Mummies are a tricky subset of the undead. Firmly entrenched in pop culture, they’re a horror film mainstay with plenty of screen credits. But unlike vampires or ghosts, mummies exist in this world and once walked the Earth as human beings with families and communities. Maybe too PC of a concern to influence your Halloween costume, but when you’re in the museum business, there’s a delicate balance of entertainment and education to address.
“There is an ethical question that you have to ask: ‘What is the reason that we would exhibit human remains. What is the true value and purpose?’” says Marc Corwin, CEO of American Exhibitions and producer of “Mummies of the World.” “Our answer was that by studying ancient peoples and mummies, we’re able to learn about their civilizations and lives and cultures.”
On view at the Franklin Institute through Sunday, the exhibit features the largest collection of mummies and related artifacts ever assembled, with contributions from seven European cities and 21 loaning organizations. Included are both intentionally mummified bodies — some along with pets to keep them company in the afterlife — and those such as the Orlovits family, who died of tuberculosis in 18th-century Hungary and were preserved by an unusual combination of air temperature and coffin oils.
“When you look at some of these objects you realize they’re people just like you and I, and that some element, some circumstance, made then in the inbetween land forever,” says Corwin. “It’s then that you can really connect and begin to learn from them.”