King Tut: The Jan Brady of pharaohs

He looked down the steps into the blackness, smelling what most would call decay.

He preferred to think of it as history.

With the sands stinging his cheeks and the wind whistling an ominous howl, he took the first step, his daughter shuffling close behind him. “Go on,” a deep voice urged, coming from the excited man on his right, clothes dusty, hair askew. “You will see. Wonderful things!”

The mummy of King Tutankhamun

So Lord Carnarvon descended into total darkness, his paltry candle light barely adequate. And there, peeking through a hole in a seal that had only been broken moments before, he saw ghosts … and ancient curses … and then, something sparkled near his flame.

It was Egypt … 1922 … in the newly discovered and uncovered Valley of the Kings, and the rich man’s archaeologist Howard Carter was letting his benefactor in on the magnificent find — the tomb of an ancient pharaoh not seen by human eyes in more than three centuries.

Suddenly, the boy king Tutankhamun became King Tut the Celebrity, and we have been fascinated by the story of the most famous pharaoh in history ever since. Now, the Saint Louis Science Center has recreated that November day with its exhibit, The Discovery of King Tut. Guests take a life-sized journey into those tombs and discover a meticulous recreation of the antechamber, the riches buried with the king, and the sarcophagus and mummified remains deep within the shrine. (As I was examining the chambers, I could not help but wonder what would be buried with me if I get to be rich and powerful … my Jefferson Airplane records? My first published article? An “afterlife”time supply of SweeTarts?)

Now don’t roll your eyes. When I say this is a remake, rest assured it is not anything like 2010’s horrendous “Clash of the Titans,” or even this year’s Golden Raspberry Award-worthy “Baywatch.” This time, the experience really is as close as you will get to the real thing. As you peruse the 5,398 items including treasure chests, ominous markings and paintings and abundance of gold, you will definitely feel as if you have been brushed with ancient royalty, worthy of somber reverence.

If you get a chance between now and Jan. 7 (the day the display closes for good), I highly recommend spending an afternoon visiting the exhibit. You get the thrill of discovery without the sand getting into your underwear or the dreaded mummy’s curses, and you will truly be in the presence of something great.

That is ironic, as the actual history of King Tutankhamun of the 18th dynasty reveals a ruler who was never really respected. Taking the throne at the age of nine and only ruling for a decade before his death, Tut had to consistently live down one of Egypt’s most notorious and delusional kings … his own father. The boy quickly “rebooted” many of his dad’s controversial changes, including the restoration of his land’s many gods following his father’s declaration that the sun god Aten was the only god, and returning the country’s capital to its former location. But it wasn’t enough. Tut was actually buried in a tomb much smaller than his status demanded, and his successor attempted to have any trace of him erased from all records.

The throne of King Tut, meticulously recreated for the Saint Louis Science Center exhibit.

At the time, Egyptians would have never believed that a short 3,200 years later, Steve Martin and the Toot Uncommons would have a hit song titled “King Tut.”

Hence the title of this column. With the blame perhaps largely resting on his father’s legacy, Tutankhamun is widely believed to have been seen as rather insignificant … much as poor Jan Brady was often overlooked and mocked by her much more hip siblings.

But it seems Tut had the last laugh. He has proven that patiently suffering the underdog label sometimes pays off … big.

So don’t give up, Jan Brady, and you can toss aside that big black wig … you might just bust out of Marsha Marsha Marsha’s shadow yet.

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