Halloween Special 2: The Curse of the Mummies

The early 1930s, London was gripped in the linen-wrapped thrall of a veritable mummy-mania. Rumours of mummy curses were rife and many of them, unsurprisingly, circling around British Museum. These things happen when you display lots of dead bodies. I wouldn’t be so keen on tourists and school-groups gawping at my corpse.

There are two main mummy stories surrounding the British Museum from this time.  The first, and one of the most well known is ‘The Curse of the Unlucky Mummy.’

Once upon a time, a Lady brought home an Egyptian coffin lid. Her pride at having such a piece in her collection was shattered as its arrival in England coincided with the destruction of all her crockery. This coffin-lid later found a home, as most antiquities do, in the British Museum, where a séance was conducted to ease the suffering in the eyes of a Chantress of Amen-Ra.

As anyone who has a scant knowledge of Horror films can tell you, this is a bad idea.

As the story goes, it was a bad idea.

Considerable death and destruction ensued, causing the Keeper of Egyptian Antiquities to sell the coffin lid to an American who opted to transport his new purchase on the Titanic.

The official British Museum line is this:

“The British Musem never possessed neither mummy nor coffin nor cover which did such things…The Trustees have no power to sell any object under their charge… I did not sell the cover to an American. The cover never went on the Titanic. It never went to America. It was not sold to anybody in Canada, and it is still in the First Egyptian Room.” – Sir Wallis Budge.

The British Museum Tube Station
The British Museum Tube Station (C) London Transport Museum

Our other story tonight is perhaps one of the most famous ghost stories on the London Underground, a notoriously haunted network of tubes buried under the busy city that supposedly helps transport its citizens around the metropolis. Stories go that it is full of ghosts. Just look for the people who aren’t breathing.

British Museum Underground Station Map
British Museum Underground Station Map

The British Museum Underground station closed in 1933, and before it closed forever, people claimed it was haunted by the spirit of a Priestess of Amen-Ra, possibly the same chantress who sank the Titanic.

Garbed in a loincloth and headdress, the Priestess would wail and scream in the tunnels. Since the closure, commuters have heard the moans from Holborn station. If you’ve ever been at Holborn station at rush hour, this wailing and gnashing of teeth could come from any number of living passengers.

In 1935, two years after the station’s closure, the story takes a stranger turn. The comedy thriller, Bulldog Jack, used the legend as its premise which included a secret tunnel from the station to the Egyptian room at the Museum. On the same night that the film was released, two women disappeared from the platform at Holborn. Scratch marks were later found on the walls of the closed station. Could it have been the work of a mysterious monsterous mummy?

Construction work on the British Museum Station in 1898 (C) London Transport Museum
Construction work on the British Museum Station in 1898 (C) London Transport Museum

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I’ve never seen any of these fabled ghosts. It is entirely unfair.

    On more mummy related stories, there was a programme on the TV yesterday about a guy from Torquay who donated his body to science so they could understand mummification. It was weird. ‘Mummifying Alan’ I think it was called. xxx

  2. Oh, I love this, history and the supernatural. So wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sally Fung says:

    Oh Jack this is a wonderful post. I’m going to forward it to my boss. We are constantly reminded by many school children who visit The Egypt Centre about the curse surrounding Tutankhamun. The stories are quite delicious especially at this time of year. Thanks.

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