Thursday, February 14, 2013

Julia Pastrana

I love mummies (and chances are that if you are reading this, you do too), so it is with mixed emotions that I relay the news that Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) has been buried in her native Mexico. Pastrana had hypertrichosis and was purchased, possibly from her mother, by a showman who took her on tour in the U.S. and Europe. He married and educated her, billing her as "the ugliest woman in the world." She was seen by Charles Darwin, who was less fascinated by her appearance than he was with the fact that she had a double set of teeth. When she died shortly after childbirth, her husband had her remains and those of her infant son (who didn't survive) preserved and exhibited the mummies. The showman eventually went insane, and the mummies for the most part disappeared from public view until the 1990s. The remains were damaged by mice, vandalized, stolen, and finally ended up in a storage room at Oslo University in Norway. “Her story has always had a bad ending,” said Jonathan Fielding, New York-based director of a play about Pastrana. “The big difference is that now it has an appropriate ending.”

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