Friday, 17 July 2015

Mummified Treasure

When they used to show those hammy old Vincent Price movies on TV, one which always caused a shiver when I was a young teen was his 1953 classic House of Wax.  In it a disfigured sculptor (Price) repopulates his destroyed wax museum, by murdering people and using their wax-coated corpses as displays. This was of course following in a line of such movies, starting in 1924 with Waxworks and continuing on as recently as Wax in 2014.

The main point was usually either the murder and embalmation, or even the embalming of living people inside the wax, to be kept for eternity as mannequins on display in Waxworks and Museums ..... of course one likes to hope that this is just a writers fancy, although there are enough sickie's out there these days to never be sure.

Mr Price Liked A Wax Embalming ....

So image my surprise when something very like it turned up. Not from some suburban wasteland in Detroit or elsewhere, but from an exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Budapest. It was a Buddhist statue of a sitting Buddha which when it was being examined by restorers in the 1990's, was found to contain sealed inside, the mortal remains of a Buddhist monk.

Now CAT scans have recently revealed an image of the 1,000-year-old mummified Buddhist monk, in what is believed to be the only such example in the world.

The Mummy Inside The Mask ...

The Monk is thought to have starved himself to death, as a display of extreme spiritual devotion in China or Tibet in the 10th century. The practise self-mummification was fairly common at that time, and the saints fellow monks would have dried his sitting corpse in front of fires, which helped mummify the body, and which was then exhibited in the monastery. Until after a few hundred years, his body possibly started to decompose, and the monks decided to encase this mans entire body into a lacquered statue of Buddha, where it was forgotten over the centuries.

Hundreds of years later the statue was on the open art market, where it was bought several decades ago  by a Dutch private collector, and even then it was only found to contain a mummy 25 years ago. So just like those mannequins in all those movies, he will be displayed forever in museums around Europe.


  1. I don't think I ever saw The House of Wax but I do remember an episode of Tales of the Unexpected where a landlady would poison her guests and make them into life size dolls on display. This only became apparent to the most recent victim when he found himself unable to move following his tea and biscuits and as his host explained her scheme while making preparations for his taxidermy.

    1. Its been a popular theme for horror stories for centuries .... even though this genre only developed after the advent of waxworks.

      In England waxwork exhibitions were run as early as 1711, when a Mrs Mary in Fleet Street in London was doing excellent business with the 'Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England', a museum or exhibition of 140 life-size figures, some apparently with clockwork moving parts.

      Many early horror stories were of people trapped in coffins, or walled up alive. e.g "The Premature Burial" by Edgar Allen Poe which was published in 1844.

    2. The Vincent Price film 'House of Wax' was based on a Charles Belden’s story The Wax Works written in 1933.

      However there was a quite well known precedent for the waxed corpse that anyone in the West would have come across and that was the case of the outlaw Elmer McCurdy who was shot and killed in a 1911 shoot-out. Afterwards, his undertaker went ahead and embalmed him, dressed him up, and started to charge locals $.05 to take a look at the bandit or get photographs with the corpse .... a practise that had long been common in the wild west, where often it was the only way the undertaker would get the costs of the burial back. After all outlaws were robbing to get some money, so if they failed and were killed, they were likely to have no money (or their pockets emptied by the posse).

      Anyway, eventually, two men claimed McCurdy as their brother in 1915 (he had been outside doing photo duty for 4 years according to this version of the story, but the men were actually two carnival promoters, who wanted the corpse for display themselves. The body then 'toured' with his “brothers” for a few years, but eventually after being in a number other side shows it, ended up in a Los Angeles wax museum. Such was its mummified state by now, that the operators believed it was just another wax creation.

      It wasn’t until the 'Six Million Dollar Man' (with Steve Austin), filmed at the wax museum, and a worker accidentally broke off McCurdy’s arm, that people realized it wasn’t just a creepy prop. Finally, in 1977, the very late Mr McCurdy was given a proper 'Christian' burial.

      Finally there was a little twist, in a macabre display of judicial humour that Price would have appreciated, the medical examiner (coroner) ordered that to ensure McCurdy would stay good and buried, that two yards of cement were to be laid over he body.

    3. The TV show was at The Pike, an amusement zone, and McCurdy was found hanging from a gallows ; although he was covered in wax (and phosphorus paint), it wasn't a wax works exhibition. I seem to remember from a report on the ONE Show that it was a Ghost Train ride, hence the phosphorus paint.

    4. Having never heard of Elmer McCurdy until 10 minutes ago, I only really have the Wiki entry (the other sites just possibly being retelling of the story by different authors), to go off. It seems his body did end up at 'The Pike' amusement zone in Long Beach California, but was discovered by the production crew of the television show 'The Six Million Dollar Man', who were filming scenes for the "Carnival of Spies" episode on December 8th, 1976. McCurdy's corpse was hanging in the "Laff In the Dark" fun house exhibition when its real nature was uncovered.

      Thanks for the comments to both Gothic Fan, and of course the inestimable Vroomfondel.


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