PHILIPPI, W.Va. – For the low admission price of one dollar, visitors at the Barbour County Historical Museum can take a peek at the mysterious Philippi mummies. These two cadavers aren’t your standard Egyptian mummies. The bodies were mummified a little over 130 years ago by a farmer in Philippi named Graham Hamrick.
“He had an interesting hobby whereas he took these mummies and he researched the Bible and tried to find out ways that the Egyptians mummified the bodies, and he succeeded after many, many, many attempts,” said Jason Burns, a West Virginia folklore storyteller.
The farmer started experimenting by mummifying small animals and individual body parts. The museum also has one of the mice Hamrick preserved. Once he felt like he had his formula down, Hamrick allegedly purchased two recently deceased female bodies and a deceased baby from the local asylum to mummify in 1888.
According to the museum, the mummies are unique because the Egyptians would remove the body’s organs before undergoing the mummification process, but Hamrick left the organs in. The rest of Hamrick’s process is unknown. Legend has it that the Smithsonian wanted to showcase the mummies in their museum in exchange for Hamrick’s embalming formula, but Hamrick took his process to his grave.
“There are sayings out there that he did other things and modified and did this and this formula he had could preserve stuff for two, three, four, five years, but we don’t know that,” explained Ed Larry, Barbour County Historical Museum employee.
Despite turning down the Smithsonian, the mummies managed to achieve a bit of fame in the oddity world. The mummies are known to have toured the world with P.T. Barnum’s circus for a few years.
“They came back to Philippi after that world tour and were kept under a bed of someone who lived in Philippi. One of the local residents kept him under his bed for a while,” said Burns.
The mummies ended up under the ownership of the Byer family in Philippi who arranged for the museum to display the mummies under the condition that the money from admission to see the mummies would go towards a scholarship at the local high school and local library books.
“We get a lot of tourism, I mean, oodles of tourism that’ll come in just to see those mummies and that covered bridge,” said Larry, “I’ve had a lady from Australia that took her grandson just to come here and see those mummies they read about, and two young men from England came here two years ago and one from China.”
The mummies were almost ruined by a flood in 1985, but the two female mummies were able to be dried out and restored by a local mortician. The baby, however, took too much damage and was allegedly buried in a local cemetery.
Today, while the mummies and the mystery behind them are interesting and they’re a unique piece of West Virginian history, museum employees said they have experienced no paranormal activity relating to the mummies.
“My famous statement to the people as I give them the tour and talk about it is, they’re ugly, but they’re ours,” stated Larry, “We’ve had people go in there and actually turn their nose up and walk out and scream, and I’m thinking, they’re dead; they’re not going to bother anybody.”