Mummies of Philippi – Philippi, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Mummies of Philippi

Barbour County Historical Museum
Philippi, West Virginia

Two insane asylum bodies embalmed by an amateur. 


In the last part of the 1800s, a farmer came up with a unique embalming technique and requested some bodies from the nearby insane asylum. Graham Hamrick had spent years practicing his new embalming methods on fruits and vegetables until he had it just how he wanted. The process, despite all assumptions to the contrary, worked.

Once completed, the mummies traveled with P.T. Barnum and his circus. Hamrick’s process attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Institution, which offered to display his work if he would reveal the formula of his personal embalming potion. He refused. Instead, the were returned to Philippi, where they were kept safe but forgotten. No one can be sure that the Mummies of Philippi, as they are called now, are the same “insane mummies” that Hamrick created, but all evidence would suggest that they are.

Several decades passed before the mummies were found again, kept safe inside of an old barn. A local citizen acquired them, keeping them under his or her bed, as the story goes. Philippi is near a river and one year that river flooded the entire town, including the space where the mummies were kept. The water-logged mummies were put out on the front lawn of the town’s post office so that they could dry out.

James Ramsey, an 82-year-old museum curator, explained in 1994: “After the flood dropped, they were covered with green fungus and all kind of corruption. [A man] secured some kind of a mixture that would get the green mold off them and also the hairs that were growing on them.” Another flood destroyed part of the museum the mummies were being kept in.

They ended up in the care of the historical society, which managed to restore them. Those mummies are on display in a small room of the historical society with a dehumidifier. The mummies look almost wooden, have no hair. Both mummies are women, and there is a letter accompanying one of them that is supposedly from the woman to her brother while she was staying at the Weston insane asylum. 

Know Before You Go

Located off route 250.The museum has very limited hours (if someone is available at the location). Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is free admission, but they ask for $1.00 per person to see the mummies. Cash only.

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