Did a Mummy's Curse Sink the Titanic?

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The Titanic
The Titanic. Central Press/Getty Images

Viral tale claims that the Titanic sank because it was carrying a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy case containing the cursed remains of the Princess of Amen-Ra.

Description: Forwarded email / Urban legend
Circulating since: 1998 (this version)
Status: False (see details below)

Email text contributed by Corey W., Dec. 2, 1998:

Here's a little historical tidbit for all of you. A&E did this story.
Believe it or not...
The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 yrs 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 3rd man in the foursome found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The 4th 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 passer-by. 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. 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 causing the other watchmen wanting to quit. Cleaners refused to go near the Princess too.
When a visitor derisively flicked a dustcloth 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 seized 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 yrs, was now well known.
Eventually, a hard-headed 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 April 1912, the new owner escorted his 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 "Titanic."

Analysis: I am obliged to report that despite one hundred years of rumor-mongering and mythification, the RMS Titanic was sunk by an iceberg, not a mummy's curse.

We know from the ship's manifest that there were no Egyptian artifacts on board when the Titanic steamed out of its last port of call on April 11, 1912. And we know, thanks to a statement provided by the British Museum itself, that from the date of its acquisition in 1889 to that of its first overseas exhibition in 1990, the mummy case in question never left the London facility. Not once.

So, if there wasn't a mummy in the cargo hold of the Titanic when it went down, why do some people think there was? If the Titanic wasn't sunk by a mummy's curse, why do some people believe it was? The story behind the story comprises a patchwork of rumor, superstition, and shoddy journalism stretching back to the mid-1800s. We will start not at the beginning of the story, however, but toward the end, with the testimony of one Titanic survivor.

The tale of the 'unlucky mummy'

Frederic K. Seward, a New York lawyer returning from a two-month business trip in Europe, found his way onto a lifeboat when the Titanic began to sink and was among those rescued by the nearby RMS Carpathia. In an interview the following week with The Day of New London, Connecticut, Seward spoke of sharing a saloon table the night the Titanic went down with British journalist and Spiritualism enthusiast W.T. Stead, who regaled his fellow passengers with what The Day characterized as a "hoodoo story":

"Mr. Stead talked much of Spiritualism, though transference and the occult," said Seward. "He told a story of a mummy case in the British museum which, he said, had had amazing adventures, but which pubished with great calamities any person who wrote its story. He told of one person after another who, he said, had come to grief after writing the story and added that, although he knew it, he would never write it. He did not say whether ill luck attached to the mere telling of it."


Titanic Timeline
About.com: 20th Century History
Cargo of Titanic Valued at $420,000
NY Times, 21 April 2012
Malignant Mummy Banished by British Sank with the Titanic
Milwaukee Journal, 10 May 1914
Weird Misfortunes Blamed on Mummy
NY Times, 7 April 1923
Titanic Tour Finds Memories
Associated Press, 5 April 1998
The British Museum's Curse Mummy
Darkest London, 20 February 2012
The Unlucky Mummy
The British Museum, collections database

Last updated 04/19/12