I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, February 16, 2018
Did Opening King Tut’s Tomb Dig Up a Curse?
Valley of the Kings
It was February 16, 1923,
in the Valley of the Kings when the tomb of King Tutankhamen was officially
Egyptologist Howard Carter had searched for five years before discovering the
tomb on November 26, 1922. Fortunately, it was one of the few tombs that had
not yet been found, which meant that the treasure trove it contained was
contained three coffins encased inside one another. In the last coffin, made of
solid gold, explorers discovered the mummified body of King Tutankhamen.
King Tut’s tomb
contained close to 5,300 items his followers had sealed away for his use
in the afterlife. Things like
chariots, weapons, furniture, jewelry, statues, clothing, funeral items, and
works of ancient art. But the most valuable artifact in the tomb was the mummy of
The relics were
removed from the tomb for sketching, photographing, recording, and cataloging. Due to the interest in preserving the artifacts, it
took more than 10 years to remove all of the treasures... and some "disappeared." Once the items were preserved, a traveling exhibition known as the
“Treasures of Tutankhamen” made its way around the world. The collection now
resides in a permanent home at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt.
Of course, there were
rumors of a curse that would descend upon all who disrupted the ruler’s eternal rest. Supposedly
engraved in hieroglyphics on the exterior of the tomb were the words, “Death Shall Come on Swift Wings To Him Who
Disturbs the Peace of the King.” The “Mummy’s Curse” is claimed to
have taken numerous lives.
George Herbert, 5th
Earl of Carnarvon
Lord Carnarvon and His Daughter
financed the excavation of the tomb from 1918 to 1923. The Earl was on hand
at the Tomb in November, 1922, and again on March 6th the day he was
bitten by a mosquito. He nicked the bite while shaving and it became
infected. Carnarvon died of blood poisoning on April 5, one month after his second visit
to the tomb, and six weeks after the media began reporting on the curse. To add
fuel to the fire, there was a widespread blackout in Cairo on the night
Carnarvon died. But it was said that power failures were common in the area…
George Jay Gould
and railroad executive, George Jay Gould, visited the tomb in the spring of
1923. Rumor spread that he became ill with a fever immediately afterwards and
died of pneumonia on May 16, 1923.
Sir Archibald Douglas Reid
Douglas Reid was the radiologist who x-rayed the mummy before it was presented
to museum officials. Reid became sick the following day and died of a mysterious
illness three days later, on January 15, 1924.
Arthur Cruttenden Mace
Mace was a British Egyptologist, and member of Carter’s excavation team in
1923. Mace assisted Carter in writing the draft for the first volume of The Tomb of Tutankhmun. Mace died of
arsenic poisoning on April 6, 1928; another death supposedly related to the curse.
Howard Carter’s personal secretary died on November 15, 1929 at the London Mayfair
Gentleman's Club. He was discovered smothered in his room. Some
suggested that it was the curse at work since Bethell’s home had experience a
series of small fires after some of the treasures from the tomb were "stored" there.
Richard Bethell, Baron Westbury
Bethell’s father, Richard
Bethell, 3rd Barron Westbury was also thought to be a victim of the curse. The Baron
killed himself by jumping off the 7th floor of his apartment
building on February 20, 1930. It was reported that several of the tomb’s treasures had also been
stored there. Bethell's suicide note read, in part, "I really cannot stand any more
horrors and hardly see what good I am going to do here, so I am making my
exit." Were the horrors related to the tomb? No one could say for sure.
By 1929, eleven
people were said to have died from the curse.
Howard Carter, the first person to enter the tomb never suffered any ill
effects. Carter lived to the age of 64, dying of natural causes. He did,
however, record in his diary during the excavation that he had seen jackals,
known as the guardians to the dead, roaming in the area. It was the first time he had
seen them in that region after 35 years of working there.
So was the curse
real? Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, said he was sure the curse existed and began promoting wild accusations after Lord Carnarvon died. Others say
that Carnarvon himself created the curse as a way to keep reporters and
sightseers away from the excavation. (Unfortunately for him, he added to the legend by conveniently dying soon after.) Although the tomb was opened 95 years ago, many think the
curse is still to be believed.