Dear Readers: On Oct. 30th (7 pm PST/9 pm CT/10 pm EST) on CANTO TALK, I will be thrilled to talk to S.J. Wolfe, the author of “Mummies in 19th Century America: Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts”.
Wolfe’s book details the story of specific Egyptian mummies in pre-1900 America–how they got here, what happened to them, and how they were viewed by the public and scientists who studied them. Wolfe collected newspaper accounts and other documents, and with them reveals the evolution of American “Egyptomania“.
One mummy whose tale she chronicles is Padihershef:
The mummy known as Padihershef, originally a stone-cutter from Thebes (some 2500 years ago) has been a longtime resident at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital.
Padi (as he is affectionately known) is a particularly special mummy for he is one of the first Egyptian mummies brought to the United States. More important, he is (according to Wolfe and Singerman) the first complete Egyptian mummy to be exhibited in America. Soon after his arrival on April 26, 1823, he was unwrapped and thoroughly examined at Massachusetts General Hospital. By May 21, he was on exhibit, first in Boston to thousands of people (adults were charged 25 cents, children paid about 12 cents). By October, Padi was on tour, displayed in New York, Charleston (SC), Philadelphia, and Baltimore. According to a Mass General spokesperson, Padi’s tour earned the hospital the equivalent of $1 million in today’s money.
Padi was eventually returned to Mass General and displayed in the operating theater, where (in 1846) he “observed” the first public use of anesthesia and became the mummy of the “Ether Dome.”
According to Wolfe, the exhibitors would often be billed with exotic stories, such as “the Princess who saved Moses” to enhance traffic for mummy viewings. In the chapter on “Unholy Unrollers”, she recounts what happened at one of the “Mummy Unwrapping Parties” popular in the mid-1800’s. It wasn’t so much a party, but a high-priced academic lecture. Women were not permitted and no gentleman (who paid a pretty penny for the spot) could not leave his seat on any account. CLICK HERE FOR A HISTORY CHANNEL VIDEO DETAILING MUMMY UNWRAPPING PARTIES.
Wolfe describes one wrapping party which featured a priestess. The audience was a bit shocked to discover that, after unwrapping certain choice bits, the body was actually that of a man. The scientist, a Mr. Gliddon, quickly improvised that the bodies must have been switched at the embalmers.
Wolfe also recounts a bit of the story of Samuel George Morton and Craniology, the study of the human cranium that claimed to be able to determine an individual’s intelligence and even character. Egyptian mummies served as an abundant source for the object of study — skulls. It seems Morton had the largest assemblage of skulls in the United States, which he used to push his theories on race and the origin of man.
Morton claimed that he could define the intellectual ability of a race by the skull capacity. A large volume meant a large brain and high intellectual capacity, and a small skull indicated a small brain and decreased intellectual capacity. He was reputed to hold the largest collection of skulls, on which he based his research. He claimed that each race had a separate origin, and that a descending order of intelligence could be discerned that placed White people at the pinnacle and Negroes at the lowest point, with various other race groups in between. Morton had many skulls from ancient Egypt, and concluded that the ancient Egyptians were not African, but were White. His results were published in three volumes between 1839 and 1849: the Crania Americana, An Inquiry into the Distinctive Characteristics of the Aboriginal Race of America and Crania Aegyptiaca.’
In twe chapter on “No Stiff Has Ever Gone without a Death Certificate”, Wolfe details the adventures of Pesed, who now resides at the Westminster College.
- Pesed, a 2,300-year-old mummy, has called Westminster home since 1885. She was donated to the College by The Rev. John Giffen, an 1871 Westminster graduate who was working as a missionary in Egypt.
- She is believed to be the mummy of Lady Pesed, daughter of Nes-hor (prophet of the eight gods associated with Min). The mummy was excavated from the city of Akhmim, about 235 miles south of Cairo.
- Originally thought to have been a teenager at the time of her death, scientific evidence indicates Pesed lived to an age of 55-70.
- The mummy was purchased for $8 and shipped to the U.S. for $5 in 1885.
- The mummy’s first trip off campus was to Greenville in Feb. 1886. She spent two weeks as part of the Citizen’s Hose Company Exposition.
- Legend has it that Pesed enjoyed an active social life during her early days at Westminster and would appear in coed’s beds during the early 1900s. The under side of the mummy case lid has graffiti in the form of student names scratched into the wood. The earliest dated 1899.
- As recently as 1980, some local high school students were involved in an abortive attempt to steal the mummy.
- The mummy has had four different residences on campus: Old Main Memorial, Mary Thompson Science Hall, McGill Library, and the Hoyt Science Resources Center (Mack Science Library).
- The mummy was professionally restored by Joan Gardner of the Carnegie Museum thanks to the energy and fundraising effort of Susan Grandy Graff, a 1985 Westminster graduate who tackled the project during her undergraduate years.
- Pesed, and over 100 other ancient Egytian artifacts from the Westminster College Cultural Artifacts Collection, were part of the 2001 “Egypt: Untold Journeys” exhibit at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg.
- Dr. Jonathan Elias, Egyptologist, and the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium have helped solve many of Pesed’s mysteries through radio-carbon dating, x-rays, CT scans, and forensic reconstructive modeling.
It should be a great show! There are so many fascinating stories that Wolfe can share about these ancient people!