The story of the Middlebury mummy

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 8:15 AM EDT
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont holds a lot of quirky history hidden away in its corners but the Middlebury Egyptian mummy myth stands out as perhaps one of the strangest.

A short walk into West Cemetery in Middlebury and visitors come across a headstone. “This has been a great story for Vermont for generations,” said Tom Giffin, president of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association.

The remains of an Egyptian prince are supposedly buried there. But unlike the great pyramids, the grave goes relatively unnoticed. “Well, being close to Middlebury College, I would think that having a really large, ornate stone saying ‘This is the remains of an Egyptian prince’ -- it might pull some unwanted attention,” said Giffin.

“I think he wanted it in keeping with the look of the whole cemetery,” said Mary Manley, the associate director of the Henry Sheldon Museum.

She says the mummy supposedly came to Middlebury from a New York City antique dealer in 1886, thanks to collector Henry Sheldon. The collector of all things Addison County also loved world oddities.

Manley has told the story many times. “He was fascinated with Egyptology. In fact, the room we are standing in actually has wallpaper with an Egyptian motif,” said Manley.

The mummy was not in great shape when it came to Vermont and by 1945, then president of the museum board, George Mead, made a decision. “Decided it wasn’t very respectful to let it disintegrate, so he had it cremated and buried in West Cemetery,” said Manley.

She says while many museums are repatriating artifacts taken in the past, that can’t be done here. “It has not happened with our mummy because it has been cremated and buried, which would likely not happen today. But George Mead in 1945 thought it was the best thing to do. Because we do not have a complete mummy right now, that is sort of a moot point. However, it is a moral and ethical discussion museums have and collections have and have been having for years now,” said Manley.

It still remains in Mead’s family plot. Now it’s marked by a non-descript stone, that notably bears the Christian cross, as well as Egyptian symbols for terms like life. “It’s definitely a spot to visit,” said Manley.

While Sheldon thought he had an Egyptian mummy, that information is hard to verify. Manley and Giffin say they have never come across someone able to trace it back to Egypt, but it will always be a story in the hills of Middlebury, Vermont. “At the museum, we do get visitors that come in and go, where’s the mummy,” said Manley.

“The legend goes on, and people love to hear the story, and it’s always fun,” added Giffin.

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