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Padihershef

A well-travelled Egyptian mummy

 

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.

He was donated to the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.According to the hospital, the hospital received the mummy on May 4, 1823. It was

an Egyptian mummy, complete with painted wooden inner and outer coffins.  The ensemble had been given to the city by Jacob Van Lennep, a Dutch merchant living in the Greek city of Smyrna in the early 19th century.  It is thought that Mr. Van Lennep, who was also the Counsel General of the Netherlands, bought the mummy as a gift to Boston as a way to impress his native New England in-laws.

The mummy arrived in Boston on April 26, 1823, on the British ship the Sally Ann. He was placed under the care of the ship’s captain, Robert B. Edes, along with Bryant P. Tilden, Esq., who ultimately made the decision to give the mummy to MGH.  The fledgling hospital, which had opened its doors just two years earlier, was still in need of operating funds that would help it better serve the sick and indigent individuals for whom it had been chartered to provide care.  The mummy would help raise those needed funds.

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."

But no one knew who the mummy was...for more than a century.

Again, according to the hospital, the hospital discovered, in a 1960 examination of the mummy and the hieroglyphics on its coffin that the mummy had a name:

Hailing from the 26th Dynasty (663-525 BC) or later, the mummy now had a name – Padihershef and a birthplace – Thebes; and an occupation -- stonecutter. Newer medical information tells us that Padi was probably between 20 and 30 years of age and was not a stonecutter at all. Rather, he was "tomb finder," or prospector, someone who looked for spaces in the Theban necropolis that could serve as burial spaces.

You can read more about Padi and other mummies brought to America in the nineteenth century in S. J. Wolfe's excellent book, Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptian as Artifacts.

According to the Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette, "The idea for the book was inspired in part by references to “mummy paper” that Ms. Wolfe found as she worked on a bibliography for the Antiquarian Society on the American paper industry. Several prominent historians published tomes debunking the idea of mummy paper, stating that despite a wealth of newspaper clippings making reference to making paper from 'Egyptian rags' or even 'mummy paper,' there was no definitive proof. There were no shipping bills, receipts, or descriptions of the manufacturing process that nailed the source of the 'Egyptian rags' down for sure.

"The idea of using mummy wrappings to make paper might sound ridiculous to modern ears, but before paper manufacturers began using wood pulp to make paper in the late 1850s, paper was manufactured exclusively from rags. (Fine paper today — like dollar bills and fine writing paper — is still made from cotton and linen rags, Ms. Wolfe said.)

"Several American paper manufacturers in Maine and Connecticut were believed to have imported “Egyptian rags” to make paper. But the evidence was anecdotal and largely confined to newspaper clippings, which many historians dismissed as unreliable.

"Rags from Egypt were plentiful in the 1800s, as it was not just pharaohs who were mummified. Thousands upon thousands of ancient Egyptians were mummified upon their deaths. And modern Egyptians in the 1800s, even as late as 1880, had a thriving tomb-raiding business that involved unwrapping the mummies to find any valuables, then selling the rags and even grinding up the bodies for fertilizer.