The premiere of the documentary, "The Mummy of Cazenovia," followed by a tea reception was held Oct. 8 at the Cazenovia Public Library. (photo by Jason Emerson)
It was standing room only in the Cazenovia Public Library community room on Oct. 8, for the premiere showing of a documentary about Cazenovia’s most famous resident, Hen, the 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, and a reception with a re-creation of the 1895 “Mummy Tea” held when Hen first arrived in the town.
“This is a very special night — one of the most exciting evenings we have ever had here at the library,” said library Executive Director Betsy Kennedy while introducing the film. “We know a lot more about Hen now than we did, and tonight you will see why.”
“The Mummy of Cazenovia,” a 20-minute film produced by Call of the Loon Productions, of Liverpool, explores how Hen came to be in Cazenovia, what is known about him, what occurred during his Dec. 10, 2017, hospital visit and what the various medical tests done at the hospital may show.
Present at the Oct. 8 premiere were the filmmakers, the physicians who performed the testing, the Egyptologist who has been consulting on the project, library staff who participated in the documentary and multitudes of curious Cazenovians.
Hen came to Cazenovia in 1894, the gift of resident Robert J. Hubbard, as an addition to the library museum. Hubbard — who donated the current library building in 1890 specifically to be the community library and museum — purchased the mummy in Cairo, Egypt while he was on tour in that country.
The mummy, along with numerous other ancient Egyptian artifacts that make up the library’s Egypt Room, became a major, and famous, part of the Cazenovia Public Library and Museum, and even today is a staple of educational visits by regional high school students, tourists and locals bringing in out-of-town visitors.
In March 2006, Hen was taken to Crouse Hospital to undergo a CAT scan that created a three-dimensional hologram of the body inside the ancient wrappings — an image that is currently on display at the Cazenovia Public Library as part of the overall mummy exhibit — as well as the discovery of what appeared to be a cancerous tumor in his left leg.
The new set of tests done last December were done in an effort to see if updated technology could reveal new and previously unknown aspects of Hen’s life and death — particularly about the tumor in his leg and the prevalence of the cancer in his body.
While the new CAT scans are much crisper and clearer than those from 2006, the results of the lung and leg biopsies, unfortunately, were not conclusive.
During the Oct. 8 premiere showing, audience members — about 80 total, filling the community room to capacity — laughed, gasped in awe and, at times, sat silently enthralled. At the conclusion of the documentary, loud applause filled the room.
“I thought it was great; I really enjoyed it,” said Cazenovia resident Fritz Koennecke, who is also a village trustee. “They had great people in documentary, and I liked how everybody had a lsightly different angle on what they said.”
“It was nice they said [in the film] that [Hen] had a caring family because of the way they wrapped him so well,” said Cazenovia resident Charlene Longo after the film. “At first, I thought it was awful to hear how people went to Egypt [in the 19th century] and took relics home, but it’s wonderful for us that he ended up here because he did not suffer a bad fate [as other mummies were said to have suffered].”
“I never knew Cazenovia had a mummy; I learned a lot,” said Alexa Strickland, a Cazenovia College junior who lives in Jamesville. “It was neat that they found a tumor in his leg; it makes him more human. The wrapping pattern was really cool too.”
The criss-cross pattern of Hen’s mummification helped experts date the age of the mummy, as Dr. Daniel Warne, an Egyptologist at Onondaga Community College, said in the documentary. Warne was present for the premiere and is preparing to co-write a scientific paper on the results of the 2017 study.
“It was a great pleasure to be part of the film and the event, especially reviving the ‘Mummy Tea’ of 1895,” Warne said. “A journey that begins along the Nile and ends at the shores of Cazenovia Lake, the film beautifully weaves together images of a bygone era with touching interviews from his library family, academic inquiry and the most advanced modern medical science. The documentary is truly a celebration of Hen’s legacy with the library and community, which I can imagine being a source of great pride for Mr. Hubbard.”
Dr. Mark Levinsohn, a retired radiologist from Crouse Hospital who supervised CAT scans of the mummy in 2006 and in 2017, agreed. “It’s great seeing so many people here, interested in this,” he said.
Levinsohn, Warne and filmmakers Tonya Coulter, Kristen Carton and Jake Coulter also answered questions after the film showing about Hen’s history, medical test results and how the documentary was made.
Tonya Coulter said the idea for the documentary came after she saw news coverage of Hen’s 2017 hospital visit and thought it was “fascinating.”
Levinsohn discussed the results of the testing, which showed a few new items, including that Hen has severely deformed feet, with excessively high arches and hammer toes. Levinsohn said this condition is probably what is now known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disorder, a neurological abnormality of the feet. Levinsohn said he also found what he believes to be a ceramic scarab, about one-half to three-quarters of an inch in size, inside the mummy wrapping just above Hen’s knee. Scarabs were considered good luck or bringers of healing to the ancient Egyptians. So to have placed a scarab near his knee seems to bolster the idea that Hen had knee problems, possibly cancer, he said.
Warne answered a few questions about Egyptian history and mummification, but the question that got everyone’s attention was whether or not the government of Egypt might someday want Hen’s mummy returned to his home. “No… I don’t think they will want him back anytime soon,” Warne said, explaining that Egypt has “thousands of mummies” they have no room for. “They’re probably happy he’s on display here,” he said.
At the end of the evening, everyone present agreed it was a successful event and a great film.
“This is awesome; it’s couldn’t have gone any better,” said Jake Coulter, director of the film. “We really appreciate the library putting this on. I’m glad so many people are excited about it.”
His producer, Kristen Carton agreed. “It is so awesome to be in the room with everyone in the community that was part of the film,” she said.
“We are very pleased by the turnout,” Kennedy said at the end of the evening. “Everyone was so engaged, and there were such thoughtful questions after. And people were so enthusiastic; you could just hear the buzz in the room — that is telling.”
The library held an afternoon encore showing of “The Mummy of Cazenovia,” on Wednesday, Oct. 10, for anyone who missed the premiere event.
The full documentary is available for free viewing on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=uCcylkB5B9I or by going to the Call of the Loon Productions YouTube account.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.