Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mystery of the Titanic Ushabti: Molly Brown's Egyptian Good Luck Charm

Above: This mummified "shabti" or  "ushabti" figurine was just part of a cargo of Egyptian antiquities being shipped to the United States by Margaret T. "Molly" Brown after a visit to Cairo, Egypt, with Col. John Jacob Astor and his wife, Madeleine.

According to Egyptologist Paul Boughton's article "Servant of the Deep: The Mystery of the Titanic Shabti,"  when Margaret Brown boarded the 46,328 ton Titanic on the evening of 10 April 1912 in Cherbourg, France, she brought with her "one crate of Egyptian souvenirs and three crates of ancient Egyptian figurines, the latter ultimately destined for the Denver Museum in the U.S.A."

Here, apparently, is the original source of the legend that Titanic was sunk by the curse of an ancient Egyptian mummy.  It's interesting to note that Denver Nature and Science museum actually does have a mummy on display, with a rather cryptic note that the mummy was donated by a wealthy collector from the Pueblo area.

The author of this blog contacted one of the docents at the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver and confirmed that Margaret Brown brought Egyptian antiquities on board Titanic.  In fact the Museum still has the original list of items that Margaret Brown insured before she boarded. The insurance form is on public display at the museum, and it clearly lists Egyptian artifacts.

The museum's gift shop is even selling miniature replicas of the faience (turquoise) Ushabti figure as souvenir "good luck charms." It's well known to local historians that Margaret Brown gave the Egyptian figurine to Arthur H. Rostron, captain of the rescue ship S.S. Carpathia on 29 May 1912, the same day that she presented to him the silver loving cup pictured in the photo below.

The shabti figurine was a good luck charm that Margaret carried from the Titanic in her coat pocket, the night the ship sank.She gave the figurine to Capt. Rostron as a personal gesture, to wish him luck on all future sea voyages.

Photos that appeared in contemporary tabloids are probably the source of the mummy myth. 

"The ushabti remained in the possession of Captain Rostron until his death in 1940," says Boughton. "What happened to it next is unclear. I have been unable to trace a copy of Rostron’s autobiography, which may provide more details about the figure."

The ushabti next appeared in the possession of the American Titanic artefact collector Stanley Lehrer, the founder of the USA Today newspaper. Boughton then successfully traced the figurine to a 1998 exhibition called Titanic: Fortune and Fate, which was mounted at The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia, USA.

"A small picture of the ushabti appears in the catalogue. It is described as 'An Ancient Egyptian Figurine, Shawabti or Ushabti, ca. 700 BC'. The material is stated to be faience with a turquoise glaze and the figure appears 'courtesy of the Stanley Lehrer Collection.'. Following the exhibition, the figure appears to have disappeared back to wherever Mr. Lehrer keeps his Titanic collection."

After some calling around, Mr. Boughton successfully located the original figurine.  It is now part of the 2012 exhibit at the Titanic-Branson Museum in Branson, Missouri, USA.


Boughton, Paul.  "Servant of the Deep:  The Mystery of the Titanic Shabti" Egyptology News

Hardman, Robert "Hi Mummy I'm Home!" Mail Online

Snopes: "Everything But the Egyptian Sink"

Wikipedia: "Titanic Alternative Theories: Mummy"

Wikipedia "Ushabti"