RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
And now to what we consider art. From Egypt, a major exhibit in this country is going home. The King Tut exhibit has been here five-and-a-half years in eight cities, and has received nearly eight million visitors. A specially designed museum is going up in Egypt and will permanently house the gilded treasures of the boy king.
MONTAGNE: spectacle, art and archeology.
Jesse Baker has our report.
JESSE BAKER: The ancient Egyptians believed if your name lived on after you died, then you would enjoy eternal life. If they're right, King Tut is a pretty spry 3,000-year-old. King Tut is a phenomenon and a cultural touchstone.
Stephen Colbert's top story of 2010 was the pharaoh's missing metaphoric royal jewels.
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MONTAGNE: So what could this Egyptian treasure be? Well, it turns out Princess Scota was the half sister of King Tut. Oh, my Ra.
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BAKER: King Tut provoked laughter even 30 years ago. This is Steve Martin's homage.
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MONTAGNE: (Singing) Born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia, King Tut.
BAKER: Now, for a few more days, some of Egypt's most prized and promoted possessions can be found in the heart of Manhattan's Times Square, tucked between the Broadway production of "Spider-Man" and the Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.
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BAKER: You are sealed into a tomb-like room to start the exhibit and shown a short film narrated by Omar Sharif. The film ends. Doors to the gallery open into darkness. The only light you see is that illuminating a statue of a boy. This is your introduction to King Tut.
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MONTAGNE: Come face to face with the boy king, the ruler, the commander, Tutankhamen.
BAKER: Consider seven-year-old Cordelia Zawaraski unimpressed. She came to see one thing.
MONTAGNE: The mummy.
BAKER: What did it look like?
MONTAGNE: How do I know? It's not open.
BAKER: Not only is Tut's mummy not open, to be honest, it's not really on display here in New York. Instead, the exhibit features a life-sized, 3D replica based on CT scans of the actual mummy. Tut's real remains have never left the Valley of the Kings.
There are twice as many artifacts on display here than in the landmark King Tut Exhibit in the late 1970s.
MONTAGNE: When the exhibition toured in the '70s, Egypt saw very little money from that very, very successful exhibition.
BAKER: That's Mark Lach, senior vice president of Arts and Exhibitions International. That's the organization that collaborated with the Egyptian government to bring King Tut back to the U.S.
So basically, what was billed in the 1970s as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and displayed for a few bucks, 30-some years later become a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity and charged 29.50 a ticket.
MONTAGNE: I think bringing the exhibition here to the United States to raise funds for Egypt was a very important part of the reasoning to bring the exhibit1ion to the United States.
BAKER: Tut and his golden entourage will return to Egypt having earned about $80 million. The money will be spread around. Some will aid the preservation of Egyptian temples and monuments. But the majority will pay for the construction of The Grand Egyptian Museum - the final, final resting place for the Boy King's treasures. No more traveling exhibits, we're told.
New Yorker Michael Gold said he was happy to get in just under the wire.
MONTAGNE: And I had a lot of these things in my house. I wanted to come to see the real things, you know. Thank goodness I came to see it before it disappeared. I couldn't wait another 40 years.
BAKER: There's one more stop on the king's comeback tour in Melbourne, Australia, as the relics await completion of the museum in Giza.
For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.
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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
After 5 1/2 years, eight cities and nearly 8 million visitors, Tutankhamen's grand touring exhibit is headed home. A new museum in Giza has been specially designed to house the gilded treasures of the king.
Tutankhamen's treasures last visited the U.S. in the 1970s -- viewing the exhibit was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Above, people stand in line at Chicago's Field Museum in June 1977.
Charles Knoblock / AP
For only few more days, some of Egypt's most prized and promoted possessions can be found in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, tucked between a Broadway musical production of Spider-Man and the Times Square Ripley's Believe It or Not museum.
The ancient Egyptians believed if your name lived on after you died, then you would enjoy eternal life. If they're right, King Tutankhamen is pretty spry for a guy who is more than 3,000 years old.
It is "King Tut" the phenomenon that has inspired fashion designers and satirists alike for more than a generation. After 5 1/2 years, eight cities and nearly 8 million visitors, Tutankhamen's grand touring exhibit is headed home to a new museum in Giza specially designed to house the gilded treasures of the king.
"I wanted to come see the real thing," said New Yorker Michael Gold, as he wandered around the exhibit. "Thank goodness I came to see it before it disappeared. I couldn't wait another 40 years."
The last time Tutankhamen graced these shores back in the 1970s, he became a phenomenon, triggering so-called Tut-mania -- remember Steve Martin's homage to the boy king?
This time around, Tut remains a cultural touchstone. Stephen Colbert's top story of 2010 on The Colbert Report was the pharaoh's missing metaphorical "royal jewels." (A CT scan found they had fallen off but were still contained in the royal sarcophagus.)
Organizers say this is likely to be the last time Tutankhamen and his relics tour the U.S. To be precise, Tutankhamen never made the tour: Instead of his actual mummy, the exhibit features a life-size 3-D replica based on CT scans of the real mummy. Tutankhamen's remains have never left Egypt's Valley of the Kings.
Back in the 1970s, viewing Tutankhamen was described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It cost just a few dollars for admission. Three-plus decades later, the exhibit became a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity that cost $29.50 plus taxes for each ticket.
"When the exhibition toured in the '70s, Egypt saw very little money from that very successful exhibition," says Mark Lach, senior vice president for Arts and Exhibitions International, the organization that collaborated with the Egyptian government to bring Tutankhamen back to the U.S.
This time, Egypt gets the majority of the cut.
"I think bringing the exhibit to the United States to raise funds for Egypt was a very important part of the reasoning for bringing the exhibit back to the U.S.," Lach says.
Tutankhamen and his golden entourage will return to Egypt with about $80 million. The money will be spread around -- some will aid the preservation of Egyptian temples and monuments, but the bulk of it will pay for the construction of The Grand Egyptian Museum, the final resting place for the boy king's treasures. Tutankhamen's traveling days are over, or at least David Silverman thinks so. He's curator of the current Tutankhamen exhibit and was the curator of the 1977 tour stop at Chicago's Field Museum.
"I think the whole buildup has been to bring it back to Egypt and I think once that happens there's a very good chance that it's not going to travel again," Silverman says.
There's one more stop on the king's comeback tour, in Melbourne, as the relics await completion of the Museum in Giza.