“Mummies” traditionally bring to mind the archaeological discoveries of ancient Egypt. But they’ve also been found elsewhere in the world, and in the case of those disinterred from the cemeteries of Guanajuato in Mexico, may date to more modern times. It’s here that a macabre museum has put the city on the tourist trail – a chilling charnel house displaying death at its most visceral.
El Museo De Las Momias (The Mummies’ Museum) came about due to morbid demand. The 119 corpses displayed were victims of a cholera outbreak that swept through Guanajuato around 1833. Disinterred from a local cemetery between 1865 and 1958 because their relatives were unable to pay a burial tax, some of the bodies were found to be naturally mummified.
Bodies were placed in a storage building, along with other bones and remains. When people began to request entry, it wasn’t long before shrewd cemetery workers began charging a few pesos and, over time, thanks to increasing morbid curiosity, The Mummies’ Museum became one of the colourful city of Guanajuato’s main attractions.
Spanning the generations from infants and adolescants to middle aged and elderly, the first mummy – who in life was called Dr Remigio Leroy – went on display in 1865. Others range from the smallest mummy in the world (a fetus) to some of the strangest – some wearing the clothes they died in, others sporting only shoes.
Most chilling of all was the revelation that several of those displayed were accidentally buried alive, their tortured expressions telling the tragic tale of those that had woken up in a coffin. When one of those unfortunate individuals – Ignacia Aguilar – was disinterred, she was found to be facing down, biting her arm with blood in her mouth.
Echoing The Day of the Dead, the Mummies of Guanajuato have taken their place in Mexican and broader pop culture. They were featured in the title scene of Werner Herzog’s 1979 horror film Nosferatu the Vampyre, and have been visited by American film director Tim Burton. The Mummies’ Museum remains a popular tourist destination today and represent a darker side to the vibrant and colourful city of Guanajuato.