I recently finished a book by Lincoln Child called The Third Gate, a fictional account about an expedition to locate the tomb of an ancient pharaoh. A bit slower moving than most of Mr. Child’s work, it nonetheless held me riveted for three days with its combination of Egyptology, examination of NDE’s (near death experiences) and archaic curses. It also made me recall an urban legend about a mummy’s curse.
In the 1890s, four young Englishmen were touring Egypt when they met an antiquities dealer in a bar one evening. He regaled them with tales of the goods he had collected during his travels, including a sarcophagus containing the intact mummy of a princess of the Thirteenth Dynasty. Offering to show it to the young men, he suggested they visit his warehouse the next day.
Eager to see such a prize, the men met him as promised, and were instantly taken with the gorgeous sarcophagus. The lid was inlaid with precious stones and had been painted with a portrait of the princess as she’d looked during life, a beautiful woman who held the men mesmerized. After examining the mummy, the four men pooled their resources and asked the antiquities dealer to sell them the sarcophaguses. After some haggling, they agreed on a price.
“Before we conclude the deal, I must warn you the mummy is said to be cursed,” the antiquities dealer told them.
Scoffing, the men dismissed the warning, saying they didn’t believe in superstition. They thanked the dealer, paid him his money, and had the sarcophaguses shipped to their hotel. Later that evening, three of the men met in the bar for dinner, but the fourth never arrived. One said he’d observed their friend walking toward the desert and assumed he had just gone for an evening stroll. But the man never returned and was never seen again, despite several searches by the local police.
From that point forward, troubles quickly followed. Another member of the party had to have his arm amputated when a servant accidentally fired a hunting rifle while packing the weapon for the trip home. During the voyage, another received devastating news that bad investments had destroyed his family’s fortune, and the final succumbed to an illness no doctor could diagnose or cure.
Though they had laughed at the curse initially, the two survivors immediately put the sarcophagus up for sale. In London they found a buyer who had a passion for Egyptian antiques. A businessman, the new owner had the sarcophagus moved to his home where he hoped to showcase it among his collection. Shortly thereafter, the man’s wife and two of his children were severely injured in a carriage accident. To compound his misery, a fire swept through his house, destroying all of his belongings and every item in his antiquity collection…with the exception of the sarcophagus.
Anxious to be rid of the thing, he donated it to the British Museum anonymously. It wasn’t long before accidents started occurring: a man slipped and broke his leg, workers reported hearing hammering and sobbing coming from within the sarcophagus, a char woman who scoffed at the curse, lost her only child to a deadly case of measles. Another worker dropped dead of no apparent cause, and a foreman who had supervised the move was found dead at his desk.
Learning of the curse, a photographer snapped images of the sarcophagus. When he developed the film, he found the beautiful face of the princess on the lid superimposed with a ghastly image of decaying flesh. That night, he locked himself in his room and shot himself in the head.
For twelve years the sarcophagus was bandied about, passing from owner to owner. Most scoffed at it’s curse initially, but like the young Englishmen who’d brought it back from Europe, quickly realized it left a trail of tragedy and violent death in its wake. Eventually, it was purchased by an American collector who transferred the sarcophagus to a passenger liner in early April 1912. Eager to be back in the States with his prize, he booked himself a luxury stateroom on the same vessel which was making its maiden voyage. Unknown to the collector, he and the princess would ensure the ship lived forever in the annals of history.
The sarcophagus had been stored in the hull of the Titanic.
If you liked this tale, check out Alligators in the Sewer and 222 Other Urban Legends by Thomas J. Craughwell