I had heard a story once about a pair of mummified women somewhere in the Alleghenies, but I thought them to be an ol’ wives’ tale. I was wrong. Back in July, on my way to a motorcycle rally in Charleston, I came upon the most macabre find--the location of the Mummies of Philippi.
Originally called the Hamrick Mummies, after the farmer who actually created them, they were the end result of years of experimenting with embalming techniques and mummification. Graham Hamrick had practiced for years on various fruits, vegetables and small animals, perfecting his technique before getting hold of two recently deceased women from the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane.
After perfecting his technique, Hamrick tried to donate his Mummies to the Smithsonian but was turned down as he refused, even beyond his own death, to reveal just how he embalmed the women. He did say though that the compounds used were readily available from any country store and that a nickel’s worth would mummify half a dozen bodies.
No one knows who these women were, but fame, although some might call it undignified, has reached them today.
But this wasn’t their first claim to fame. After the women were mummified they actually traveled the world as part of P.T. Barnum’s Tour to Europe in the 1890’s. After the tour the women were returned to Philippi, where they were put on display at various fairs and local functions. Ownership of the girls changed hands throughout the years, but today they can be viewed at the Barbour County Museum. Cost of admission... $1. Well worth it to view one of America’s greatest oddities.
The Mummies are located in a back room, sealed in two wooden coffins with Plexiglas covers to allow for viewing. In person they seem diminutive and fragile, but they have survived the years, even the great Phillipi flood of 1985 which put the entire town under water. The skin of the women has a brown and leathery look to it. Since they are protected by the glass we couldn’t tell you how they feel, but the look is akin to beef jerky. –Dr. Seymour O’Life
Barbour County Museum is at 200 North Main St, Philippi, WV.