[Note: I originally wrote about this back in 2014. I have since rewritten the post adding in the full text of the legend and updated the source material.]
One of the most enduring supernatural stories of Titanic is that a cursed Egyptian mummy aboard the ship caused its demise. The tale has been around since Titanic sank often repeated in books about the supernatural. And with the advent of the Internet, this tale gained a new audience as it bounces around in emails, social media posts, and blogs. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a lot of interest in Egypt. People were fascinated with the pyramids, its history, and mummies. Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula, wrote his own mummy horror story called Jewel of the Seven Stars that has become the basis of many mummy movies. So, it is not hard to see how the tale of a cursed mummy would be appealing to many.
Tale of the Cursed Mummy
The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 years before Christ. When she died, she was laid in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile. In the late 1890s, 4 rich young Englishmen visiting the excavations at Luxor were invited to buy an exquisitely fashioned mummy case containing the remains of Princess of Amen-Ra They drew lots. The man who won paid several thousand pounds and had the coffin taken to his hotel. A few hours later, he was seen walking out towards the desert. He never returned.
The next day, one of the remaining 3 men was shot by an Egyptian servant accidentally. His arm was so severely wounded it had to be amputated. The third man in the foursome found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The fourth guy suffered a severe illness, lost his job and was reduced to selling matches in the street. Nevertheless, the coffin reached England (causing other misfortunes along the way), where it was bought by a London businessman.
After 3 of his family members had been injured in a road accident and his house damaged by fire, the businessman donated it to the British Museum. As the coffin was being unloaded from a truck in the museum courtyard, the truck suddenly went into reverse and trapped a passerby. Then as the casket was being lifted up the stairs by 2 workmen, 1 fell and broke his leg. The other, apparently in perfect health, died unaccountably two days later.
Once the Princess was installed in the Egyptian Room, trouble really started. The Museum’s night watchmen frequently heard frantic hammering and sobbing from the coffin. Other exhibits in the room were also often hurled about at night. One watchman died on duty; making the other watchmen wanting to quit. Cleaners refused to go near the Princess too. When a visitor derisively flicked a dust cloth at the face painted on the coffin, his child died of measles soon afterwards.
Finally, the authorities had the mummy carried down to the basement figuring it could not do any harm down there. Within a week, one of the helpers was seriously ill, and the supervisor of the move was found dead on his desk. By now, the papers had heard of it. A journalist photographer took a picture of the mummy case and when he developed it, the painting on the coffin was of a horrifying, human face. The photographer was said to have gone home then, locked his bedroom door and shot himself. Soon afterwards, the museum sold the mummy to a private collector. After continual misfortune (and deaths), the owner banished it to the attic.
A well known authority on the occult, Madame Helena Blavatsky, visited the premises. Upon entry, she was sized with a shivering fit and searched the house for the source of an evil influence of incredible intensity; She finally came to the attic and found the mummy case. Can you exorcise this evil spirit? Asked the owner. There is no such thing as exorcism. Evil remains evil forever. Nothing can be done about it. I implore you to get rid of this evil as soon as possible. But no British museum would take the mummy; the fact that almost 20 people had met with misfortune, disaster or death from handling the casket, in barely 10 years, was now well known.
Eventually, a hardheaded American archaeologist (who dismissed the happenings as quirks of circumstance), paid a handsome price for the mummy and arranged for its removal to New York. In Apr 1912, the new owner escorted its treasure aboard a sparkling, new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage to New York. On the night of April 14, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Princess of Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic. The name of the ship was of course, the H.M.S. TITANIC [sic].
The problem, and there are many, is that so far no one can confirm that a Princess Amen-Ra (or someone similar) ever existed. There are many prince and princesses in Egyptian history. What appears to be a mummy is actually the inner coffin lid described as a gessoed and painted mummy board of an unidentified woman. The lid was found in Thebes and has been dated (by style and shape) as from the late 21st or 22nd dynasty (about 950-900 bc). Unfortunately, her identity is unknown and the only inscriptions are religious phrases. She likely participated in ceremonies in the temple of Amen-Ra. It is speculated though not proven she was a priestess of that temple. It was donated to the British Museum in 1889 and has been on display ever since (except during the two world wars) and even gone on traveling exhibitions.
The tale, according to David Mikkelson at Snopes.com, was concocted by two Englishmen William Stead and Douglas Murray. Stead was a well known journalist and believer in mysticism. Murray is described as an Egyptologist. They both crafted a horror story about a mummy that went to the home of a friend. According to their tale, the next day everything in the drawing room where it was located was destroyed. It was moved to different rooms but that only resulted in more damage to objects in those rooms. The mummy would cause all sorts of things to its owner that included sickness and death. After visiting the British Museum and seeing the coffin lid, they concocted another story that the look of terror depicted on the coffin lid indicated a tortured soul with an evil spirit now loose upon the world. This fanciful tale was repeated to newspaper reporters who ate the story up. Two stories then became one and this mummy would cause havoc wherever it was. Stead would die when Titanic sank in 1912 but told the tale to dinner attendees about a cursed mummy.
Survivors who heard the tale from Stead relayed this to reporters. The story Stead and Murray concocted and Stead’s presence on Titanic telling the story of a cursed mummy became merged producing the current legend. It was modified that the British Museum, so anxious to be rid of it, sold it to an American who shipped it home on Titanic. So of course the mummy caused Titanic to sink. Some more elaborate tales have the mummy making it off Titanic and would cause havoc and had to be shipped elsewhere causing more disasters. However, the cargo manifest shows no mummy or Egyptian relic being transported aboard Titanic.
We have a fascinating tale in the end but that is all that it is. It was two stories merged into one and then altered to include Titanic. And has been repeated in numerous times over the years and found a new home on the Internet. It is a great tale, and if you left off Titanic, would make a great horror story.
- Everything But the Egyptian Sinks (10 October 1999 ,Snopes.com)
- The ‘Unlucky Mummy’ Said To Have Sunk The Titanic (23 Nov 2014, Epoch Times)
- Unlucky Mummy (Wikipedia)
- Did a Mummy’s Curse Sink the Titanic? (6 Mar 2017, liveabout.com)
- The Myth of the Titanic Mummy (The Museum of Unnatural History)
- The Craziest Titanic Conspiracy Theories, Explained (25 feb 2019, History.com)