Ramesses II is known as a great warrior for his victory in battle, a great family man for fathering 90 children, and a great builder for completing more construction projects than any other Pharaoh in ancient Egypt. Ruling Egypt for 66 years during the Nineteenth Dynasty of the New Kingdom, Ramesses II reigned longer than any other pharaoh in Egyptian history. When he came to The Mint Museum in 1988, he proved to be a great builder of community as well. The Mint Museum exhibition statement of purpose as to, “provide a unique cultural and educational experience for the exhibition’s visitors”. Beyond the exhibition visitors, the Mint hoped to promote Charlotte’s reputation as a cultural arts center, bring additional revenue to the city, and provide an opportunity for parallel educational programs at all levels of the education system.
Ramesses The Great: The Pharaoh and His Time was the largest exhibition ever mounted by The Mint Museum when it opened on October 1, 1988. It required renovations to the Mint building to improve environmental controls and lighting, as well as temporary structures to accommodate the Egyptian Antiquities Organization’s security requirements, a movie theatre, and a three-story building added as a temporary addition to the front atrium of the Museum to house the 24-foot 7-inch tall, 48 ton Colossus of Ramesses. The exhibition contained over 70 artifacts from the collection of the Cairo Museum in Egypt, reflecting the craftsmanship of Egyptian goldsmiths with jewelry including pendants, vessels, and a massive 19-lb. gold necklace. Other items included the combs and mirrors of the ladies of the court, levels and plumb lines used by Ramesses’ chief architect and builder.
Scholars at the time regarded the Ramesses exhibition as more significant than the King Tutankhamun exhibition, the only comparable Egyptian exhibit to come to the United States at that time. The size of the collection and historical significance were what made the Ramesses exhibition so special, given that scholars believed Ramesses to be the pharaoh during the time of Moses’ exodus from Egypt.
Central Piedmont Community College offered a six-week class entitled, “The Age of Ramesses” under their history department that was promoted as a way to “enhance your enjoyment of the Mint Museum’s Ramesses the Great exhibit by opening doors to the everyday life and beliefs on the afterlife during the time of this Egyptian ruler”.
Resources all across the state were utilized for the exhibition: The North Carolina State Legislature granted $200,000 which was used for school children’s exhibition tickets, allowing 40,000 public school students to see Ramesses free of charge. The National Guard was called upon to provide security at the airport with the arrival of the exhibition objects. The Charlotte Convention and Visitors Bureau partnered with the museum for a direct mail campaign. Pepsi Cola was named the in-house soft drink of the exhibition and the local Pepsi Cola Bottling Company launched an advertising campaign to include bottle labels, grocery displays, and television. Southern Bell featured the Ramesses coffin on the cover of 1.1 million telephone books which began appearing on Charlotte doorsteps in August 1988.
The support of business leaders, civic and religious organizations, the African-American community, the education and arts communities, other museums, the state legislature and even the military were needed for this historic undertaking to succeed. Bringing together these disparate entities was no small feat, nor was recruiting the 2,000 plus volunteers required to staff the exhibition for its four-month residency. Ramesses the Great exhibition culminated on January 31, 1989.
For more information on the Ramesses Exhibition, please visit the Mint Museum Archives page for a full description of the Ramesses Exhibition collection.