In 1865, Guanajuato’s new burial taxes were more than some people could afford, but the government didn’t care. There was money to be made. After three missed payments, gravediggers removed the body from its grave. The gravediggers then placed the corpses in airtight wooden slots above ground. Many poor people were never buried at all.
I couldn’t post on Instagram my photos from inside the Museum of the Mummies because it’s upsetting.
These are human bodies mummified in a natural process. There’s a scientific explanation, but the sight makes you uncomfortable.
That’s because these bodies still look human, but with cringed bodies and expressions of horror. And each deceased personality displays its horror differently.
A Natural Mummification Process Explained
Each body mummified through the same naturally scientific process, but with a unique expression on each face and a different contortion of the body.
Walking through this underground museum is worse than any house of horrors you’ve been through. These cringed bodies and the painful expressions are real.
Our guide Carlos explained the process where the body’s muscles contract and the eyes explode from their sockets. That explains the body contortions that look so painful.
It’s all so strange. In some cases, facial and scalp hair continues to grow. In this photo, even the pubic hair had grown on some of them.
Ray Bradbury’s Fictionalized Visit
In 1947, Ray Bradbury published a brilliant story about The Museum of the Mummies. It’s called The Next in Line. The story begins with a couple in a hotel room along the main plaza, Jardín de la Union.
I’m guessing Bradbury’s couple was staying at Hotel San Diego. His description matches the view from this hotel.
We didn’t stay there, but we had lunch at the trattoria on the second floor. Bradbury describes the bronze-copper benches, and the manicured trees that look like hat boxes. The pink tiles? Pink as women’s hidden wonders!
Part of the fun in this story was reading the descriptions of Guanajuato while the town was fresh in my mind. Physically, the town has changed so little in 70+ years. But the story is horrifying, too. Bradbury makes you feel the utter loneliness in life as much as in death.
I’m glad I read the story after visiting the museum. That allowed me to react spontaneously to the sight of it all. If you don’t plan on visiting Guanajuato any time soon, the story will raise Guanajuato several noches up your bucket list.
Bradbury captured the discomfort and unethical feeling you get when you visit the museum. When we die, of course, we leave our physical bodies behind. But at the museum, these people’s identities are preserved, and not in their best light. These people didn’t choose to spend eternity on display. They’re here, thanks to an unfair city tax that was too expensive for poor families. In Bradury’s story, the cemetery caretaker explains how they bury poor people just two feet deep, since they would probably be digging up the body soon.
You can find the story in this collection of his short stories, The October Country (not an affiliate link).
Plan your trips with interesting places to visit, and intriguing stories about the places you’ll be seeing.
Sign up for post notifications:
Keep Your Fate In Your Own Hands
I know that our bodies are only our earthly vessels, but I would feel very uncomfortable leaving my body on permanent display here at the museum. One of my almost daily mantras is to never leave my fate in someone else’s hands. I pray I will always be able to take care of myself. I’ve seen up close that family members see you as a burden once you can’t take care of yourself. Many home assistants will have even less patience for you. After visiting the museum, I see that this mantra applies to both life and death.
Carlos, our guide, prefers ecological cemeteries. That’s where our bodies re-incorporate with the earth and fertilize the soil. No one will have to bring flowers to my grave. The flowers will be growing out of me. I like the idea. We give back to the earth as a final act of gratitude for the lives we were given.
Here is why you will love Guanajuato.
Planning Your Trip
I highly recommend Guanajuato. San Miguel de Allende, possibly already on your bucket list, is just a 90-minute drive, and a taxi will be happy to take you in either direction.
San Miguel de Allende is an unbelievably beautiful and safe town, full of expats from the United States, Europe and Australia. The tourists who visit have money. Many are from different parts of Mexico.
Guanajuato is not as wealthy and not as well-maintained, but it’s full of charm and history. There’s a lot to do here. One Uber driver told us that the expats in San Miguel never learn English. The expats in Guanajuato do, and they like to mix with the Mexicans.
- 2 days in San Miguel
- 4 days in Guanajuato