Mormon History

Joe Smith's Egyptian Mummies - 1857

Daily Missouri Democrat June 12, 1857

THE MORMON PROPHET'S MUMMIES. -- Not long since, we stated that the mummies and accompanying Egyptian manuscripts at the museum were the identical mummies and manuscripts formerly found by Smith the mormon prophet. They were purchased by the proprietor of the museum from Mr. A. Combs, who bought them at Nauvoo city on the 26th of May, 1856. In a work published by "the saints" is a facsimile of the manuscripts with the information added that they were written by the great Jewish patriarch, Abraham himself. Doubt having still been expressed that they were the prophet's mummies, etc., we now append the certificate with which the sale of them to Mr. Combs was accompanied. Here it is:

                                                          NAUVOO CITY, May 26, 1856.
This to certify that we have sold to Mr. A. Combs four Egyptian Mumies with the records of them.

These mummies were obtained from the catacombs of Egypt, sixty feet below the surface of the earth, by the antiquarian society of Paris, and forwarded to New York, and purchased by the mormon prophet Joseph Smith, at the price of twenty-four hundred dollars in the year 1835. -- They were highly prized by Mr. Smith on account of the importance attached to the records, which were accidentally found enclosed in the breast of one of the mummies. From translations by Mr. Smith of the records, these mummies were found to be the family of Pharo, king of Egypt. They were kept exclusively by Mr. Smith until his death, and since by the mother of Mr. Smith -- notwithstanding we have had repeated offers to purchase, which have invariably been refused, until her death, which occurred on the 14th day of this month.

NAUVOO, HANCOCK CO., ILL. May 26th, 1856.
    (Signed)     L. C. BIDAMON.
                       EMMA BIDAMON,
                          former wife of Joseph Smith.
                       JOSEPH SMITH,
                          son of the mormon prophet Joseph Smith.


Note: For a discussion of how the Mormon mummies came to rest in the St. Louis Museum, see Walter H. Whipple's "The St. Louis Museum and the Two Egyptian Mummies and Papyri," in BYU Studies 10:1 (Autumn 1969), pp. 57-64, and Stanley B. Kimball's "New Light on Old Egyptiana: Mormon Mummies, 1848-71," in Dialogue 16:4 (Winter 1983), pp. 72-90.

 

St. Louis Christian Advocate September 10, 1857

St. Louis Museum -- Zeulodon --
Egyptian Mummies.

Mr. Editor: Did you ever visit this rare collection of the curiosities of nature and art? ... the object most attractive to me was the Egyptian mummies. These unfolded a history deeply interesting to every lover of the curious and antiquated. It is said that these mummies were obtained in the catacombs of Egypt sixty feet below the surface of the earth, for the Antiquarian Society of Paris, and forwarded to New York, and there purchased by Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, in 1835; and that he used them in practicing his deceptions upon the people, pretending to translate the writings or hieroglyphics found in the chest of one of them, stating that they belonged to the family of Pharaoh. I suppose this great impostor, among other things equally glaring, confirmed his prophetic authority by alleging this papyrus roll to contain a commission to him from Pharaoh. By this, or some other mysterious power, he evidently holds in strange captivity many deluded people who groan to be delivered from bondage. Prof. Seyffarth says this writing contains an invocation to the Deity Osirus, in which occurs the name of the person, which is Horus. Long did I gaze upon these relics of departed greatness. Three thousand years have told upon the fortunes of the world since they mingled in the busy scenes of strife and acted their part upon the world's theatre. Could they but read the mighty change! "Great Pharaoh's sceptered pride" has departed. The refinements and luxuries of Egypt in the days of her glory have faded. Its wealth and power are gone. Where stood the mightiest empire on the earth, now stretches out drear and desolate plains, filled here and there with huge piles of mouldering ruins, monuments of departed greatness. Where palaces, and temples, and cities stood in the days of Pharaoh's glory and Egypt's power, now ruin sways its sceptre, and the curious tourist and scientific antiquarian study its hyeroglyphics, ramble amid its decaying arches, and pillars, and obelisks, gaze upon its pyramids and penetrate its catacombs and exhume its mummied Pharaohs, to tell the story of departed grandeur and glory, and point to the wisdom of Moses in choosing rather affliction with God's people and the imperishable glory of an everlasting reward.     W. M. L.
St. Louis, Sept. 4, 1857.

Note 1: Oddly enough the St. Louis newspapers seem to have recorded very little information touching upon the "Mormon mummies" on display in the local museum there for many years. Prior to their transfer to Missouri, when the curiosities were yet in Illinois, the St. Louis Reveille made a slight mention of them in 1845. Advertisements and two short articles on the subject appeared in the local Daily Democrat in 1856 and 1857 (see transcripts on this web-page), but not much else was said about the mummies in the St. Louis press.

Note 2: In late 1846 or not long thereafter, William Smith, last surviving brother of Joseph Smith, assumed control of the Mormon mummies. Evidently he pawned the Mormon mummies in 1854 to cover some expenses. (For more on William's troubles at the time, see the Apr. 26, 1854 issue of the Missouri Republican) William never redeemed the missing antiquities, but it appears that he and his sister-in-law (Emma Smith Bidamon) obtained more compensation for the mummies, before they formally ended up in the hands of a certain Abel Combs. This fellow placed two of the relics in Edward Wyman's St. Louis Museum during the late summer of 1856. They evidently remained in St. Louis until 1863, when the St. Louis Museum was moved to Chicago. For the recollections of William's nephew on this subject, see his Oct. 24, 1898 letter, as published in the Jan. 11, 1899 issue of the RLDS Saints' Herald.

Note 3: The Prof. Seyffarth mentioned in the above letter was Gustavus Seyffarth, a visiting instructor at St. Louis' Lutheran Concordia College. He recognized the texts accompanying the mummies for what they were -- funeral documents commonly buried with mummies in Egypt during ancient times. The correspondent who penned the above letter probably attended one of Professor Seyffarth's 1856 lectures, held in the St. Louis Mercantile Library, in which he offered a description of the museum's Egyptian mummies and their accompanying papyrus documents. See also a report of Seyffarth's conclusions in this regard, published in the Sept. 13, 1856 issue of the St. Louis Evening Pilot.

 

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