The Tragic Story Of The Mexican Ape Woman

lunes, 24 de abril de 2017 4:25

|alejandro lopez


Julia Pastrana was born in 1834 Sinaloa, Mexico. She lived in poverty throughout her life and had to work since her earliest years. Sadly, the condition she was born with aggravated her circumstances. She had Hypertrichosis, a disorder that causes an abnormal amount of hair growth in the face, chest, and limbs. She also had gingival hyperplasia, which is an increase in the size of the gums that produces the visual effect of a protruding jaw. In her lifetime, there were very few cases of her rare condition, so there was no way to treat it. 

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For a few years, she worked as domestic servant for a governor in Sinaloa, but was ultimately fired, as her presence was considered a threat for business and investment opportunities in the state. These events coincided with the heyday of circuses and freak shows. Since there were no scientific explanations for these physical ailments, audiences where  intrigued by people with out of the common appearances. 

Since Julia was regarded as one of a kind, she was hired by two American businessmen who wanted to exhibit her in one of their shows and make a profit. She would be presented as "the ugliest woman in the world," the "bearded woman," or the "bear woman." Being only 20 years old, her life changed radically due to these events.

 

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Julia made her first freak show appearance at the Gothic Hall, in New York City. The Times referred to her as the “link between mankind and the orangutan.” As the main attraction of the show, she was humiliated, and audiences flocked to see her. People considered her a monster, an unmistakeable icon of ugliness. She made a couple of tours in the United States and then met her future husband and manager, circus impresario Theodore Lent.


She made constant appearances at fairs and shows, and she continued to be showcased as an oddity. In 1857, Lent married her so he could control her and keep all the earnings for himself. He and Julia toured Europe and appeared in shows across England, Germany, Poland, and Russia. Wherever they went, she would elicit the same reactions: admiration, curiosity, and disgust. Some newspapers and books described her appearance as: “gorilla-like” or “revolting in the extreme.” Yet, there were people who noticed other qualities behind her mask. Francis Buckland, a British natural historian, wrote in an 1868 book that Pastrana had a sweet singing voice, a great taste in music and dancing, spoke three languages, and was also very charitable.

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In 1859 Julia became pregnant by Lent while touring. Her child inherited her hypertrichosis and died hours after his birth in Moscow. Julia died five days later due to complications. Lent's greed knew no bounds, he had the bodies of wife and son embalmed and continued to exhibit them. He later found a bearded woman in Germany whom he married and presented as Julia's sister. He would make his new wife perform alongside the bodies.


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While Charles Darwin never saw any of Julia's shows while she was touring London, he did write about her. Eight years after her death, he included a description of her in his The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), which reads as follows:

"Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead; she was photographed, and her stuffed skin was exhibited as a show; but what concerns us is, that she had in both the upper and lower jaw an irregular double set of teeth [...] From the redundancy of the teeth her mouth projected, and her face had a gorilla-like appearance"

After Lent’s death, Julia’s body was exhibited by a Norwegian fairground operator in the early 1970s. In 1976, the bodies of Julia and her son were stolen. Finally, her remains were found inside a bin, with a dismembered arm , and the child’s body damaged beyond repair. It was presumed that the bodies had been dissected. The police transferred her body to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Oslo, where she was placed in storage, and later on moved to a climate-controlled room of anatomical specimens at the university’s Institute of Basic Medical Sciences.


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A few years after her origins were confirmed, her body was sent back to Mexico in 2013, so she could be buried in her homeland. She received a proper burial as an attempt to give her the humane and dignified treatment she never received, and thus end a story of exploitation and abuse.

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Sources:

The New York Times

The New York Times 

The Human Marvels

Julia Pastrana: The Bearded Lady


Translated by Andrea Valle Gracia
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