Archive for the ‘Restless Corpses’ Category

an illustration of Julia Pastrana, a Victorian stage performer who toured Europe, Canada, and the United States billed as the Bearded Lady, the Nondescript, the Ape-Woman.

An illustration of Julia Pastrana, a Victorian stage performer who toured Europe, Canada, and the United States billed as the Bearded or Hairy Lady, the Nondescript, the Ape-Woman, the Marvelous Hybrid or Bear Woman.

Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) was one of the most famous human curiosities of her time, touring Europe, Canada, and the United States in the 1850s as “the Bearded Lady” or the “Ape-Woman.” Born poor in Mexico, she suffered from a rare inherited disorder (hypertrichosis), not understood during the Victorian Age, that caused her entire body to be covered in silky, black hair. Add to that a jutting jaw with huge teeth that made her look positively like a monkey. Yet while grotesque and freakish, she also exuded a feminine grace. She sang Spanish songs sweetly, had slender feet and hands, and displayed a buxom figure at a petite four-and-a-half feet tall. She styled her hair in elaborate coiffures and wore embroidered lace dresses that barely covered her knees. She spoke three languages, cooked, and sewed. In her stage act, she danced a Highland Fling.

When she toured London in 1857 in one of the monster shows popular at the time, she attracted journalists, doctors, and scientific minds. Julia was very popular. It cost 3 shillings to see her in the Regent Gallery, compared to the 6 shillings that a Victorian laborer might earn in a week. Promoted by her avarious manager and new husband, Theodore Lent, Julia was now billed as “The Nondescript,” suggesting that she was a unique species, perhaps “the missing link” between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. Debate raged in the newspapers as to her origins and her appearance was described at length. She submitted to medical examinations freely and received many distinguished visitors. Charles Darwin mentioned her in his book, The Variation of Animal and Plants under Domestication, writing:

Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman – she had a thick and masculine beard.”

Julia loved her husband very much and, in 1859 in Moscow, she became pregnant with their first child. Her doctors were worried. Julia’s narrow hips and small frame could mean a difficult childbirth, they warned. On March 20, 1860, Julia gave birth to a hair-covered little boy. He died within 35 hours. Julia died five days later, at age 26.

Theodore Lent was distraught. Julia had been the bank. Now the bank was closed! How was he to live now that his source of income had died? He had a Eureka moment. Why should the bank close? He sent Julia’s corpse and that of his newborn son to Professor Sukolov of Moscow University for embalming. The process took 6 months but the results were amazing. Julia’s mummified remains looked lifelike. He dressed Julia in one of her dancing costumes and his son in a cute sailor suit. He stood them up on a pedestal and took them on a tour, exhibiting them as pickled specimens for 20 years.

Julia Pastrana and son, embalmed, on tour after their deaths

Julia Pastrana and son, embalmed, on tour after their deaths

When touring Sweden, Theodore met another hairy young woman named Zenora who suffered from a condition very similar to Julia. He married her and began touring her as Zenora Pastrana – Julia’s sister. Theodore grew richer and richer. In the 1880s, he and Zenora retired to St. Petersburg where they bought a waxworks museum. Theodore wasn’t able to enjoy his retirement for long because he became ill and was sent to a lunatic asylum where he died.

Over the course of the next 100 years, the mummies changed hands countless times, being sold to German fairs, an Austrian circus, and a Norwegian chamber of horrors. They came out of mothballs in 1970 and went on a short tour of Sweden and Norway. An American tour was aborted due to public outcry over the utter tastlessness of the idea. The mummies were put in storage by Norwegian owner Hans Lund in 1973.

In August of 1976, vandals broke into the storage unit. Julia’s mummified son was mutilated and his remains eaten by mice. Only her body remained. Then in 1979, the storage facility was again broken into and Julia’s body was stolen. It was assumed at the time to be destroyed.

Then, in February of 1990, a Norwegian journalist made a surprise discovery of a mummy in the basement of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Oslo. It turns out that, back in 1979, the police had responded to a call involving some children who found an arm in a ditch. A search revealed the mummified body of Julia, badly mangled. The police did not know her identity. They took the mummy to the Institute.

It is believed by some, though not confirmed by me at this time, that the remains of Julia Pastrana have rested in a sealed coffin at the Department of Anatomy at Oslo University since 1997. “She is now a buried woman, not an exhibition object. She rests [at peace],” says Professor Gunnar Nicolaysen [translated from Norwegian].

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The body of Mao Zedong rests in its crystal coffin.

The body of Mao Zedong rests in its crystal coffin.

In a recent post, “Monster Mao,” I blogged about the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, and his disastrous leadership.

Besides being selfish and cruel, Mao Zedong had some disgusting personal habits. He did not like to bathe. According to his personal physician, Dr. Li, Mao liked young girls and fatty pork. Like many Chinese of his time, Mao Zedong never brushed his teeth. Instead he rinsed with green tea and chewed the leaves. Dr. Li pleaded with his patient to brush but Mao refused, reportedly stating,

“A tiger never brushes his teeth.”

Consequently, Mao’s teeth looked like they were coated with green paint. As he grew older, his teeth fell out and he became toothless.

Mao also loved to chain smoke English cigarettes. Dr. Li begged him to cut down. Mao’s response:

“Smoking is also a form of deep-breathing exercise, don’t you think?”

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For background information, read my previous post, “Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse.”

Here is part 5 0f 5 of the 1996 A & E “Biography” series on Eva Peron, “Evita: The Woman Behind the Myth.”  Halfway through the tape, you will get an eyeful of Evita.

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Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos with U.S. President Ronald Reagan

Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos with U.S. President Ronald Reagan

For most of you, the names Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos won’t ring any bells. But from 1965 to 1986, Ferdinand was the President and Imelda the First Lady of the Philippines. In those 21 years, Ferdinand, with Imelda’s help, managed to rack up an astonishing record of abuses common to dictators – human rights violations, assassinations, corruption, embezzlement of public funds – and held onto power through the imposition of martial law, the abolition of the constitution, and the appointment of political cronies, including Imelda, a former beauty queen, to prominent posts.

Finally, in 1986, a people’s coup toppled the Marcos regime and the Marcoses were forced to flee their palace and the country. They were given safe passage by the Reagan Administration to Hawaii. In the palace, Imelda left behind 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 888 handbags and 1060 pairs of shoes, some say 2700 pairs. It was estimated that the Marcos family was worth $35 billion.

Three years later, still in exile in Hawaii, Ferdinand was dead at 72 of complications from lupus. Imelda wanted Ferdinand to be buried in the Philippines but his body was refused entry. So Imelda kept the body in a refrigerated mausoleum in Oahu, complete with soft music, wheeling him out over the years for a birthday party and an anniversary celebration. (1) The power company soon threatened to suspend power for the costly tomb when thousands of dollars in electric bills went unpaid but, at the last minute, a friend came forward and picked up the tab.

In 2001, twelve years after his death, the Philippine government allowed Ferdinand’s corpse to return to his homeland and Imelda with it. Imelda went to work building a tomb in the national cemetery where Filipino heroes are buried. But fierce opposition broke out and blocked the former president’s burial. Ferdinand’s remains were then temporarily housed at a mansion in Batac, Ilocos Norte Province, in an air conditioned room. Eventually the corpse was moved to their present location in the Marcos family mausoleum in the village cemetery in Batac.

Former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos kisses the crystal coffin of her deceased husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos

Former First Lady of the Philippines kisses the crystal coffin of her deceased husband, former President Ferdinand Marcos

The once-ruthless dictator is now a shrunken fellow dressed in a barong tagalog and black slacks lying in a glass viewing case inside a refrigerated crypt in a stone room with soft lights and church music. He is on perpetual view. A steady flow of visitors file past him. There his restless corpse will remain, above ground, unless Imelda gets her way and the government relents, according him a government-sponsored burial with full military honors.

A visitor to the mausoleum says that the corpse of Ferdinand Marcos, according to Filipino burial tradition, lies shoeless in the coffin. He swears that Marcos’ face and hands, however, don’t look very natural, even for a corpse. Speculation is that the real corpse is under the glass coffin, and that the figure on display is a dummy. The family claims this is not so, that the corpse looks waxy because it has to be waxed periodically for preservation.

(1) Verdery, Katherine. The Political Lives of Dead Bodies. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000)


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Eva Duarte de Peron, First Lady of Argentina (1946-1952)

Eva Duarte de Peron, First Lady of Argentina (1946-1952)

At 8:52 p.m. on the night of July 26, 1952, all radio broadcasts in Argentina were interrupted for an emergency announcement: First Lady Eva Peron – “the Spiritual Leader of the Nation” – was dead of cancer at 33. All activity came to an abrupt halt. Movies stopped playing. Shops closed. Restaurants were emptied of patrons. Argentina went into mourning.

The enormous public display of grief took the government by surprise. Crowds gathered outside the official presidential residence, congesting the streets for ten blocks in any direction. In a panic to be near Eva Peron’s body when it was being moved, eight people were crushed to death in the pressing throngs and 2,000 were treated for injuries at area hospitals. The streets of Buenos Aires were overflowing with tall stacks of flowers laid in remembrance for the people’s beloved Evita. Although she never held an official political office, Eva Peron (1919-1952) was eventually given an official funeral worthy of a head of state. To the poor of Argentina, Senora Evita was a saint.

The Body of Eva Peron Being Carried Through the Honor Guard to the building of the General Labor Federation in Buenos Aires to Lie in State (Aug. 13, 1952)

The Body of Eva Peron Being Carried Through the Honor Guard to the building of the General Labor Federation in Buenos Aires to Lie in State (Aug. 13, 1952)

Before Eva had died, her husband, Argentine President Juan Domingo Peron (1895-1974), had contacted the famed embalmer, Dr. Pedro Ara, whose work was referred to as “the art of death,” to preserve Eva’s body. Dr. Ara’s technique of replacing the corpse’s blood with glycerine, which preserved all organs, created a lifelike appearance. Eva weighed only eighty pounds at death and was severely burned from radiation treatments but Dr. Ara was able to recreate her former beauty and give her an embalmment equal to that of Lenin. It has been suggested that Dr. Ara fell in love with Eva’s body. Plans were made to build a marble monument to Evita’s honor larger than the Statue of Liberty. During the construction her embalmed body lay in state for two years.

Then President Peron was overthrown and the body of Eva Peron stolen. For sixteen years, the whereabouts of Eva’s body remained a mystery. Juan fled to Spain in exile. Finally, in 1971, Eva’s body was discovered in a grave under a false name outside of Rome. It was exhumed and flown to Spain where Juan Peron kept the corpse in an open casket on the dining room table in his villa. Juan was now married to third wife Isabel who combed the corpse’s hair in a daily devotion and, at Juan’s request, was rumored to occasionally lie inside the coffin next to Evita to absorb some of her political magic.

In 1974, Juan returned to power as president of Argentina. Upon his death, wife Isabel succeeded him. Isabel returned Eva’s body to Argentina where it was briefly displayed next to Juan’s body.

Bodies of Juan and Eva Peron Lying in State (c. 1974-76)

Bodies of Juan and Eva Peron Lying in State (c. 1974-76)

Isabel was overthrown in 1976. The new military leaders had Eva Peron’s body safely buried in the Duarte family tomb under three plates of steel in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. The tomb was said to be secure enough to withstand a nuclear attack or a restless corpse.

Now read “Eva Peron’s Restless Corpse Part 2.”


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