You can kick back with a King Tuttini cocktail, learn to decipher hieroglyphs or indulge in an “Egyptian Golden Body Wrap” complete with exfoliating Dead Sea salts and a dusting of golden powder.
Yes, King Tut is back, and Chicago is fired up for the pharaoh. The traveling exhibit “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” opened Friday at The Field Museum, attracting a line of ticket buyers.
Organizers believe the show could draw 1 million visitors before it closes here on Jan. 1, 2007, and businesses, restaurants and universities are lining up special promotions and events — hoping to benefit from the expected “Tutmania.”
The show features more than 130 treasures from the resting place of the boy king and other royal tombs, all between 3,000 and 3,500 years old.
This is the only Midwestern stop for the show, which was previously on exhibit in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and will go on display next February at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
Birth of a blockbuster
With its appearance in Chicago, the exhibit comes full circle. The Field was one of the museums that attracted a total of 8 million visitors in the late 1970s to see another version of the Tut show.
It created such a frenzy that musuemgoers in sleeping bags and lawn chairs waited in line for hours. (“He gave his life for tourism,” comedian Steve Martin sang in his humorous Top 40 hit, “King Tut.”)
The result was the birth of the museum blockbuster, the shows where hype, ticket price and crowds sometimes threaten to overshadow the artistic or cultural value of the objects on display.
The Field has already sold nearly 200,000 tickets for Tut, despite a hefty $25 price. Museum officials believe that timed-entry tickets and extended hours will cut down on wait times.
Once visitors get inside the exhibit, they will likely understand archaeologist Howard Carter’s awed first impression when he uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 and saw “gold — everywhere the glint of gold.”
Carter’s discovery of the remarkably intact tomb created a worldwide sensation and burst of Egyptomania. Movie theaters were decorated with Egyptian themes, Hollywood churned out mummy movies, and rumors of a mysterious curse on those who entered the tomb captured the popular imagination.
More than 5,000 amazingly preserved artifacts were found in the tomb. About 50 were included in the first King Tut tour of the 1970s, including the piece that would become an icon, his solid gold death mask.
Fifty objects on display
That piece is missing from the current show (Egyptian officials won’t let it leave the country). But there are again about 50 objects recovered from Tut’s tomb. One of the most amazing objects in the show is a miniature coffin made of gold and decorated with carnelian, obsidian, rock crystal and glass. Approximately 1 foot (30 centimeters) high, it portrays Tut as Osiris, the god of the dead.
A coffinette held Tut’s mummified liver, and on the inside — which is viewable — is carved the Book of the Dead.
The exhibit seeks to place Tut in the greater religious and historical context of the 18th Dynasty, the golden age of the pharaohs. Tut was a relatively minor king who probably died before he was 20 but became famous because of the splendor of his tomb.
“Ironically, he’s the one most remembered, but it’s his ancestors who had all the clout,” said David Foster, the Field’s project director.
Tut's famous family
Those included his father, Akhenaten, who rocked the country by banning the worship of many gods in favor of Aten, a god portrayed as a sun disc. He’s represented in the long, narrow face of a head from what was once a massive limestone statue.
Much of another entire gallery is dedicated to items from the tomb of the couple believed to be Tut’s great-grandparents, Yuya and Tjuya.
Outside the museum, options include a planetarium show examining the “mysteries of the Egyptian sky” and a hotel exhibiting a 400-pound (King Tut bust made entirely of chocolate.
Many of the curators and organizers connected to the show shrug their shoulders at the kitsch and promotions. They say they hope the hype draws visitors to the exhibit and inspires them to learn something new about ancient Egypt, a culture Foster calls “so complex and so rich, it just exerts this ongoing fascination. The allure endures.”