(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 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
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
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:
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.
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
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 tastelessness 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.
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, that the remains of Julia Pastrana have rested in a
sealed coffin at the Department of Anatomy at Oslo
University since 1997.
Above article by
Lisa Waller Rogers
toured Europe in the late 1850s advertising herself as the
'Bearded and hairy Lady' or 'Nonedescript'. She suffered
from a rare inherited disorder, not understood until the
late 20th century, which manifested itself in facial
distortion and considerable facial hair in the male pattern.
Doctors, as well as sensation seekers, were very keen to
examine her. Her story is unusual, not least because she was
mummified after death by her husband-manager and continued
to tour as a mounted exhibit for a number of decades.
Indirectly, she participated in the evolutionary debate in
Britain. In 1857, when she arrived in Britain from America,
she was popularly known as the baboon-woman.
Origin of Species was published, and evolutionary
controversy about ape-ancestry was hot in the air, she was
more often likened to the gorilla or orangutan - as a
possible specimen of a missing link.