When I wrote The Last Days of Leda Grey, which is based on the earliest days of silent films, one of the dramas I imagined my fictional characters making was inspired by The Unlucky Mummy.
Image of the Unlucky Mummy as featured on the cover of Pearson’s Magazine in 1909
Many intriguing and eerie tales have built up around this relic, which dates back to around 950 BC, when it was thought to have been taken from a temple in Thebes. However, since the late 1880’s the mummy has been on display in the British Museum in London.
It’s not a mummy as such, but the image of a woman painted on ‘coffin’ of plaster and wood. In effect, it is the image of the person once buried inside it. But, who might she have been? Some think perhaps a high priestess who served in the temple of Amen Ra. But since being taken away from Egypt, her spirit is said to be restless, causing havoc and bringing bad luck to any who have a close connection.
In my novel, the Mummy’s curse is discussed by Leda Grey’s father…
‘Yes, it’s called The Unlucky Mummy, found back in the 1880s, when three Englishmen travelled to Egypt. There, a terrible fate befell them all after one of the party paid thousands of pounds to buy the ancient relic. Later on, that very night, he walked out into the desert night and was never seen again … with that event occurring soon after the sarcophagus arrived in his rooms. The second man was to lose an arm, when a servant asked to clean his gun accidentally fired it off. The third returned to England, only to find that he was ruined when the bank that held his wealth had catastrophically failed, after which he was reduced to selling matches on the streets.
And that was not the end of it! Some years afterwards, when the mummy had been acquired by the British Museum in London, the night guards started speaking of some strange and ghostly happenings, with objects flying round the room, or banging sounds and wails coming below the coffin’s lid. A journalist brought in to investigate was then tormented in his mind after a photograph he’d taken showed the casket’s painted face ~ a face normally quite serene ~ had changed into a mask of such a Hellish countenance he lost his wits and killed himself.’
That short extract from my novel is just one variation on a theme – and certainly not the whole story. Before reaching the British Museum, the residents of one house to which the relic was delivered also spoke of strange events ~ such as ornaments being smashed, or sounds of footsteps in the night, or lights flickering in the attic where the mummy had been stored. Things became so bad that most of the servants threatened to leave the house.
Another story claimed the curse lay behind the sinking of The Titanic, with the Mummy being on board at the time of the tragedy. However, this is nonsense because the mummy was already in the British Museum.
But like many an folktales, the myth became embellished, and it was quoted in papers and magazines as being genuine. The legend fed into an era when the belief in spiritualism was gaining great momentum.
Betram Fletcher Robinso
The journalist Betram Fletcher Robinson was determined to debunk these ideas of mummies and tombs being cursed. But soon after his work began, he also became ill and died, leading the spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle to explain what had happened …
“It was caused by Egyptian ‘elementals’ … because Mr Robinson had begun an investigation of the stories of the mummy’s malevolence. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty if this is true … but I warned Mr Robinson … I told him he was tempting fate by pursuing his enquiries …The immediate cause of death was typhoid fever, but that is the way in which the elementals guarding the mummy might act.”
Conan Doyle was no doubt twisting the facts to suit his own beliefs. But, there are still many people who’ve viewed The Unlucky Mummy on display in the British Museum, and who’ve claimed to feel a sense of evil in the atmosphere.