TAMPA — The dead arrived on a moving truck Wednesday, and the living could barely disguise their glee.
"These are rare and ancient time travelers," said Marc Corwin, president and CEO of American Exhibitions, Inc., moments after men finished unloading the truck.
The more than 40 mummies, along with related artifacts, are part of the Mummies of the World exhibition that opens April 27 at the Museum of Science and Industry.
The exhibit, which runs through Labor Day, draws from collections of 21 world-renowned museums and institutions in seven countries. Mummies of the World is making a three-year U.S. tour. MOSI is the only Florida stop.
MOSI officials expect the mummies exhibition to go over big, though they aren't counting on it to surpass the turnout at the controversial "Bodies, the Exhibition," which ran from August 2005 to September 2006 and attracted a record-breaking 600,000 visitors.
"These are world-class exhibitions and they love our space," said MOSI president Wit Ostrenko.
The mummies were discovered in all sorts of places, including a Hungarian church crypt, the Peruvian desert, a bog, a German museum basement.
To be considered a mummy, as opposed to a mere skeleton, the body must keep some of its soft tissues, such as hair, skin or muscles.
Some of the mummies were intentionally preserved — think of Egyptian culture, where corpses had their internal organs removed, were treated with some type of resin and wrapped. In other cases, mummification occurred naturally by a lack of moisture or oxygen.
The mummies include an 18th-century family who succumbed to the plague and were discovered buried in a church crypt; an Egyptian cat mummy wrapped in painted linen bandaging and a Peruvian child mummy dated 6,420 years — about 3,000 years before the birth of King Tut.
What's the point of looking at mummies, especially for children who might be scared?
Ostrenko said the exhibition is heavy on science — the process of decomposition, the technology scientists use to determine how old the bodies are — but it could also inspire other questions.
How do cultures honor their dead? What does it mean to honor the dead? Why did one mummy have a tattoo, and what did it stand for?
"What is death? I'm looking at an individual who's perfectly intact?" he said. "So what is life?"
Corwin said curators will play down the scare factor. The lights will be dimmed and the room cooler than normal, for the health of the dead, but each exhibit focuses heavily on science and history. The mummies will be encased in sealed plexiglass, but an interactive station allows visitors to experience what embalmed skin and mummified animal fur feel like.
Soft music will play, but it's hardly the spooky variety. "I don't want to call it New Age, but ...," Corwin said.
Corwin, a South Florida lawyer who has represented HBO, Showtime and Don King Productions, runs the private company that assembled the exhibition's U.S. run and gets a cut of ticket sales. He even got copyrighted a term to describe scientists who study mummies — "mummyologists."
The mummies arrived in Tampa after a show at Charlotte's Discovery Place museum, where it set a record for advance ticket sales, 14,000, according to The Charlotte Observer. The bodies and their artifacts were trucked to Tampa, with a security detail.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.