107 #12: Titanic was sunk by a mummy’s curse

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FALSE. There is no evidence that any mummy was ever put on board the Titanic. The mummy tale, in a slightly different form, was originally invented by Titanic passenger W.T. Stead, a well-known liberal, journalist and paranormal investigator, and his friend Douglas Murray. Stead, a lifelong campaigner for peace, was travelling to New York at the request of US President Howard Taft to speak at a peace congress at Carnegie Hall; he lost his life when the ship went down.

The pair invented a tale about a mummy recently brought back to England by a friend of theirs, claiming that it brought havoc and destruction wherever it went. The story goes that the mummy had been dug up at the end of the 19th century in Luxor and offered for sale to four Englishmen, who drew lots for its purchase. All four men suffered accidents and misfortunes, some fatal, and the mummy continued to cause death and destruction wherever it went. After visiting the British Museum and seeing the anguished expression of the priestess of Amun-Ra’s painted face on her sarcophagus lid, they came up with another story about her evil spirit being loose in the world. Stead and Murray told both these stories to the press and they were conflated. Some years later, Stead related them with much relish to his dinner companions on the Titanic on the night of April 12th, 1912, allegedly drawing out his narrative till just after midnight on the 13th. At this point it seems that the Amun-Ra story was only about the sarcophagus lid, rather than the mummy itself.

After the disaster, Frederic Seward, the only surviving dinner companion who had heard Stead’s tales, recounted the story of the dinner for a book about the stories of survivors. The tale, already reported and embroidered, became associated with the Titanic through the Stead connection and a new version was invented which claimed that the mummy had in fact been on board and had sunk the ship. In this version, the British Museum sold it to an American who didn’t believe tales of the curse and arranged to have it shipped back to America in April 1912 on White Star Line’s brand new ship Titanic. The rest, as they say, is history, although, in an added detail, the mummy was apparently rescued in a lifeboat and smuggled aboard the Carpathia (no explanation is offered as to how this might have been done). When its new owner became convinced, owing to a series of accidents, that it really was cursed, he arranged to have it transferred to Canada and shipped back to Britain on the Empress of Ireland, which duly sank in May 1914.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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