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King Tut returns to Seattle after 34 years

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Thirty-four years ago more than a million people stood in
long lines at Seattle Center for a glimpse at the boy king
of Egypt, King Tut. Most of them never thought they would
have a chance to see such treasures again. But King Tut is
back, and thousands of people will be returning to Seattle
Center this year for another chance.

I was a 9-year-old boy in 1978 when the King Tut craze
swept across America. This was the first time the great
treasures of the boy king were traveling outside of Egypt.
My family caught a train to Seattle from Portland filled
with great expectations and anticipation.

I remember riding the Monorail to our appointed time at
Seattle Center and waiting in a very long line for our
chance to see what King Tut had taken with him into the
afterlife.

When those doors finally opened, I vividly remember
the darkness and walking into an ominous room dotted with
display cases full of the most amazing things I had ever
seen. I walked timidly toward each one, but not too
close. The alabaster jars and golden figurines were to be
awed, not approached.

Fast-forward 34-years to today. King Tut is back and so
are a bunch of his friends and relatives. I never thought
I would see all this again, at
least without flying to Cairo, but we all have another
chance.

If you saw the Tut Exhibit in 1978, this exhibit called
“Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” will
be an entirely new experience. The dark rooms are gone.
After a brief welcoming video narrated by Harrison Ford,
you walk into a well-lit gallery full of statues and
figures dating back thousands of years. Most are not
behind glass cases. They are more welcoming and
approachable than the items in the ’78 exhibit. These
galleries are designed to immerse you in Egyptian art,
allowing the sensation of the culture to wash over you.

David Silverman is the curator of this exhibit.
Ironically, his first job was on the 1978 tour, so he was
in Seattle then too. He said the design was intended to
make these treasures more real for visitors. So why after
all these years, do these items still carry such reverence
for so many visitors?

“Most people like mysteries, and I think that’s part of
the allure,” said Silverman.

Kathryn Keane is the vice president of exhibitions for the
National Geographic Society, and even she is still
captivated by these objects.

“Artifacts from Egypt are among the cultural legacies of
the world,” she said. “They really are amazing, and every
time you see these beautiful works of art, you’re
transported back in time.”

There were only 50 items on display in 1978. Visitors to
this exhibit will be treated to more than double that.

Egypt is so proud of these cultural treasures that the
country’s Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim Aly came
to Seattle for this week’s opening. His advice for
visitors is to stand in front of each piece and simply
experience it.

“Each piece plays a certain role in our history. Every
piece has its own significance. It’s not just pieces to
be guarded, to be placed in the tomb, no. Each piece has
its own significance,” he said.

One of the coolest pieces is a 10-foot tall statue of King
Tut that lords over the first galleries. I think I just
stood at its base for 10 minutes thinking about the
artists who carved it.

But if you have vivid memories of all the great King Tut
pieces from ’78 like I do, you might be a little
disappointed by this exhibit. The Tut part of the exhibit
seems small by comparison to the rest of the show. Only
two of the pieces from the ’78 show are back and the famed
golden death mask from Tut’s Tomb that I
marveled at for most of my time in that dark room is not
here.

But regardless, I was captivated just the same by all the
items from King Tut that I had never seen before, and I
was just as enthralled by the items chronicling the
thousands of years of Egyptian history. The exhibit at
Pacific Science Center runs through January.

If you saw Tut in Seattle as a child, you’ll
feel just like that child again.

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