The Lady Isis in Bohemia

by Seana Miracle

Enshrined within a glass case inside the Bohemian Club, is the ancient mummy of an Egyptian princess, a high priestess in the Temple of Amon-Re in Thebes, known affectionately as “Lady Isis.”

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The Lady Isis arrived in San Francisco in 1914, and was installed in the Bohemian Club clubhouse in a lavish ceremony on May 5th, with over 400 members and guests in attendance.  It was said at the time that it was the first time an ancient Egyptian ceremony had been performed in the American West.

In accordance with ancient Egyptian customs, the sarcophagus was carried into the Dining Hall on the shoulders of four men dressed as Ethiopian slaves.  A procession of choral singers and musicians variously dressed as scribes, leopard clad priests, and the black robed priestesses of Isis, preceded the coffin, chanting ancient hymns.

“This is why I believe in the immortality of the soul. There is a presence here tonight…”

– Jeremiah Lynch, “The Lady Isis in Bohemia”

The procession circled around each table with the Lady Isis aloft, and as the music stopped, halted in front of the President’s podium, and formally presented the Lady Isis to Bohemia.  The Dining Hall, which had previously been in semi-darkness during the ceremony, was suddenly bathed in light.  The lid of the sarcophagus was removed, and Lady Isis was unveiled, the features of her face barely visible through her linen bandages. Her body was covered in sacred lilies and lotus flowers, and guests were called upon to rise and raise their glass to “The Lady Isis: Be this forever her temple.”

“To you then, O Bohemians, I present the Lady Isis

Born of the oldest East, she seeks her rest

In this fair City of the Youngest West

-Charles Warren Stoddard

Lady Isis was not the first Egyptian royal to rule over Bohemia.  She is in fact, the much sought after replacement for the original Bohemian mummy, known as the “Pharoah’s Daughter,” that was installed in 1890, but destroyed in the Great Earthquake of 1906.  Both the original and replacement mummy were acquired and donated by Jeremiah Lynch, former US Senator, President of the San Francisco Stock Exchange, and one of the earliest members of the Bohemian Club.

Lynch was an avid Egyptologist who donated the first mummy after a particularly fortuitous trip to Egypt.  In 1890, Lynch had traveled to Thebes with United States Consul-General Schuyler, whose political influence empowered Lynch to procure not one, but three highly valuable mummies; a royal princess and two high priests.

The three mummies were floated down the nile on a barge loaded with wheat in order to protect the precious cargo.  They were then taken to the curator of the Cairo Museum so that the hieroglyphs could be translated and their identities established.  They rode the rails from Cairo to Alexandria, where they boarded a steam ship to Liverpool.  From there, they were transported by sail to San Francisco, where the princess was installed at the Bohemian Club, and the two priests were donated to the Fine Arts Museum in Golden Gate Park.  Sixteen years after their epic journey to the New World, all three mummies were destroyed in the fires that followed the Earthquake of 1906.

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After the fire destroyed the original “Pharaoh’s Daughter,” Lynch set about on an epic quest to find her replacement.  However, a lot had changed since his first trip to the Nile.  In 1890, when “mummy-mania” was at it’s peak, mummies were so commonplace that they were ground into dust to be used for medical preparations or as pigments for paint.  During the building of the first Egyptian railway, mummies were burned as fuel for the locomotives, and used as torches so workers could work at night.

By 1906, things had changed, and there were no more mummies to be had.  Now, any new mummies discovered were automatically property of the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo.  Procuring an authentic, ancient royal mummy with a known provenance, was a near impossible dream.  Lynch lamented to his fellow club members that a mummy in good condition “of the early dynasties and with the body and sarcophagus in fair preservation” had not been found in two years.  He had nearly given up hope of ever being able to replace the Bohemian Club mummy, which he had intended to be his legacy.

Jeremiah Lynch is credited as the inspiration and motivation for Lord Carnarvon’s Egyptian expeditions, which eventually led to the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923, just a few years after Lynch’s death.  In 1903, Lord Carnarvon and his wife Almina (the real life inspiration for “Downton Abbey’s” fictional “Lady Grantham”) traveled to America, and while in San Francisco, dined with Jeremiah Lynch.  Lynch regaled them with stories of his adventures in Egypt, and of his luck in securing the (original) Bohemian Club mummy.  The following year finds Lord Carnarvon in Egypt, inquiring about antiquities.

It would be many years before Lynch could return to Egypt himself, in search of the Lady Isis. It would prove to be his final grand adventure.

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In 1914, while in Egypt pleading his case, Lynch called upon an old friend of his, Professor Petrie.  Petrie was an eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist, who trained the soon to be famous Howard Carter.  Petrie had learned of a royal female mummy that had resided in the ancient stone palace of a Pasha for many years.  The Pasha had fallen on hard times, making him willing to part with the treasure for a price.

Acquiring the mummy was one thing, but getting permission to transport it to San Francisco was quite another.  Lynch would first have to solicit the help of several high potentates in Cairo, and then obtain permission from Lord Kitchener, the war lord of Britain, before he could address the logistics of transporting the Lady Isis to the United States.  Several weeks later, Lynch gleefully announced his success with a telegram from Cairo, and on April 30th, the New York Times headlines read “New Mummy Acquired For Bohemian Club.”

“The Pharaohs of her royal lineage, demigods of their era, if they but knew, how they must have resisted this willful, impious desecration of her sepulcher. If they but knew, how they must have condemned the impotence and sacrilege of men, bearing away the body of this fair daughter of Egypt…”

-Jeremiah Lynch, “The Lady Isis in Bohemia”

The keeping of relics was a practice en vogue at the time among secret societies.  For instance, at the Bohemian Club’s eastern counterpart, the Skull and Bones Society at Yale, there is a full length skeleton believed to be the remains of Madame Pompadour. “Madame Pompadour” resides in the innermost chamber of the Skull and Bones “Tomb,” and protects their most important documents.

While you cannot visit the Lady Isis unless you are a member or guest of the Bohemian Club, Jeremiah Lynch also made sure to replace the mummies that were lost to the Fine Arts Museum, which are made available to the public.  In 1895, Lynch donated “Hatason,” a vestal virgin in the temple of Amon-Ra at Lycopolis, and upon his death in 1917, his estate donated “Iretherrou,” a high priest also known as “Bishop Thoth.”

Hatason and Bishop Thoth have both recently undergone extensive examination using cutting edge technology by researchers and Egyptologists at Stanford University.  These exciting new findings are currently on display at the Legion of Honor in an exhibit called: “The Future and the Past: Mummies and Medicine” that runs until August 26, 2018.

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REFERENCES:

“The Lady Isis in Bohemia” by Jeremiah Lynch, 1914

SF Genealogy extractions from “Journalism in California” by John P. Young 

“The Mummy’s Curse: Mummy-mania in the English Speaking World” by Jasmine Day

“Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts” by S.J. Wolfe and Robert Singermon

“The Life and Secrets of Almina Carnarvon” by William Cross

“Lord and Pharoah: Carnarvon and the Search for Tutankhamun” by Brian Fagan

“An American in Egypt” New York Times, 1890