The curse of King Tut (a.k.a Curse of the Pharaoh) is among the world’s most famous curses. Tut is short from Tutankhamun, the Egyptian Pharaoh, often called the “boy king,” as he ascended the throne at around the age of 10. While there are many theories about how the Pharaoh died and what caused his death at the approximate age of 19, the Egyptian king is best known for his tomb’s curse. What caused traction to the curse and the reason why people believe in it, is that many of the people associated with opening the tomb have died or suffered not long after.
Location, Location, Location
The first thing most people think of when it comes to Pharaohs and Egypt is the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza. There is a place called Valley of Kings, where the Pharaohs and other powerful nobles were buried for around 500 years.
King Tut’s tomb is no exception, although due to his early death, the boy king had to rest in a tomb meant for someone else. It was believed that all the Pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley had been found, but a man named Howard Carter didn’t agree.
After six years of searching, Howard Carter found a step underneath some old workmen’s huts. After five years of frustration and bad luck, a leading financier, George Herbert, fifth Earl of Carnarvon, was about to bail out, but Carter convinced him to pay for one more year.
So, the step led to a stairway, and it was indeed the door to King Tut’s tomb. What was even better was the fact that there were rooms filled with treasures.
Lord George Herbert
George Herbert was the one who financed the search of King Tut’s tomb and the first to fall under the supposed curse. The lord accidentally tore open a mosquito bite while shaving and died due to blood poisoning in April 1923, just five months after the great discovery.
While many regarded his death as mysterious (including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes), the truth is, the Earl had suffered from poor health before arriving to Egypt.
Sir Bruce Ingham
Sir Bruce Ingham was a close friend of Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. He was not directly involved in the search, nor was he present during the opening, but he received a paperweight from the tomb as a gift.
The paperweight consisted of a mummified hand wearing a bracelet that was inscribed with the phrase “cursed be he who moves my body.” Not long after receiving the gift, Ingham’s house burned to the ground. He tried to rebuild it after the fire, but this time, it was hit by a flood.
Another man who wasn’t directly involved in the expedition, Aubrey Herbert, suffered from the curse of the Pharaoh just because he was the George Herbert’s half-brother. Aubrey was born with a degenerative eye condition, which caused him to become blind.
A doctor suggested that there was a connection between his rotten teeth and vision, so Herbert had all of his teeth pulled out to regain his sight. Not only did it not work, but the surgery resulted in sepsis leading to Herbart’s death five months after his brother died.
George Jay Gould
A wealthy American financier, George Jay Gould, was also a railroad executive, leading the Western Pacific Railroad, Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, and the Manhattan Railway. He visited King Tut’s tomb in 1923, contracted a fever during his visit, and got worse immediately afterward.
He never fully recovered, and a few months after his visit, he died of pneumonia. Just like the Herbert brothers, he wasn’t involved in the search for the tomb, but at least he has visited it.
The British archaeologist is believed to have helped excavate the site above the tomb, and he had visited it. Shortly after, he witnessed two dozen of his fellow excavators die, which led him to take his own life in 1924.
While it may seem too random, it’s important to mention that he left a note, allegedly written in his blood. The note says, “I have succumbed to a curse which forces me to disappear.”
Dr. Aaron Ember
Aaron Ember was an American Egyptologist who was present at the tomb’s opening. He died in 1926 after his house set on fire. He had the chance to escape in time, but he missed the opportunity as he tried to save a manuscript he had been working on.
It wasn’t just him but his wife, maid, and two children that found their deaths that day. The name of the manuscript that he gave his life trying to save was “The Egyptian Book of the Dead.”
Captain Richard Bethell
Richard Bethell was the first person behind Howard Carter (the discoverer of the tomb) to enter the sacred grave. In 1929, Bethell was found smothered in a private room at an elite gentlemen’s club in London.
It was initially thought that he had died of a heart attack, but the Captain was in perfect health at the time. The circumstances around his death will always remain suspicious, and even the Nottingham Post mused the suggestion that Bethel had met his doom due to the curse.
Sir Archibald Douglas Reid
The only connection Reid had to the boy king and his curse was x-raying the mummy before it was given to museum authorities. Sir Archibald Douglas Reid was an innovative x-ray specialist and a well-respected professional in his field.
The radiologist got sick the very next day after x-raying Tut’s mummy and died three days later from a mysterious illness, proving that you don’t have to be one of the expedition backers or excavators to fall under the curse.
James Henry Breasted
James Henry Breasted was another famous Egyptologist who was working side by side with Carter and was present the day the tomb was opened. Although Breasted himself didn’t die, he came back home after the expedition to find out that his pet canary had been eaten by a cobra that was still occupying the cage.
When you consider the fact that the cobra is the symbol of the Egyptian monarchy, and the motif that kings wore on their headdresses to represent protection, the whole case can be seen as an ominous sign rather than a misfortunate group of events.
Raoul Loveday was only 23-years old when the “curse” got him. The Oxford undergraduate was a follower of Crowley’s cult at a Sicilian abbey. He died on the same day at the very hour of Howard Carter’s much-publicized opening of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber.
He died after taking part of a forbidden occult ritual, and historians argue that he was deliberately poisoned. While this is a logical explanation, some still believe the curse is linked to his drink being poisoned.
Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey
Another 23-year-old youngster, and an Egyptian prince, lost his life and was somewhat related to the boy king. The young prince was shot dead by his wife, Marie-Marguerite, in a London hotel, shortly after he was photographed visiting the tomb.
It was later established that Marie-Marguerite had a secret lover, but the motive for killing the prince is still unclear. Witnesses say the couple got in a fight, the prince left, and when he came back, three shots were fired. The exact motive still remains a mystery, could it have been the curse of King Tut?
Lord Westbury was believed to have thrown himself off his seventh-floor apartment. He was Bethell’s father, and while many believe that an older adult can’t climb out onto the window ledge in that particular establishment, we have to agree that we are dealing with two mysterious deaths of a father and son.
In other words, it was either the curse or someone had planned to kill both and get away with it. That, or a real unfortunate and less likely set of events.
Edgar Steele was in charge of handling the tomb artifacts at London’s British Museum. Only four days after Lord Westbury’s death, Mr. Steele died at St. Thomas’ Hospital after a
minor stomach operation.
The doctors said that his condition didn’t indicate anything serious; the procedure was done quickly and was believed to have a high success rate. However, as we can see, it turns out that the odds were once again against anyone connected to King Tut’s tomb.
Sir Ernest Wallis Budge
Sir Wallis Budge was a friend of Lord Carnarvon, and he was the one responsible for displaying the artifacts from Luxor. Being a former keeper in the British Museum’s Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, Budge was not just doing his job, but he was sincerely flattered by the opportunity.
Sadly enough, he was found dead in his bed at the age of 77. No further investigation was conducted, and we don’t know if there was anything strange about his death.
Howard Carter, the first person to enter the tomb, never suffered from a severe illness, his house never fell victim to disasters, nor snakes ate his pets. He died of lymphoma at the age of 64, and his tombstone reads, “May your spirit live, may you spend millions of years, you who love Thebes, sitting with your face to the north wind, your eyes beholding happiness.”
It could have been his beliefs and outlook that saved him from King Tut’s curse, or maybe his punishment was to live in fear that the curse would get him someday.
The Serial Killer Theory
A historian claims that six of the deaths were murders perpetrated by a satanist named Aleister Crowley. Mark Beynon did extensive research and found incredible parallels between Crowley and Jack the Ripper. Furthermore, Crowley was connected to six of the mysterious deaths in London.
He was the lover of Marie-Marguerite (the one who killed Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey), and he was the leader of the cult Raoul Loveday was following. It is believed that he and Budge were associated with the London occult scene.
So, even if Aleister Crowley was responsible for six of the deaths, what about the others? Well, scientists have determined that mummies can carry molds that cause allergic reactions ranging from bleeding in the lungs to congestion.
Also, ammonia gas, formaldehyde, and hydrogen have been detected in many sealed sarcophagi. In intense concentrations, combined with someone with a weak immune system, these can lead to death.
So Who Did It?
While we can only guess if the ancient Egyptians cursed the tomb, it is essential to say that after the tomb’s discovery in 1922, this was probably the biggest archeological event in decades.
So, to keep people away, it was Howard Carter himself who put out a story that a curse had been placed upon anyone violating the tomb. It wasn’t Carter who invented the idea of a cursed tomb, but he exploited it to keep intruders away from his most significant discovery.
A Series of Unfortunate Events?
Despite Carter’s effort to keep the press away, the journalists found the story of a cursed tomb too juicy and started spreading the rumors. Over the years, the story became spicier, people found connections that suited the story, but the truth is, mathematically, all the deaths involved are average.
Statistically, everything checks out as the number of people who died within the first ten years of first entering the tomb is the same as you would typically expect.
Connecting the Dots
It is really up to what we want to believe in. Once again, statistically, all the deaths that occurred during the first ten years after the tomb was first opened are not surprising and perfectly normal. It’s not uncommon for people to find their deaths after traveling to Egypt, mosquito bites, in fires trying to save their most precious items, etc. But then again, there may be a curse.
Shakespeare himself cursed anyone that would dig his body out his grave – “Blessed be the man that spares these stones, and cursed be he that moves my bones,” his tombstone says.