Amid clutter, a mummy awaits word on its fate Egypt may try to reclaim item from Maine owner

December 01, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WISCASSET, Maine -- Nonesuch House Antiques is "a weird shop," owner Terry R. Lewis admits.

Just off Route 1 in what bills itself as "the prettiest village in Maine," the store is considered an affront by some in this white-clapboard and green-shutter town.

Its contents spill onto the sidewalk: cement statuary, including a 6-foot Statue of Liberty, and an old, red, wooden telephone booth.

Inside are narrow paths through piles and piles of stuff so varied it defies cataloging.

In just one section of the warren of rooms that make up the shop are duck decoys, a bird house, old books and magazines, dusty bottles, crockery, pots and pans, furniture, wooden boat models, a beer stein and an antique bilge pump from a schooner.

So the blackened, unwrapped Egyptian mummy, with the book "Mommie Dearest" on top of its glass case, does not seem entirely out of place.

In fact, Lewis had displayed the mummy in his store for four years with little public comment before it suddenly made the national news last summer when the U.S. Customs Service learned he was trying to sell it and slapped a detainment order on it.

Now the Egyptian government may try to reclaim it and Lewis is getting letters like one from an Arizona woman who said he should return the mummy.

How would he feel, the letter asked, if someone took his body out of his family burial ground?

But Lewis said all the fuss was unwarranted.

"This is just a crock," he said. "It's political correctness gone insane, gone totally berserk."

Lewis, 50, said he obtained the mummy fair and square, treats it respectfully and lets the public, including school children, view it.

He is still considering selling it because he has been offered as much as $30,000 for it as a result of all the publicity.

He bought the mummy in 1992, for a price he declined to reveal, at a liquidation auction of the privately owned Morse Museum in New Hampshire.

It was brought to the United States in 1925, according to the Customs Service. It was displayed at Benson's Wild Animal Farm in New Hampshire for 20 years before going to the museum.

FTC Customs officials placed a 30-day detainment order on the mummy in August after learning it was for sale.

The order was to allow Customs to determine if there were any violations of federal laws concerning smuggling of antiquities, according to Nancy C. Rose, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Customs Service in Boston.

Customs issued a statement in September saying that there were no violations and closed the investigation.

Customs, which made no determination on the authenticity of the mummy, also said then that Lewis "is free to do whatever he wants with the 'mummy.' "

The Egyptians are not precluded from requesting to examine it to see if it is authentic and a cultural antiquity, Customs also said.

Lewis has agreed to let the Egyptians send an expert in the next few weeks, but he said he would not give the mummy up without compensation.

Repeated calls for comment from the Egyptian Embassy in Washington were not returned.

Lewis advertises the mummy as a royal princess. But he acknowledged that he made up that story. "I wanted her to be a pharaonic mummy," he said. "I'm stretching it. But the truth is, nobody knows."

Rita Freed, curator of the department of ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, said that royal mummies are quite rare and that there is little likelihood that this one is royal.

She said that Lewis' shop was not the right place for it, that the mummy should be in a climate-controlled environment, where it could be studied.

The mummy has an exposed thigh bone where ants ate away its flesh while it was at the animal farm, and its right foot is detached from its leg.

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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