An unobtrusive headstone in
Middlebury Cemetery in Addison County, Vermount marks the spot of an unusual
burial. It is of someone who is far from home and older than the other residents by
thousands of years. Inscribed with a Christian cross, an Egyptian
ankh and a simplistic drawing of a bird, the marker states:
'Ashes of Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef Aged Two Years Son of Sen Woset
3rd King of Egypt and his wife Hathor-Hotpe 1883 BC'
So how did the remains of a prince of ancient Egypt
come to be in Vermont? It is all thanks to a local collector named Henry Sheldon.
Henry Luther Sheldon (1821-1907), born into a third generation
farming family, grew up on the family farm in Salisbury, Vermont. Sheldon developed a love of collecting early on in life
when he was introduced to autograph collecting by his brother.
He wrote regularly to politicians and authors so that when they replied he could add their signatures to his collection. After leaving the farm in 1841, Sheldon held
down a series of jobs, undertook a variety of business ventures and invested in
real estate. In his late fifties, being comfortably well off, he
rediscovered his earlier love of collecting, acquiring an extensive
coin collection which he displayed at his home in Park Street.
Over time his collecting became more eclectic and diverse and his diaries tell of him acquiring items far
quicker than he could organise them. In the late 1880s, Sheldon
arranged to purchase an Egyptian mummy to add to his collection. He arranged for it to be sent to his home but was disappointed when it arrived for it was in bad condition and wasn't worth displaying. Sheldon put it out of sight in his
attic where it remained for decades.
After Sheldon's death in 1907, the museum gathered dust,
tended only by a caretaker. It wasn't until the 1930s that it was resurrected by W. Storrs
Lee of Middlebury College and art historian
Arthur K.D. Healy. With the help of local support, the museum's vast
collection came back to life. In 1945, George Mead, the Museum's Director,
found the child mummy in storage at the museum and took the decision to have it cremated. The ashes were then given a Christian burial, hence the Christian cross on the headstone.
The mummy's Egyptian heritage was also acknowledged by the engraving
of the Egyptian ankh - the symbol of everlasting life - and the bird which
represented the 'ba' hieroglyph or soul of the deceased. The ashes were
placed in Mead's own family plot in Middlebury Cemetery opposite the Middlebury College Museum of Art.
Local legend claimed the infant as
being Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef, son of the 12th Dynasty Egyptian king Sen
Wroset III (also known as Senwosret III or Sesostris III).
This identity however has never been properly attributed and
is unlikely to ever be so. Today, however, the story of the 'Egyptian
Prince in storage' lives on in Vermont folklore and the grave remains
a popular attraction.
Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History