) Bowie. Stoker has him not only wield the knife that bears Bowie’s name, but he too dies of knife wounds while fighting off Mexican soldiers at the Alamo. Stoker changed his death at the hands of one “foreign enemy” to that of Dracula’s gypsies. Finally, the most interesting character is that of Abraham Van Helsing. Mina describes the good doctor as being,
“A man of medium height, strongly built, with his shoulders set back over a broad, deep chest and a neck well balanced on the truck as the head is on the neck…the head is noble, well-sized, broad and large behind the ears…big, bushy eyebrows…The forehead is broad and fine, rising at first almost straight and then sloping back above two bumps or ridges wide apart; such a forehead that the reddish hair cannot possibly tumble over it, but falls naturally back and to the sides. Big, dark blue eyes are set widely apart, and are quick and tender or stern with the man’s moods. (p. 226-227).”
Why is this important? Because it is the very description of Abraham Stoker himself! Stoker gives the character his first name, and like Stoker, Van Helsing has archaic knowledge and insights into both the realms of the Vampire and Tepes himself. As well, through Stokers letters to friends and families and diary entries we are given subtle hints that he is playing the part of Van Helsing in his novel. Many of his friends and heroes are transformed into characters in his novel, why not the author himself? Many other authors have picked up on this idea, from Leonard Wolfe (p.148), to J. Gordon Melton (653), to even Famous Dracula Scholars Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally (p.147-148). So now, not only has Vlad the Impaler achieved immortality through this classic novel, but many of Barm’s friends live on as well.
Another important piece of folklore that Stoker included that the Western word has forgotten is that of the Blue Flame and Walpurgis Nacht. In the beginning of Stoker’s novel we see comments about St. George’s Day (Western name for Walpurgis Nacht) and during Harker’s ride on the coach, the blue flames are encountered (p. 17 and p. 29). Walpurgis Nacht, for Eastern Europe is quite simply, the most Evil Day of the year. Montague Summers comments, “Upon the eve of the saint, the powers of vampires, witches and every evil thing is at its height. (p. 313).” Stoker has a woman warn Harker about this evil night when she says, “It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that to-night, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway (p. 7-8)?” And the young lady is right. On this day, Vampires can not be killed…by ANY means. Stoker found this information on many sources, chief probably being Gerard’s text again especially because she ties the legend of Walpurgis Nacht together with the legend of the blue flames. She writes, “For in this night (so say the legends) all these treasures begin to burn, or’to bloom’ in the bosom of the earth, and the light they give forth, described as a bluish flame, serves to guide favored mortals to their place of concealment (p.230).” But the blue flame has appeared in other novels and on days other than May the 5th. Ann Radcliff and “Monk” Lewis have incorporated the blue flame into their novels as well (Wolfe, p.29). But for Eastern Europeans, May the 5th is a very important day. After all one may find great riches, or one may find their death at the hands of the undead. Knowing this now, it is no wonder the peasants tried to prevent Harker from traveling to the castle of Dracula.
Stoker added his own little pieces to the vampire mythos as well. Most notable of these is the vampire bat. The vampire bat was first found by Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and South America in 1760 (Melton, p. 41; Abrams, p. 55). As they were not native to Europe, before this discovery it would be hard to find a reason to link the un-dead to our only flying mammal. However, after this discovery, bats became a symbol for the undead in the mid 18th century. The even appeared on the cover of Varney the Vampire, a popular “Penny Dreadful” in England. Yet Stoker was the first to make the logical conclusion that perhaps vampires could both control and transform into a bat. This idea caught on like wildfire amongst vampire fans and writers and has never left the public consciousness about vampires since.
Although this is just a light dabbling into the folklore and hidden secrets that Bram threw into his novel, we can see how rich this text is in regards the old legends of the vampire. Many of the legends Western society was not aware of, and has since forgotten remain alive in this book. Stoker felt it was exceedingly important to make sure the old tales stayed alive, and that every facet of the tales were necessary to create vivid picture of the count, the life and powers of the Un-dead and the land which he hailed from. Because of the seven years of research and care Stoker put into this novel, he has created one of the most influential books in literary history, as well as one of the most famous. Yet if one tries hard enough, it is obvious that Stoker wrote Dracula on many levels. It is much like reading Gulliver’s Travels; once you know the hidden commentary placed into the novel, it reads as a very different tale indeed.
Works Cited for Monsters Paper
Florescu, Radu & Raymond T. McNally. In Search Of Dracula. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.
Gerard, Emily. The Land Beyond The Forest. New York, NY: Harper and Bros., 1888.
Marigny, Jean. Vampires: Restless Creatures of the Night. London, England: Harry N. Abrams, 1994.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1994.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London, Jarrold, 1966.
Stoker, Bram. Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. 2 vols. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1906.
Summers, Montague. The Vampire: His Kith and Kin. Rpr. New Hyde Park: New York University Books, 1960.
Summers, Monatgue. The Vampire in Europe. Rpr. New Hyde Park: New York Univeristy Books, 1961.
Wolfe, Leonard, ed. The Essential Dracula: The Definitive Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker’s Classic Novel. Middlesex, England: Byron Preiss, 1975.
The Biggest Supernatural Hoax of the 20th Century
I can’t remember who I was with. It was either when I saw SAW in Australia with my friend Karma, or when I came back and saw the terrible Blade: Trinity with Matt Yeager, but at one of those two movies, a trailer for an upcoming film made me pause. Yes, that’s how insane this week has been. I can’t even remember that one detail.
The trailer was for the upcoming film: The Amityville Horror. This film is a remake of the original from the 1970’s which was base don the book by the same name.
What bothers me is that the trailer stated that the Amityville Horror is based on a true story. In fact, the truth about the Amityville house was debunked 25 years ago, but thanks to some great PR and urban legends, the tale is still considered true. I myself have spent a night in the house, and I can tell you it’s about as scary as an episode of Donna Reed or My Three Sons.
I thought since this column is all about the truth behind legends, what better topic could I cover today that sharing with you the true history of the Amityville Horror…
America’s most famous Haunted House is steeped in over twenty-five years of controversy. From the murders that started the publicity about the house, to the debates over whether or not the hauntings were nothing more than an elaborate hoax, the Amityville house has become a part a major part of American folklore.
One of the few aspects of the Amityville house that is considered fact by all sides is that on November 13th, 1974, one Ronald DeFeo Jr, rose from his second story room at 3am after watching a movie called, White Keep, and picked up a.35 Marlin rifle. From that point DeFeo brutally murdered his father and mother, Ronald Senior and Louise, and then moved on to murder his two brothers and sisters as well. In all, six people were murdered that early morning, and the eventual aftermath would send a 2 and a half story Dutch Colonial house into the annuals of Parapsychology.
Police reports state that all six bodies were found in bed. The sheer mystery behind how an entire family could sleep through gunshots made by a high-powered rifle is only the start of the controversy. AT DeFeo’s trial, two different psychiatrists argued heavily over the state of Ronald Jr’s sanity. Even after Ronald was given six consecutive life sentences for the murders he had committed, he continues to give the same eerie defense. Ronald admitted he had killed his family. And that he felt no remorse for the crimes. But insisted something had gotten inside him and forced him to kill the family he swore he loved. Was Ronald actually possessed by something from another world?
Many people believe DeFeo was actually possessed, but just any many feel that DeFeo’s defense attorney, William Weber convinced DeFeo to use the possession defense in hope of making a lot of money from a book deal. In fact, there are book contracts between the two men, and DeFeo was also slated to receive a percentage of book sales from the Lutz’s, whom we will meet later, as well as money from Hanz Holtzer’s book Murder in Amityville. Today, DeFeo sings a different story and claims he was tricked into perpetrated into a hoax by the aforementioned parties into making them rich. Yet is this because he truly was tricked, or simply bitterness that they made money of his psychotic murders? The truth about DeFeo’s actions may never be known, but those six murders were the starting point for the story that would eventually become knows as, The Amityville Horror. To Holzer’s credit, his book, Murder in Amityville, is more concerned with the court case and documentation of what occurred during the trial than the actual hauntings.
On December 18,1975 George and Katherine Lutz moved into 112 Ocean Avenue in the small town of Amityville. The house in question had six bedrooms, a huge yard and a swimming pool. But best of all was the price. Only $80,000. When they queried how such an incredible house could cost next to nothing, the broker explained that a year before, that house had been the sight of a mass murder. The Lutz’s, claiming they were not superstitious people, bought the house and moved in with their three children, Daniel, Chris, and Melissa, as well as their dog Harry. On January 14, 1976, a mere 28 days later, the Lutz family fled the house in fear, vowing never to return. What had happened?
It all started after the Lutz’s priest, Father Ralph Precario aka Father Ray aka Father Mancuso had blessed the house that strange supernatural events began to take place. Father Ray also claimed a deep masculine voice warned him to leave the house when he sprinkled holy water upon the floor. He then suffered from a strange sickness that plagued him until he transferred to another parish.
As for the Lutz’s they encountered stranger and more horrifying events over the next four weeks. The family began to see ghosts floating through their home. Windows across the house would break in unison. Swarms of flies would hover in the Children’s bedrooms. There would be extreme temperature changes, a ghostly parade every night, oozing slime from the walls, marked changes in personality, along with the stereotypical strangely appearing wounds and gashed, horrid smells and unexpected bouts of illness.
The Lutz’s also began to encounter Poltergeist style activities. Items would fly across the house violently and suddenly. Their telephone would repeatedly disconnect. And strangest of all, young daughter Melissa began talking to a demon only she could see that she named “Jodie.” It also was in the shape of a pig. Kathleen began to have psychic dreams were she saw the murder of the DeFeo family unfold, along with visions of Louise having an affair with the artist who painted the DeFeo family portraits. Interestingly enough, there was no evidence to show Louise having an affair. Another odd contradiction between the hauntings and reality was when George grew out his beard and hair, which they claimed made him look like Ronald DeFeo Jr. In actuality, Ronnie’s hair did not go past his neck. Even with these inconsistencies, the family began to live in a world of fear. The children refused to go to school. George refuses to go to work. Eventually, the family left the house and their worldly possessions behind in a desperate attempt to escape the evil that they believed lived within the house.
Soon after, the Lutz’s told their story to professional author, Jay Anson, whose book called, The Amityville Horror was published by Prentice-Hall in 1977. It was released as a non-fiction book. Although Anson had never visited the house, and made errors throughout his book, from minor mistakes about meteorological data, to utterly false floor plans of 112 Ocean Avenue being included in the book, it became a best seller and also became the basis for of the of highest grossing film of 1979, which had the same title as Anson’s book. This also set off a spree of Haunted House movies, books, and True Stories, including Smurl house.
Even if the story told by Anson and the Lutz’s was true, credibility was lost when John G. Jones wrote not one, but TWO sequels to the Amityville horror. These books were also credited with being “True” stories, yet Jones was not able to get the name of the children correct, calling them Greg Matt and Amy, instead of Danny, Chris and Melissa. Nor did Jones accurate state what George Lutz dud for a living, calling him an air traffic controller, instead of the manager for a surveying company.
More cracks began to appear in the Lutz’s story. A large one comes from the fact they claimed their house was built atop an abandoned well where the Shinnecock Indians would leave their sick and insane to die from exposure to the elements. In fact, the Shinnecock Indians lived nowhere near what would become the town of Amityville. All Indians on Long Island, which is where Amityville is located, were actually Montauckett. Although these Indians DID bury their dead in shell mounds along water, but there are no records of Sanitariums or Indian Burial grounds where 122 Ocean Avenue is located. The only Indian burial grounds around Amityville are now dumping grounds. As well, Native Americans are known to care for their injured and dying, and wouldn’t abandon them in a well. Other rumors of a satanic magician named John Ketchum living where the Amityville house now stands, an ancient cursed cemetery standing where the house now does, and the like were all proven false.
The infamous red room that the book and movie claimed was a “gate to hell” and where Ronald DeFeo jr. practiced black magic in was nothing more than where the DeFeo children kept their toys. Brunswick Hospital had no record of every seeing Danny Lutz whose hand was supposed smashed by a window controlled by the spirits in the house. George’s claims that the house was constantly freezing was proved not to be the work of ghosts, but nature as they lived on the water’s edge, and also had a heater that known to be faulty, even when the DeFeo’s lived there.
Worst of all for the Lutz’s is that many of their witnesses began to admit falsehoods about the case and book. Father Decorator admitted under oath during a civil case that the majority of the story was false. William Weber, the man who cooked up the entire “possession” defense for DeFeo appeared on a radio show in 1979 where he firmly stated the entire story was created in the Lutz’s kitchen over a few bottles of wine. After he came up with the idea, the Lutz ran with the tale and refused to share any of the profits with him. Weber sued for what he felt was his share of the book and movie profits, while the Lutz’s countersued to validate their tale. During that trial, both Lutz’s passed a lie detector test, but the results were of course inadmissible in court. The suit eventually ended with Judge Jack Weinstein finding verdict in favor of Weber, believing the Lutz’s had created a hoax with the sole intent of getting a book published.
Other names joined in the suit of the Lutz’s. Jim and Barbara Cromarty, who moved into the house after the Lutz’s, encountered no evidence of paranormal activity. The house was quiet as any other building. However, due to constant barrages by the media, tourists and assorted wackos, the Cromarty’s sued not only the Lutz’s, but also Anson and Prentice-Hall for 1.1 million dollars. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Father Ralph also sued the Lutz’s and publisher for invasion of privacy and distorting his words and involvement in the entire affair. He too, received an out of court settlement.
It should be noted that the Lutz’s were the only family to ever have a problem with the house. Families before the DeFeo’s and after the Lutz have reported no bizarre happenings during their stay in the building.
Although one cannot prove whether or not the Amityville house was actually haunted, it is quite easy from all the facts gathered that the story was at the very least, filled with embellishments. What is most important is not the debate of whether or not the Amityville house is a gateway to the netherworld, but that in 1974, six people died because someone snapped. If people truly did try to profit from the death of innocents, then they are far worse than the beings they claimed terrorized them for merely a month.
Anson, Jay. The Amityville Horror. New York: Bantam Books, 1977.
Auerbach, Lloyd. ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists: A Parapsychologist’s Handbook.
New York: Warner Books, 1986.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, The. New York:
Checkmark Books, 2000
Holtzer, Hans. Murder In Amityville. New York: Belmont Towers, 1979.
Holtzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters with the World Beyond. Black Dog: New York,
Jones, John G. The Amityville II: The Possession. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
Jones, John G. Amityville: The Final Chapter. New York: Jove Books, 1985.
Kaplan, Stephen K. The Amityville Horror Conspiracy. New York: Toad Hall Inc., 1995.
Morris, Roberts L. The Case of the Amityville Horror. Review of the Amityville Horror
appearing in Kendrick Frazier, ed., Paranormal Borderlands of Science. Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981.
The Amityville Murders: http://www.amityvillemurders.com
The Mummy’s Curse
Amityville: The Web Site: http://www.jarrett.nu/amityville/main2.html
City of Amityville: http://www.amityville.com/
The Hoax in Amityville: http://chatanuga.topcities.com/Amityville.html
The Amityville Horror No Hoax page: http://members.tripod.com/~AmityvilleHorror/
The Amityville Horror Movie page: http://www.amityvillehorrormovie.com
I thought it would be fun this week to cover the origins of this recent bit of folklore. The Curse of King Tut can be traced back to our most famous of mummies, King Tutankhamun. King Tut was a mere child when he died as Pharaoh; only 18 years old in 1320 BC. Famous Egyptologist and Archaeologist Howard Carter and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon finally opened the tomb on Nov, 26th, 1922 to find the greatest collection of Egyptian treasure (and by that I mean of both historical and monetary value) ever unearthed. Everything from furniture to weapons, to the preserved corpse of King Tut himself were found. However, once the tomb was opened, a straight set of events began to unfold, from disease to accidents, began to affect those associated with the dig. Was there in fact a curse upon the tomb?
Before we go into the occurrences, I want to bring up that nowhere in the tomb was there any commentary about a curse. None whatsoever. The entire theory of a mummy’s curse came from English Spiritualists and Occultists and over the years, the average joe has begun to believe there actually was some obscure curse written in hieroglyphics on a pyramid wall somewhere. But in fact, this is not so.
Although the tomb was opened on Nov 26th, The official opening ceremony would be held on Nov 29th. With newspapers and scholars around the world paying attention to this momentous occasion, Carter and Carnarvon began to exhume the tomb. Carter ended up spending from Christmas 1922 until the year 1930 removing goods from the tomb and cataloguing them, where they can now be seen in the Griffith Institute at Oxford University. Lord Carnarvon stayed at the tomb and continued his work there.
On March 6th of 1923, Carnarvon was bitten on the cheek by a mosquito. He cut the bite while shaving and it became inflamed and infected. Carnarvon but iodine on the cut and rested for a few days. When he felt better, he accompanied his daughter to Cairo, where he hoped he would be able to get medical supervision to look at his wound.
A week later Carnarvon had a fever and the blood poisoning in his cut caused him develop pneumonia. Carter came to his Lord’s bedside, as did Carnarvon’s wife and Son from other parts of the British Empire. Eventually Carnarvon died and the official cause was labeled Typhoid Fever.
Now here is where all the mumbo jumbo and controversy starts. A friend of Carnarvon, an American romance novelist named Marie Corelli believed he had not died from the bite but that the Lord has accidentally poisioned himself while handling items from King Tut’s tomb. She quoted Lord Carnarvon’s book, The Egyptian History of The Pyramids, where it stated many items in Egyptian pyramids and tombs contained secret poisons that would catch a grave robber unaware and cause him to suffer painfully before finally letting him die.
Now this is a reasonable belief. After all, it was in the realms of both the possible and credible. Could the mosquito bite have just been timed with the poison interacting with Carnarvon’s system? Or was it merely another death caused by a mosquito bite, an affliction that is quite common in the middle east even to this day?
But then of course Arthur Conan Doyle had to stick his nose into things again. Remember Doyle? Remember the Fairy incident I wrote about a few weeks ago in an earlier column? Well, Mr. “OMG! I believe in everything and anything supernatural and I will do anything to prove these things exist” got involved and became the catalyst for the Mummy’s curse. Hard to believe this nut job wrote the Sherlock Holmes novels.
Now to be fair to Doyle, there were other writers suggesting the possibility of the Undead wreaking vengeance from beyond the grave on Carnarvon, but those were relatively quiet and dismissed. However on April 6th, the day after Carnarvon died, Doyle told the American Press, which then relayed it to the London Morning Post that he believed Carnarvon’s death was caused by. “An evil elemental.” I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. Doyle then launched into a diatribe about how all Egyptian tombs were protected by the occult and spiritual forces and how we are ignorant of what powers the Egyptians had in those days and what form the power of the elementals could take.
And with that we have the origins of the Mummy’s curse. But it gets worse. On April 7th, Doyle continued to flap his gums, stating he knew of another person who had fallen prey to Egyptian Black Magick, his friend Fletcher Robinson, who wrote for the Daily Express newspaper and also helped Doyle write the most popular Sherlock Holmes story ever, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Doyle claimed Fletcher had been investigating the British Museum’s mummy of an ancient priestess and whether or not it “exuded an evil aura.” Doyle claimed to have warned Fletcher not to investigate the mummy, but he was ignored and then Fletcher met with an untimely death. Of course, like Carnarvon, Fletcher died of typhoid fever, but Doyle insisted this was the work of elemental spirits and that typhoid was merely the power of the elementals guarding the mummies.
Newspapers and credible sources for the most part reported Doyle’s ramblings, but paid them no credible heed. Most people believed it was either Carnarvon had a brush with a hidden poison trap in the tomb, or he died from something akin to Malaria thanks to the mosquito bite. But as time went on, more and more peculiarities came to light about Carnarvon’s death.
First off, there were no mosquitoes in the Valley of the Kings, where King Tut was buried. And there never had been. For Carnarvon to have been bitten, it would have to have been in Luxor, where Carnarvon was staying during the excavations of the tomb. At the same time, it was proven than two mysterious things happened when Lord Carnavon died. The first was that the second he died, the entire city of Cairo lost electrical power for five minutes. British officials and newspapers and the Cairo hospital were able to confirm these events did coincide at the exact same time. As well, the son and 6th Earl of Carnarvon reported that at 2am on April 5th, Carnarvon’s dog Suzie, howled at the top of its lungs and dropped dead when it was it perfectly fine health.
And Doyle’s theories began to gain favor with people around the world. Perhaps there WAS a curse on the tomb of Tutankhamun.
At this point, every crackpot out there began to state something about the curse. Spiritualists were claiming to have warned Carnarvon about meddling with the Pharaoh and releasing dark powers onto the world. A clairvoyant named Cheiro wrote that he was possessed by the spirit of Egyptian Princess Makitaton, seventh daughter of the Pharaoh Akhnaton, and that s/he had tried to warn Carnarvon about a plague that would inflict him if he removed a single object from Tut’s resting place.
And newspapers began to run the false tale stating that not only did Carnarvon know there was a curse on the tomb and proceeded anyway, but that the entire excavation team knew, and that their greed and lust for fame won out, and so the team ignored all the warnings they had received. Which was in truth, none.
Another false story that came about was that supposedly the team came across an inscription over the enterence of the tomb. It was supposedly translated by a concerned Egyptologist and leaked to the press. “Death shall come on swift wings to whoever toucheth the tomb of the Pharaoh.” Again, pure crapola. But like the mainstream press of our day, those of the 1920’s ran wild with this story, embellishing it and never bothering to actually look for facts. The story eventually grew to Carnarvon removed the tablet and hanging his own coat of arms in its stead. Why would he do that? It makes no sense. The man held ancient Egypt with great respect and awe, not contempt. Just sad.
TRUE Egyptologists played down the curse aspect. But even then, superstition began to weed out science and fact. Arthur Weigall, ex-chief inspector of Antiquities for Luxor wrote a correspondence to the Daily Mail in which he recited passages from a 1923 book (which of course was published AFTER Carnarvon’s death), which had a chapter called, “The Malevolence of Ancient Egyptian Spirits.” He reiterated the Fletcher Robinson incident, along with other unlucky Egyptian artifacts which had brought their previous owners doom. Weigall even included a story about Carnarvon’s canary and how it was eaten by a cobra that somehow got inside the cage on the day the tomb was opened. And of course Weigall ended the letter by saying,
“I have heard the most absurd nonsense talked in Egypt by those that believe in the malevolence of the dead; but at the same time, I try to keep an open mind on the subject.”
In April of 1926, Dr. Douglas Derry of the Cairo medical school reported finding a blemish on Tutankhamun’s mummy in the same spot on the face as Carnarvon’s. Weigall again had to interject his own comments saying, “… I must admit that some very strange things – call them coincidences if you will – have happened in connection with the Luxor excavations.”
And of course now that Scientists and Egyptologists were commenting that the curse was real, everyone started believing in it. The British Museum began received scores of packages containing Egyptian artifacts from people who feared they would be cursed in a similar fashion. At least the Museum gained from all this hoopla.
Now you’re probably wondering how all this spread from just one man’s, even a famous and well respected man, death. Well, Carnarvon wasn’t the only person that died or suffered misfortune from the excavating team.
A few months after Carnarvon died, his half brother, one Col. Aubrey Herbert, died of septicemia after a minor operation. He had nothing to do with the excavation by the way. Next on the hit list was Egyptologist Evelyn White. He committed suicide in a taxi cab in Sept 1924. It was rumoured he was part of the curse because MAYBE he had removed fragments of Egyptian artifacts from a monastery in Egypt and he feared the Curse. I personally think it because his parents named a boy Evelyn. There was even a note found reading,
“I know there is a curse on me, although I had leave to take those manuscripts to Cairo. The monks told me the curse would work all the same. Now it is done.”
Almost everyone who died in an odd way was being added to the curse’s list of victims. A friend of Carnarvon, Millionaire George Jay Gould died 24 hours after being shown the tomb of Tut by Carter from a sudden fever? More poison? The press didn’t think so. He was labeled a victim of the curse.
The New York Times reported on March 26th, 1926, “Sixth Tomb Hunter Succumbs in Egypt.” This latest death was the Director of Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre, Professor Georges Benedite. Georges tripped and fell in the tomb and quickly contracted pneumonia. Again, it would seem poison traps would be the case. Instead, Dr. JC Mardrus, the man who translated The Arabian Nights voiced that Georges had been stricken by an attack from unknown forces which the ancient Egyptians were obviously able to control.
By 1934 the curse had supposedly logged the following victims: Lord Carnarvon, his two half brothers, Evelyn White, Benedite, a Dr. Archibald Reed, who died of exhaustion after examining the Tutankamun mummy, Howard Carter’s assistant, who died of pleurisy, Carnarvon’s secretary, who died of a heart attack, the Secretary’s father, Lord Westbury who died of a suicide after hearing his son had died from the curse. A small 8 year old boy who was crushed by Lord Westbury’s hearse, Prince Ali Kamal Fahmy Bey of Egypt, who entered the tomb and was murdered while visiting England, an unnamed British Museum employee who suddenly dropped dead while labeling objects from the tomb, and finally Mr. Arthur Weigall himself, who helped perpetuate the belief in the curse, who died of a fever like so many others. The curse even lasted longer than any of the people who had anything tangentially related to do with the excavation. In 1976, the Director of Antiquities for the Egyptian National Museum died while treasures from Tut’s tomb were being moved to England.
But a rational and skeptical mind notices that the curse claimed almost no one from the actual dig. None of the workers, and not the man responsible for its unearthing, Harold Carter. The worst thing that happened to Carter was he developed gallstones later in life. He finally died of a heart attack in 1939, but lived to be well over 60. Carter’s friend and fellow excavator Callender died at roughly the same time and age, and some members, like Lady Herbert and Richard Adamson, lived until the early 1980’s. As these were the people who first entered the tomb and defiled it, why would they have survived for so long if the curse was real?
All of Carter’s experts who helped him find and excavate the tomb lived until they were in their seventies. Dr. Derry, who reported the blemish on Tut’s face and did the unwrapping of the mummy lived to be 87 and simply died of old age. You’d think he of all people would have suffered as well. When looked at with a fine eye, the curse only seemed to affect those remotely associated with the excavation while not affecting any of the principal players, save Carnarvon, at all.
The truth is, there was no curse. That simple. The only time curses were ever found in Ancient Egypt were in private tombs, never in Pharaoh tombs, and in Tutankamun’s day, they were totally unknown and nonexistent.
In fact the complied list from 1934 was dissected and shown to be unsubstantiated innuendo and heresy, by the very man who wrote it, Hebert Winlock. The list he complied was purposely to show that the newspapers were not fact checking and merely spewing pabulum to the public. Carnarvon was known to be sick before he entered the tomb and went in against his doctor’s wishes. Even after the bite was infected, Carnarvon ignored doctor’s orders and remained heavily active in the excavation. It’s no wonder he died knowing this. Evelyn White and Carnarvon’s half brother had nothing to do with Tutankhamun in any way. Carter’s assistant too was very ill before entering the tomb. Prince Ali was murdered by his wife, who shot him for cheating on her. No items from Tut’s tomb actually went to the British Museum, so there’s no way an attendant could have died from them, and Weigall was not part of the expedition and was linked only to the curse because he had commented on it.
Every single death that was linked to the Curse had some evidence that it had come from something else, either a prior sickness, to being made up by the press, to newspapers randomly taken a person who died and linking them to the curse somehow.
In all the curse of King Tut is a great piece of folklore lacking any substance. More than anything it proves why the average person should remain skeptical to the mainstream media, as even back in the 1920’s, journalists were willing to make up stories to sell papers and gain renown, rather than actually reporting news. A sad commentary on the media that it’s been style over substance for almost a hundred years, if not longer.
I know. It wouldn’t be a Nyogtha without a recipe/cooking bit, right? I decided to go with a treat (again, sticking to the Holiday cliches). As a gift to you guys, I went with my favorite dessert to make for parties. It’s healthy and yet crazy delicious. Enjoy!
Poires au Gingembre aka Ginger Baked Pears
4 large pears
1 1/4th cups heavy cream
1/4 cup superfine sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tsp grated gingerroot
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter a shallow baking dish.
2. Peel the pears, then cut them in half lengthwise and use a sharp knife to remove the cores. Arrange, cut-sides down, in a single layer in the baking dish.
3. Mix together the cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger and pour over the pears.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, basting from time to time, until the pears are tender and browned on top. The cream will also be thick and bubbly. Cool slightly and serve.
Well, this was fun. Sometimes nostalgia can be a good thing. I’ll be back in a week or so with reviews of the new Castlevania collection for the PSP, and Dementarium for the DS. Have a great Halloween. Your Sub-Cultural Icon sure plans on it.