Mexico's bone-chilling Mummy Museum

Many of the mummies still have hair, teeth and fingernails.
Many of the mummies still have hair, teeth and fingernails. (Marek Zuk/Alamy)
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By Bill Brubaker
Sunday, January 10, 2010

The most disturbing thing about visiting the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato, Mexico, isn't the mummies themselves. After three visits over 10 years, I've grown accustomed to the mummies -- more than 100 of them, many staring back (dare I say helplessly?) from behind glass display cases, some upright, some lying down.

Nope, it's the torture instruments that make me queasy.

El Museo de las Momias, surely one of the most bizarre cultural institutions anywhere, underscores Mexico's obsession with death. Every day is a Day of the Dead celebration in this popular, well-maintained museum, a short bus or cab ride from the leafy main square of Guanajuato, a town also known for its pottery, colonial charm and nearby silver mines.

The torture gadgets are displayed alongside several cadavers to illustrate, I can only suppose, that death comes in many ways.

One mummy has metal spikes jammed into every part of his body.

"Ay, Dios mio," I heard over and over from Spanish-speaking visitors as they passed this specimen. Omigod.

The museum traces its roots to the 19th century, when cemetery space was at a premium in hilly Guanajuato, so relatives were charged an annual tax to keep their loved ones buried. Some folks couldn't afford the tax, and their loved ones were exhumed -- or so the legend goes. That's how workers at the main cemetery discovered that the dry mountain air and mineral content of the soil had mummified some of the corpses.

Beginning in 1870, the mummies were placed in a room near the cemetery's administrative offices, according to www.guanajuatocapital.com, a privately owned tourism Web site. Foreign visitors discovered the mummies around 1894, and a museum followed.

Next to the torture victims, the collection of babies is the toughest to take. Some simply look like dolls.

Many of the mummies still have hair, teeth and fingernails. Some are fully dressed, supposedly in the same clothes (shoes and socks included) in which they were buried.

Their facial expressions range from peaceful to anguished to surprised.

All very tasteless?


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