‘Mums’ the Word

Marc Corwin (left), president of American Exhibitions Inc., and Van Reiner, president and CEO of the Maryland Science Center, address the media about the ‘Mummies of the World’ exhibit, which opens Sept. 28.

Marc Corwin (left), president of American Exhibitions Inc., and Van Reiner, president and CEO of the Maryland Science Center, address the media about the ‘Mummies of the World’ exhibit, which opens Sept. 28. (Photo by David Stuck)

The Mummies Are Coming! The Mummies Are Coming!

Yes, you heard right. The largest collection of real animal and human mummies ever assembled will be taking up residence at the Maryland Science Center and welcoming visitors as of Sept. 28. The collection includes a 6,420-year-old child mummy from Peru and an entire mummy family. The Science Center is the last stop for “Mummies of the World,” a traveling exhibition that first opened in Los Angeles in 2010. It was produced by Baltimore native Marc Corwin, president of American Exhibitions Inc., in association with the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums.

Prior to founding American Exhibitions Inc., Corwin was a successful music promoter who brought superstars such  as Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Heart, Whitney Houston, Patti LaBelle and the Eagles to Baltimore venues. Corwin’s promoting career put him through law school, and he became a successful attorney specializing in licensing and syndication. In the early 1990s, Corwin worked with HBO, Showtime and Don King Productions to prosecute cases involving unauthorized use of closed-circuit television and pay-per-view boxing telecasts. His company, Secure Signal, Inc., was the largest civil prosecutor of pay-per-view broadcasts from 1993 to 2004 and helped create major case law precedent in the area of piracy law.

In 2003, Corwin left the litigation field, and spent a few years handling malpractice cases. Several years later, he agreed to produce a successful traveling exhibition called “Our Body: The Universe Within,” which opened in 2006 and was sold to Premier Exhibitions, Inc. in 2007. A year later, Corwin was ready for a new challenge. “Mummies of the World” fit the bill.

When many of us think of mummies, we imagine human figures wrapped in gauze or toilet-like paper. We assume they all come from ancient Egypt. But not all mummies are wrapped and not all come from Egypt. To learn more about mummies and about this fascinating exhibition, the Baltimore Jewish Times caught up with the versatile Corwin, who now resides in Boca Raton, Fla.

JT: Let’s play Jewish geography. Where did you grow up?
Corwin: I lived in Pikesville, and still have tons of friends and relatives in Baltimore. My sister, Janice Strauss, still lives there, and my nephews, Michael and Jonathon Strauss, are also in Baltimore. I had my bar mitzvah at Chizuk Amuno [Congregation] and was also a member of Beth El Congregation.

School?

Pikesville High School, the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Baltimore Law School. But I dropped out of college twice. My poor Jewish mother. Even worse, I dropped out to become a music promoter. When I lived in Baltimore, in the 1960s and ’70s, there was a concert venue called Painter’s Mill Music Fair right near the Owings Mills Mall. I was responsible for bringing Bruce Springsteen there in 1975. I was also involved in bringing the Eagles and Eric Clapton to the Baltimore stadium (the old one). One night, there was supposed to be a show, but at 6 p.m. there was a horrible storm that knocked over the stage. That’s when I said to myself, “I’m going back to college and getting a law degree.”

Why did you leave Baltimore?
I’ve always had an affinity for Florida. I like the warm weather. But Baltimore’s a great city. I’m proud to bring “Mummies of the World” to Baltimore. It’s a great opportunity to come home.

Let’s talk about the exhibition. What exactly is a mummy?
There are a lot of myths about mummies. Hollywood makes them seem scary, like they’re coming after you, but they’re really not. A mummy is the dead body of an animal or a human that has been preserved after death so it does not decompose. Most mummies happen naturally because they are buried in a place without oxygen or moisture — places like caves, crypts or bogs. … To be considered a mummy and not just a skeleton, the body must keep some of its soft tissue, such as hair, skin or muscles. We study mummies to learn about ancient peoples and civilizations.

How did the idea for the exhibition come about?
It came from Germany. In 2004, staff members of the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim, Germany were doing inventory and found an underground vault with 20 human mummies and artifacts. A group of researchers from the German Mummy Project began using 21st-century techniques to learn everything they could about the mummies. Other researchers and museums got interested, and in the end, we were fortunate to get 21 museums from seven countries to collaborate on the exhibit. The show has mummies from Europe, South America, Asia, Ancient Egypt and Oceania, and some are as old as 6,500 years. These are real people who had real lives, just like you and me.

What and who are in the exhibition?
There are nine galleries and five interactive kiosks with 3-D imaging. There are the Baron and Baroness, mummies from the 17th century who were naturally mummified in the family crypt due to the cool dry air. They were found in their family’s late 14th-century castle in Germany. There are Michael, Veronica and Johannes Orlovits, a mummy family from the 18th century who lived in a town north of Budapest that was decimated by White Plague (tuberculosis). In 1994 they were discovered in a small church under the pine floorboards. The Detmold Child is a 10-month-old infant from Peru that is remarkably preserved. He lived more than 3,000 years before the birth of King Tut, and he still has hair. Using modern tools, we’ve been able to find out how old he is. There are also animals, a howler monkey from Argentina and a lizard mummified in the Sahara Desert.

It sounds a little scary. Will children be OK with this?
It’s like seeing art. We do have a parent’s guide that gives suggestions on how to talk to kids about the exhibition. We were pleased to see how many families have come with kids [in other cities]. We also have a 40-page curricular guide for schools. But really, it’s very special and magical. It was very important to us to be respectful and ethical. The colors are muted. Each gallery has a different, dignified atmosphere. It’s breathtaking. Most people are in awe. Everyone connects with something. Inside every mummy, there’s a story waiting to be told.

“Mummies of the World” will be on display at the Maryland Science Center from Sept. 28 through Jan. 20, 2014. For more information, visit mdsci.org or mummiesoftheworld.com.

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