EDITOR’S NOTE — A version of this column appeared as a blog on dailygazette.com on Oct. 6, 2009.
In the early 1970s, when I was a rookie reporter for The Knickerbocker News, I wrote a story about a mummy that was stored in inglorious surroundings in the basement of the Schenectady Museum.
Her name was “Tothmea,” the museum director of the time told me. She was reputed to be a princess and some 3,500 years old. Her embalmed remains were stored in an old coffin — no regal sarcophagus for her — and her cloth wrappings were in tatters and getting worse. Her state was “disgusting,” the museum official told me as he grappled with the lid of the coffin so I could get a look.
My story described her as a princess from ancient Egypt whose line of admirers might have been as long as the Nile. Schmaltzy, I admit.
It ran on the front page of the Knick and then was picked up by the wire services and got good play all over the country. The museum thereafter was flooded with requests to “adopt” Tothmea. Some of them were silly, gimmicky requests — like the proposal from two Indianapolis disc jockeys.
But, Tothmea became an instant celebrity and, eventually, the museum capitalized on her fame, arranging for some kind of restoration. Then she was put on public display for a fundraising event.
I moved to another job soon after writing the mummy stories, and I often wondered what became of Tothmea.
I knew she wasn’t in Schenectady anymore, but it was difficult to get people to talk about the mummy after the initial stories. Part of it had to do with how she was acquired and how she came to be in this country. It is now, and has been for many years, illegal to remove ancient artifacts from Egypt, and the Egyptian government had expressed an interest in returning Tothmea to her homeland. At one point, I heard from the family who claimed ownership of the mummy saying they no longer wished to discuss Tothmea in the press.
The story was that Tothmea had been given to an American envoy by a Turkish official in Egypt. She eventually wound up in the Sewell Museum in Round Lake and then, when the museum was in the process of closing, was acquired by a relative of the latter-day owners. His descendants inherited the mummy, and Tothmea languished in obscure storage for 50 years before she was lent to the Schenectady Museum.
For whatever reason, she wound up in the museum’s basement in a deplorable state. It was around this time that I learned about her.
Lately, I’ve been researching Tothmea again, and I’ve turned up some circumstantial evidence that suggests she might have moved from Schenectady to California and then to South America.
The Los Angeles Times ran a piece on May 31, 1988, reporting that Thothmea — note there’s an extra “h” in this version of her name — an ancient Egyptian “priestess,” had been acquired by a museum in California.
“Thothmea languished in the attic of an upstate New York home for 50 years until she was sold seven months ago and flown to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose.” The museum houses one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts in this country.
But, it seems Tothmea did not stay in San Jose.
On the website encyclopedia.com, I found this notation: “The Egyptian Museum run by the Rosicrucian Order, in the capital of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, has a permanent exhibition of a mummy of a woman from Ancient Egypt.”
Tothmea, first a princess and then a priestess, is a singer and musician in her Brazilian incarnation. “[S]he dedicated her talent to [the] goddess Isis.”
According to this account, Tothmea arrived in Curitiba in Brazil in 1995 as a gift from the Rosicrucian Museum of San Jose, Calif., which belongs to the Rosicrucian Order, “a mystical and philosophical institution that also owns the Egyptian Museum.”
It also says that Tothmea was a nickname in honor of Pharoah Thutmose, who governed Egypt in the 18th dynasty. She was discovered in an ancient cemetery in Thebes in the second half of the 18th century. In the museum in Curitiba, Tothmea is in a funeral chamber similar to those of ancient Egyptian tombs, with pictures of religious scenes on the walls made especially for her.
She is one of the main attractions of the museum, according to the website.
Irv Dean is the Gazette's city editor. Reach him by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.