March 2, 1939
HOWARD CARTER DIED ALONE, attended by only a niece who stood to inherit the treasures he had found while toiling more than thirty seasons in the Valley of the Kings.
Four days passed between his death and the burial, long enough for the Times to eulogize him as “the great Egyptologist… who gained fame for his part in one of the most successful and exciting episodes in the annals of archaeology.”
Now, finally, as sleet threatened South London, Carter was being laid to rest.
Eulogies in the Times were a privilege. Usually only the rich, famous, eccentric, and overachieving were granted the honor.
Carter had once been all four. But the romantic flavor of this eulogy, written by his friend Percy Newberry, belied the fact that Carter’s celebrity had long before diminished—and that Percy was his only close friend. In fact, the funeral was embarrassing for its air of sloppiness and apathy: just a handful of mourners gathered around the grave; the birth date etched on Carter’s tombstone was off by one year; and, saddest of all, he was buried in a simple hole in the ground.
For a man who had spent a lifetime exploring the elaborate burial tombs of the pharaohs, it seemed a most unfitting way to bid the world adieu.
But there was one saving grace.
Years after breaking off their affair, the one love of Carter’s life appeared at the graveside. Lady Evelyn was a small woman, expensively dressed, wearing a broad black hat. Her father had been furious with Carter about their clandestine romance. And when Lord Carnarvon died quite suddenly, just months after the discovery of Tut, she had done “the right thing.” Lady Evelyn, daughter of the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon, had turned her back on Carter and found a more socially—and financially—appropriate groom. They were married just months after the public opening of Tut’s tomb.
Now Lady Evelyn stood on the spring grass, gazing at a simple casket and a deep hole in the earth, just as she had once gazed into another burial site while at Carter’s side. Maybe that was why she had come. For no matter how far apart Carter and Lady Evelyn drifted, neither could escape the fact that on one glorious November morning, seventeen years earlier, they had been the first people in three thousand years to gaze inside the tomb of the Boy King known as Tutankhamen.
Together they had made history and been toasted around the world.
“I see wonderful things,” Carter had said breathlessly after his first peek.
Now Carter breathed no more.
The vicar of Putney closed his prayer book, and Carter was lowered into the ground. Lady Evelyn threw a fistful of earth into the chasm, then walked slowly back to the gravel drive, where her car and driver were waiting.
It was Hodgkin’s lymphoma that killed Carter at the age of sixty-four. Tut was barely eighteen when he died, though the cause of his death had mystified Carter right up to the end. It was a mystery that Lady Evelyn had pondered over the years too, a great missing piece of the puzzle of King Tut.
Now in a grave far less noble, Carter slept, never to be disturbed.