Visiting The Real-life Mummies in Bradbury’s The Next In Line

Skulls and bones at Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum

Ray Bradbury’s short story captures the creepiness of the real-life mummies in Guanajuato’s Mummy Museum. A visit will have you thinking of your final act of gratitude,

In 1865, the town of Guanajuato in Mexico passed a new burial tax. The cost was more than some people could afford, so after three missed payments, gravediggers removed the body from its grave. They placed the corpse in an airtight wooden slot above ground. Many poor people were never buried at all.

All of these people are on eternal display for the rest of eternity at the Guanajuato Mummy Museum.

No wonder the museum inspired Ray Bradbury to write his heartless, chilling short story, The Next In Line. part of his short story collection called The October Country.

The Mummies’ Natural Mummification Process Explained

At the museum, you see human bodies mummified in a natural process. Although there’s a scientific explanation, the sight is disturbing. That’s because these bodies still look human, but with cringed bodies and expressions of horror. And each deceased personality displays its horror differently.

Bradbury’s story begins with an American 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, since his description matches the view from this hotel.

Although we didn’t stay at the Hotel San Diego, we had lunch at the trattoria on the second floor, with a table overlooking the plaza. Bradbury describes the bronze-copper benches, and the manicured trees that look like hat boxes.

Reading fiction or non-fiction about places you’re passing through is a lot of fun and always enlightening. I was seeing Bradbury’s description of the town of Guanajuato with my own eyes. And because we had just visited the mummy museum, I felt deeply his characters’ reactions to it. So many Mexican cities and towns have retained their historic centers, the way they’ve been for hundreds of years. Mexico’s federal government helps fund it in their pueblo magico program. Each town of these towns has its own charm, so you feel immersed in history just walking the streets.

The Utter Loneliness of Death

In Guanajuato, though, Bradbury makes you feel the utter loneliness in life as much as in death, and that feeling has defined the town for me. Bradbury captured the discomfort and the 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 be on eternal display.

They’re here, thanks to an unfair city tax that was too expensive for poor families. In Bradbury’s story, the cemetery caretaker explains how they buried poor people just two feet deep, since they would probably be digging up the body soon.

Guanajuato, Mexico, is definitely worth a visit, and it’s only about an hour from the popular tourist destination of San Miguel de Allende. Even if you never make it to Guanajuato, read Bradbury’s story for taste of the town.

The rest of the stories in the book were enjoyable, too. The rest of the stories are set in the U.S. It’s an interesting short story collection, worth your time.


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