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KUOW News

Mummies

Harriet Baskas
12/29/2007

Researchers are using the world's largest CT scanner to study a dinosaur mummy. The fossilized creature was found in South Dakota in 1999. But you don't have to go far to see human mummies. Seattle has its own odd collection. KUOW's Harriet Baskas reports.

TRANSCRIPT

AT SEATTLE'S YE OLDE CURIOSITY SHOP ALONG THE WATERFRONT, THE MUMMIES ARE WAY IN THE BACK. PAST THE TRINKETS, THE SHRUNKEN HEADS AND THE COIN SLOT THAT GIVES LIFE TO A MECHANICAL DOLL NAMED JOLLY JACK THE SAILOR.

JAMES: "There was a lady in here a couple of years ago, I remember. She said she was an airline stewardess and every time she came to Seattle she had to come in because it made her day."

THAT'S ANDY JAMES. HIS GREAT GRANDFATHER, JOE "DADDY" STANDLEY, OPENED THE CURIOSITY SHOP IN 1899. BACK THEN, THE STAR ATTRACTION WAS AN ODD MERMAID–CREATURE THAT'S STILL HANGING FROM THE RAFTERS.

JAMES: "And it's got these wonderful grotesque teeth and it looks like its swimming and it has a tail."

IT'S ACTUALLY A TAXIDERMIED CREATION: PART MONKEY, PART SEAL, PART FISH. BUT THESE DAYS TOURISTS LIKE AUTUMN EVERLAND PASS RIGHT BY THE MERMAID AND HEAD FOR THE MUMMIES: SYLVESTER, SYLVIA AND GLORIA.

JAMES: "It's just really weird I guess, I've never really seen a dead body, let alone a mummified one; it's weird. It's cool."

AND SORT OF MYSTERIOUS. SHOP OWNER ANDY JAMES SAYS NO ONE KNOWS WHO SYLVESTER REALLY WAS, HOW HE DIED, OR WHY THE ARSENIC–PRESERVED MUMMY IS IN SUCH GREAT SHAPE.

JAMES: "He's kind of bald, but he's got a mustache and eyelashes. His eyes are open and you can see his teeth. He's just been sitting in this case since we got him and he'll probably look the same 100 years from now."

SYLVESTER HAS BEEN IN TOWN SINCE THE MID–1950s. BUT AN EGYPTIAN MUMMY KNOWN AS NELLIE HAS BEEN IN SEATTLE SINCE 1902. SHE WAS A GIFT TO THE UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON'S BURKE MUSEUM FROM MANSON BACKUS. HE WAS THE GREAT–GRANDFATHER OF SEATTLE RESIDENT SUSIE STOLLER.

STOLLER: "The story I was told is that he was on an around the world trip and was in Cairo and went into the museum. He was on the Board of Regents here at the university and was in the museum store and said, 'Every good state museum needs a personal mummy'."

SO STOLLER'S GREAT GRANDFATHER SHIPPED HOME A 2,000 YEAR OLD MUMMY AND AN ORNATE COFFIN. BOTH WERE DISPLAYED AT THE BURKE ON AND OFF WELL INTO THE 1990s.

STOLLER: "My parents would bring all of us kids and we'd see Nellie when she was on display, which was not often. It always was kind of creepy, but yet fascinating."

OVER TIME, NELLIE'S CONDITION DETERIORATED AND THERE WERE ETHICAL CONCERNS ABOUT DISPLAYING HUMAN REMAINS. SO AFTER SOME RESTORATION, THE MUMMY WENT INTO A CLIMATE–CONTROLLED CASE OUT OF PUBLIC VIEW. BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S BEEN FORGOTTEN.

WONG: "Where's the mummy wrapped up in the bandages?"

PHILLIPS: "Would you like to see that?"

WONG: "Yes."

FIVE–YEAR OLD PETER WONG IS REALLY INTO DINOSAURS, PIRATES AND MUMMIES. HE VISITED THE BURKE MUSEUM WITH HIS PARENTS. AND ARCHEOLOGY COLLECTIONS MANAGER LAURA PHILLIPS TOOK HIM BEHIND THE SCENES TO MEET NELLIE.

PHILLIPS: "So we're going to open up the drawer, it has a key

WONG: "...ohhh! Yah!"

PHILLIPS: "The drawer comes out and you see the mummy rests in the drawer."

WONG: "It is real? "

PHILLIPS: "It's a real mummy."

WONG: "What about her legs?"

PHILLIPS: "Her legs are in there."

WONG: "How old is the wrappings?"

PHILLIPS: "2,000 years."

WONG: "Same as the mummy?"

PHILLIPS: "Yes. So I'm going to close her up..."

LIKE SYLVESTER AT THE YE OLDE CURIOSITY SHOP, THE BURKE MUSEUM'S REFURBISHED MUMMY SHOULD KEEP HER LOOKS FOR AT LEAST ANOTHER 100 YEARS. AND WHILE YOU CAN VISIT SYLVESTER AND THE OTHER MUMMIES IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE ANYTIME, NELLIE'S VISITORS AT THE MUSEUM MUST MAKE AN APPOINTMENT.

FOR KUOW NEWS, I'M HARRIET BASKAS.

© Copyright 2007, KUOW. Made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Jack Straw Productions.

11.16.18

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