Curiosities: Miscellaneous Mummies
In the 1800s and 1900s strange mummies were often part of carnival sideshows or sometimes back parlors of funeral homes. And sometimes they found their way into museums as "curiosities" for people to gawk at.
Tambo Tambo, Aborigine mummy
An Australian aborigine named Tambo Tambo was brought to America as a circus performer more than one hundred years ago.
On February 23, 1884, he died of pneumonia at the age of twenty-one while on tour with the circus. In 1993, 109 years later, his mummified body was discovered in a Cleveland, Ohio, funeral home.
Why had his body been mummified?
Why had it been secretly kept?
How much money had been made exhibiting him?
And, perhaps more to the point, why is the mummified body of a person from a different society or culture such a curiosity?
Anonymous Bushman mummy
The body of an African Bushman, stolen from his grave in Botswana shortly after the man died in the late 1800s, was finally sent home and reburied in 2000.
Reportedly, a French taxidermist stole the body from the southern African nation, stuffed it (which essentially mummified it), and later sold it to a naturalist from Barcelona, Spain who was building an African collection. Eventually, his collection became part of a larger collection housed and displayed at the Darder Museum of Natural History in Banyoles, 70 miles northeast of Barcelona, where it west on display beginning in 1916.
Critics, including some African countries, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity, believed that the display of the bushman's stuffed body was racist; in 1998, the body was removed from display, according to officials, "out of respect to the thousands of African immigrants who live in this town."
It took two more years, however, for the Spanish government, the town of Banyoles, and the country of Botswana to come to terms on the return of the body. On June 30, 2000, Pedro Bosch, Banyoles's mayor, signed the agreement, stating, "It was not very appropriate to exhibit a human being of the black race in a Western and developed city." (Source: New York Times, 7/1/2000)
Runaway teenage mummy
A teenage runaway was finally buried recently, but not before his mummified body had become a local fixture in the backroom of a local funeral parlor for the past 80 years.
The specific details of his death are not known. Because his body was found near the railroad tracks in Calvert, Texas, it was assumed that he fell or was pushed from a passing train. Before authorities were able to discover that the body was a fifteen-year-old runaway, the local funeral director embalmed him and placed him in a pine coffin. For some reason, the mortician did not seal the coffin; instead, he covered it with a wire screen.
When the boy's family was finally contacted, they were told that they owed the funeral director $108 for his services. The family was quite poor and stunned by the bill. According to a local newspaper reporter, they told the director, "Well, for $108, you can keep him."
For the next 80 years, the boy's body was kept in a back room. No one knows exactly why the boy's body did not decay (after all, embalming is said to be a temporary preservation process), but if the fluids were well-drained from the body and air circulated around the body (because of the screen cover), natural mummification could have occurred.
Every so often, the back room was the site for poker and domino games. Since the mummified boy looked as if he was smiling, many of the gamblers thought that he brought them good luck. They called the boy "Mojo," meaning good luck, and he became the small town's unofficial mascot.
Although the funeral parlor was sold a number of times over the 80 years, Mojo stayed in the back room, until the most recent owner decided to lay the body to rest. Approximately 60 people attended Mojo's funeral.
Bigfoot, sideshow mummy
Other mummies have been turned into regular sideshow attractions. For example, a carnival operator named Frank Hansen claimed to have the mummy of a Bigfoot-type creature frozen in a block of ice. Hansen had exhibited the creature in sideshows across the country, but in 1968 he seemed to want respect from the scientific community. He invited two zoologists to examine the block of ice at his farm in Minnesota.
Authors Russell Ciochon, John Olsen, and Jamie James describe what the zoologists saw:
Its body was hairy and vaguely human, about six feet in height, with long limbs and very large extremities, and it had a simian face with a sloping forehead.
Were they convinced that this was a mummy hoax? Not at all. In fact, they were so certain the creature had once been alive that they asked a curator at the Smithsonian Institution to examine it, but Hansen would not allow this. He later made a plastic model of the mummy for future exhibitions, and the mummy disappeared.
Many people doubt that it was real, but two respected zoologists have publicly stated that it certainly looked real. Were they mummy dummies, too?
Books about Mummies as Curiosities
One of the best books that rounds up a unique collection of strange mummies (including those in sideshows) is Modern Mummies by Christine Quigley.
A second book that features the complete tragic account of Julia Pastrana, a so-called Ape woman (and later mummy) exhibited primarily in Europe is Jan Bondeson's A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities.
Bondeson has also written a sequal entitled The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels which features a number of unusual humans, a few of whom were mummified (though not in the ways you might think).