At last have made wonderful discovery in the Valley. A magnificent tomb with seals intact. Recovered same for your arrival. Congratulations.
—Egyptologist Howard Carter’s triumphant cable to Lord Carnarvon on November 6, 1922
In February 1923, when Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon first opened King Tut’s tomb, Carter chiseled a hole in the sealed entrance and peered in. Carnarvon asked, “Can you see anything?” And Carter famously replied, “Yes, wonderful things!” Their discovery followed more than 15 years of searching for the fabled Tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.
Six weeks later Lord Carnarvon died at the Continental-Savoy Hotel in Cairo. The official cause of death was pneumonia and blood poisoning, after he shaved a mosquito bite on his face that was infected with erysipelas. Reports and rumors spread quickly concerning the Earl’s death. Supposedly the lights went out in Cairo when he died, while back at Highclere the Earl’s three-legged terrier named Susie howled in misery and then fell dead at the precise moment of her master’s death.
There were reports of séances held at the Castle and premonitions of the Earl’s demise by fortune-tellers and spiritualist mediums. Newspapers reported that mysterious forces unleashed from the mummy and its trappings had caused his death. King Tut’s Curse — also referred to as The Curse of the Mummy — was a story launched by the tabloid press in the 1920s and remains familiar 90 years later.
It was Lord Carnarvon’s fortune that financed the trips he and Howard Carter made to Egypt, year after year, searching for the young King’s tomb. The treasure they discovered is now considered one of the most extraordinary Egyptian collections in the world. Following his death in 1923, his widow sold the collection to the Metropolitan Museum in New York in order to pay death duties.
Howard Carter catalogued the collection and noted in his records that he had left a few unimportant items at Highclere. Perhaps by comparison to the artifacts sent to New York, the remainder seemed less significant. These items were all tucked away in cupboards at Highclere Castle, until re-discovered by the family in 1987.
During an extensive inventory of the contents of the manor house when the 6th Earl was gravely ill, the present Lord Carnarvon called in his father’s retired butler to help with the task. Upon wrapping up the inventory, the Lord said to the butler, “Well, that appears to be everything.” The butler replied, “Yes, my lord, except for the Egyptian stuff.” According to the family’s story, the butler opened two large concealed cupboards between the drawing room and the smoking room, and there was the rest of the collection.
The topic of King Tut’s Curse was recently resurrected when Shirley MacLaine toured the Egyptian exhibit at Highclere while on the premises filming her scenes for Downton Abbey, Season 3. Rather famous for her interests in the occult and psychic powers, MacLaine allegedly experienced menacing presences swirling around the artifacts plucked from the graves of the Egyptian king.