Halloween 2013: Anubis and King Tut

Posted by jdg | Friday, November 01, 2013 | ,

The kids decided to go with an ancient Egyptian theme this year. I loved the idea of taking a Halloween classic like a mummy costume and adding a bit of craftsmanship and educational quality to it (while keeping it super creepy, of course). After they made their choice in September we started reading all the books we could find about mummies and we reread old books I loved as a kid like The Egypt Game and The House on Hackman's Hill. My daughter chose to be Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of the underworld. I thought she might prefer one of the female Egyptian deities like lion-headed Sehkmet or cat-headed Bastest, but she had her heart set on Anubis. We read that the Egyptian priests who made mummies wore jackal masks just like the god, so I made her a leather Anubis mask that sort of sat on the top of her head. The giant ears are my favorite part. The taxidermy lizard eyes have LED lights behind them that made them glow after dark.

Her mother furiously knit her that beautiful beaded collar in the days leading up to Halloween. We ripped up some old linen fabric we found in the basement and boiled the strips in tea and then cooked them in the oven until they looked about 3,000 years old, and the skirt is scrap leather that I never used in the dragon costumes we made this summer. I also made her a hefty gold-painted oak ankh to carry around. The weather had been pretty lousy for pictures the last few days, but I couldn't resist making a trip up Woodward to the Dodge brothers' Egyptian revival mausoleum in Woodlawn cemetery to take some pictures. 

My son wanted to be a mummy rather than a god and when I told him all about the boy King Tutankhamun he jumped on it right away (apparently the kindergartners sing a song called "King Tut had a butt.") Man, I was so fascinated by King Tut's tomb and Howard Carter when I was a kid. The big Met/National Gallery exhibition of artifacts happened right before I was born and I remember the image of that golden funerary mask having such an impact on me from the earliest age. It really is one of the most beautiful things ever created by human hands and when my son and I were envisioning how to do this costume (by drawing together) we came up with the idea of wearing that mask over mummy wrappings, as though the mummy of King Tut came to life to take revenge on the mortals who dared to steal his stuff and put his image on $5 t-shirts. My daughter wove stories about the god Anubis aiding Tut in his quest for revenge and there was a lot of wide-eyed talk of curses. I really had my work cut out for me, but here is what we came up with:

He likes to stand there with the crook and flail crossed over his chest and slowly come to life and stumble forward. Of course, he calls them his "mummy weapons."

The real challenge in the construction was making it comfortable and easy to put on and take off. He had to be able to breathe easily, see, and tolerate the weight. I used a very light leather. And I was so excited about making this mask that I even carved all of the hieroglyphics from the original on the back part. The Pharaonic headdress (the Nemes) is also detachable, with a snap hiding behind the little vulture and cobra at the front. It was a cool way for him to take it off and just become the boy mummy:

This was one of the most fun costumes we've made yet, probably because the kids were really into it. They've been interested in Egyptian stuff for years (remember the pizza-box pyramids, or our mummy hunting adventures?), and to prepare for this we made more trips to the Toledo Museum of Art, the Kelsey Archaeology Museum in Ann Arbor, and the Detroit Institute of Arts just to look really closely at the Egyptian artifacts, trying how to figure out how they were made, what they might have happened to them in the intervening years. My daughter was really interested in the canopic jars where the guts where placed after they were removed from the mummified body and it was her idea to make clay canopic jars to hold their candy while they were trick or treating! We have spent the previous weeks working on the costume and watching clips from old b&w mummy movies, reading old books, repeating Brendan Fraser's greatest line over and over again, watching Steve Martin sing "King Tut," and of course, we have been walking like Egyptians.