Since it’s been classic horror month here at Nyogtha, I’ve covered Vampires, Zombies, and Werewolves. I figured the next classic monster worth covering is the Mummy. But 10 months ago, I wrote a thorough essay on the reality of the Curse of King Tut vs. the fictionalized version. I don’t like the idea of reprinting things (I’ve only done it once in a Nyogtha since 08/04), but this makes sense considering the real/fictional monster theme of this month. Especially as last time around, this essay got cited by CNN.com, and I don’t think anything else I could write on this topic would be able to compare to the original babblings. So I do hope you’ll forgive me.
The Mummy’s Curse
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 yeah, 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, Howard 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.
Fear not! This week’s cooking bit is all new and original.
Those that know me really well know that my favorite cook is not Iron Chef France Sakai, but is in fact Ming Tsai, owner of Blue Ginger up in Massachusetts. I love his fusion ability. He takes Eastern style wood and adds a Western flair to them to make them more familiar to the American palate.
Saturday I went and tried one of his recipes simply because I actually HATE the western version of this dish. But Ming’s concept and recipe was so intriguing to me, I had to test it out. And guess what? I loved it. It might be a little too out there for you, but give it a try. it’s superior to the American version in every way possible.
Asian Sloppy Joes
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium red onions, diced into 1/4th inch pieces
1 cup celery, diced into 1/4th inch pieces
2 jalapenos, stemmed and minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
8 ounces chopped roma tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 hamburger buns
1 head of iceburg lettuce, shredded.
1 1/2 cups Hoisin-Lime Sauce (you’ll have to make this yourself)
For the Hoisin-Lime Sauce:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh garlic
2 cups hoisin sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and ginger and saute until soft. This will take about 2 minutes. Stir in the Hoisin sauce and keep stirring as to prevent burning. Cook while stirring for about a minute, and then add in the lime juice.
2. Transfer the mixture to a blender. Blend the mixture while drizzling in the 1/2 cup of canola oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cool and store.
This mixture lasts about 2 weeks.
For the Asian Sloppy Joes:
1. Heat a large deep, heavy saucepan over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions, celery and jalapenos and saute until soft. This will take about two minutes. Add the beef and Pork and brown lightly, breaking up any clumps with a wooden spoon. This will take about 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and the Hoisin-Lime sauce we made earlier. Season this mixture with salt and pepper to your liking. Bring the mixture to a slow simmer and cook until cooked down and thickened to mound when ladled. This will take 30 to 45 minutes. So don’t worry if it’s not going as fast as the making of the Hoisin-Lime sauce. ;-)
3. Toast the buns and place the bottom half of each bun on the serving plates. Top with some lettuce and then large scoops of the Sloppy Joe mixture. Then put on some more lettuce. Fit the top bun on top of the Joes, and then try to not dislocate your jaw while taking a bite.
CAREFUL: Not only is this messy, but it’s actually healthy for you.
Suggestion: As this is 2 lbs of meat and then veggies mixed in, you may want to double up on buns if you’ve got either a small mouth or stomach.
Besides last week’s Nyogtha, I ended up churning out a new column about the game Heroclix, as well as reviews of King of Fighters 2002/2003, and Digital Devil Saga 2.
In Culture we had:
Danny Wallace talking hooch.
Becky talking Taboo Japanese history.
Elizabeth talking Tarot.
Fred talking the effects of WWI on the Middle East.
ML Kennedy taking on reflexology
and finally, Jeff Fernandez takes on a new bimonthly column in our Food section, discussing and reviewing…Fast Food. Better you than me Jeff. I can only eat Subway, Wendy’s or Popeye’s without vomiting.
In Music, Gloomchen quotes Spice Girls, although I’m not sure if that was an aside to me or not. Yes, I like the Spice Girls. Shut up.
In Wrestling, Eric S. appears to have disdain for fish. Boo Eric!
In Games, Lee is covering anime again.
In TV, LOST is the only TV show I’ve watched in 5-6 years. FYI John, there’s FOUR “tribes” on the island. The main staff, the 5 remaining Tail People, the Others (who took Walt), and a 4th group.
In Movies, we’re giving away The Alfred Hitchcock Collection
In Comics, Say goodbye to the Captain Atom ripoff
That’s it for this week. Next Monday is Hallowe’en. I’ll try not to do something cliche and expected of me for it. ;-)