The peculiar story of West Virginia’s world-traveling mummies

Believe it or not, West Virginia is home to two scientific anomalies. In the small, historic town of Philippi, visitors have the opportunity to witness something often thought to be a practice found only in ancient Egyptian times. Tucked inside the Barbour County Historical Society Museum, there lies two mummies that have an extraordinarily aberrant history.

To discover how they ended up in the Barbour County Historical Museum, you must first go back more than 130 years. In 1888, Graham Hamrick, a farmer and self-proclaimed scientist, purchased two female cadavers at what is now called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. For several years, Hamrick worked to perfect his own embalming technique on vegetables, fruits and various animals. He wanted to test his methods on the two cadavers in hopes that he could emulate the successful methods performed by the ancient Egyptians. Up to this point, the story sounds like something found in a horror movie, but miraculously, Hamrick was successful.

Hamrick’s experiments went on to have quite illustrious careers, if there is such a thing for mummies. They toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus around the world, and eventually they caught the eye of the Smithsonian Institution. When approached by the Smithsonian Institution, Hamrick had a choice to make – he could let the Institution display the mummies, but he would be forced to reveal his mummification methods to them. Hamrick decided not to reveal his secrets, and the mummies were returned to Philippi.

The mummies were seemingly forgotten for years before being discovered safe in an old barn. A local Philippi resident took ownership of them, and as legend tells it, he kept them under his bed for quite some time. In the 1990s, a flood swept through Philippi, leaving the mummies waterlogged and covered in fungus. A local man was able to clean and preserve the mummies, and they were finally transported to the Barbour County Historical Museum – where they can be found today.

The legend of the Mummies of Philippi has grown over the years, but there’s no doubt about it, they are historical anomalies. The world travelers have finally found their home, but the path they traveled to get there almost sounds too crazy to be true. If you ever find yourself near Philippi, be sure to make a stop at the Barbour County Historical Society Museum to get a peek at two of Barbour County’s most popular and well-traveled residents.

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This post was last updated on March 17, 2022