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

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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Our upcoming cozy mystery on Kindle

Travel & lifestyle influencer Miranda arrives in Chinquapin Hills to promote a local tourist attraction, a lighthouse-turned-inn that holds many secrets.

One of these secrets has just implicated Miranda in the murder of a local business mogul.

Miranda will have to face her innermost fear to clear her name and save herself from a viral death on social media.

Book: Bly vs. Bisland. Two Women Race Around The World. In 1889!

Female solo travel? In the late 18th century? The shocking thought of it fascinated the public. They followed the two adventurers as they circled the globe. They started at the same time, but in different directions.

There are some people who are unstoppable. It doesn’t matter what obstacles stand in their way, they find a way to do the things they dream of. Two women traveling alone, breaking, attempting to beat fictional Phineas Fogg’s 80-trip in Jules Verne’s classic while breaking gender barriers at the same time.

Phileas Fogg, their inspiration, traveled with his servant. These two female solo travelers were left to take care of every task themselves, and they handled it all expertly! Of course, Fogg had a police warrant for his arrest, complicating his trip and driving the plot.

The Contenders: Nellie Bly vs. Elizabeth Bisland

Each had to prepare in just a night. Nellie Bly’s publication made a last-minute decision to let her go. Elizabeth Bisland’s publication wanted her to beat Nellie Bly and steal the credit. Just one night to pack. Their last-minute preparation shows their very distinct personalities.

Nellie Bly, Reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World

Nellie Bly was the well-known daredevil reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. She had already exposed life in the Blackwell Island lunatic asylum, going undercover as a patient. Blackwell Island is now Roosevelt Island, right next to Manhattan.

The center portion of this condominium is all that remains of the original lunatic asylum.

Still, Nellie’s newspaper publisher refused to let her make this trip around the world, saying he preferred to send a man. Nellie was furious. “Very well,” she warned, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” Her publisher knew Nellie too well and, finally, let her go.

Nellie was a simple woman. She brought just one dress and one jacket, allowing her to fit all of the possessions in just one mid-sized bag. Her mind was set on her goal of beating the 80-day record, and not looking fashionable along the way.

She regretted not bringing a Kodak camera, which had debuted earlier that year. Many tourists throughout the world already had them, she said. This was an age of new technologies. In fact, the challenge was only possible because of the newly-invented steam engine. Modern-day traveled would be different forever. Faster trips across the Atlantic, and a camera to record the experience.

Elizabeth Bisland, Writer for the Magazine, The Cosmopolitan

Elizabeth arrived in New York City just two years before her race around the world with only 50-cents in her pocket but, before long, she had made a name for herself, and enough money to live comfortably. She did not like the fame, though, and did whatever she could to stay out of the spotlight.

Elizabeth Bisland’s publisher called her into their offices to tell her that she would be making the trip around the world, leaving the following morning. Elizabeth Bisland was sophisticated. She had an entire trunk that she packed with clothing.

The Race Begins

My photo in NY’s Hudson Valley

Both women began in New York City. While Bisland boarded a train for San Francisco to begin her journey, Nellie Bly boarded a steamship for England. The steamship was the only part of the journey that Nellie booked in advance. She wanted the freedom to travel spontaneously. If you have that adventurous streak in you, then you know how important spontaneity is.

When Nellie arrived in England, Jules Verne and his wife had an invitation waiting for her. They wanted to meet the daredevil woman at their home in France. So Nellie made her first detour so she could meet them.

Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were two adventurous women, as different as could be. Nellie was very practical, ready for adventure; but Elizabeth was more sophisticated with a more literary style. She was more prolific, so she has many more sections in the book.

Bly vs. Bisland: The Book

The spirit of adventure in both of these women makes their trips exciting to follow. The actual observations, though, are not the modern ones that we’re used. Parts sound racially ignorant, but people are products of the times they live in. Read this book for the adventure of two audacious women. Nellie Bly was a simpler woman, but with a spark to ignite the world. Elizabeth Bisland was a better writer, and that makes her segments interesting.

We listened to the Bly vs. Bisland audiobook. Each travel adventurer had their own narrator, and they were as distinct as the two women themselves. We left 5 stars for performances. If you’re a travel fanatic like us, then this one is worth your time.


Our upcoming cozy mystery on Kindle

Travel & lifestyle influencer Miranda arrives in Chinquapin Hills to promote a local tourist attraction, a lighthouse-turned-inn that holds many secrets.

One of these secrets has just implicated Miranda in the murder of a local business mogul.

Miranda will have to face her innermost fear to clear her name and save herself from a viral death on social media.

Book: Eyes On The World. The Story of Robert Capa & Gerda Taro

We spent the day in Mexico City’s Historic Center. I stopped into the bookstore Porrua bought La Maleta Mexicana (The Mexican Suitcase). The title and the cover looked intriguing. The blurb on the back cover described how a group of people worked together to smuggle Robert Capa’s 4,000 photos out of Europe. It sounded like a spy novel, but it was a true story.

I didn’t even know who this Robert Capa was, or what these photos were about, but I found out fast. Robert Capa took photos during the Spanish civil war, depicting Franco’s war crimes. The fascist European governments before World War 2 wanted these photos destroyed.

The photos ended up in New York, and then they disappeared. They were found 70 years later in Mexico City. Specifically, they were found at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, in Mexico City’s historic center, just half a block from the bookstore where I bought the book.

The school-turned-museum was closed for the pandemic when we visited, so we only got this photo. We went back, though, after the pandemic for a museum tour.

The book I found, La Maleta Mexicana, is only available in Spanish. I was so excited after reading it, though, that I found Eyes On The World by Marc Aronson & Marina Budhos. This book is even more exciting. It’s about Robert Capa’s and Gerda Taro’s lives taking photos in war zones. I highly recommend it.

And Mexico City? It’s begun to feel like home to us. Poet Renato Leduc, who’s part of the story in La Maleta Mexicana, returned to Mexico after 10 years and said, “Mexico, after all, isn’t a bad place to go back to live, to paint, to take photographs. To be born. Or to be reborn.”

Stepping Into Edward Hopper’s Lonely World

Each time I look at an Edward Hopper painting, I have the urge to talk to the lonely souls that inhabit his world. On this day, we felt like we stepped into one of his world, but not into his paintings. Their loneliness is marked forever on canvas. So is Hopper’s. But it was Hopper’s world that was lonely.

On a Saturday escape into the Hudson Valley, we detoured impulsively, following the road sign that pointed to the Edward Hopper Museum and House. The museum doesn’t require more than 30 minutes, time to visit the rooms on the second floor, Hopper’s bedroom and the kitchen. The museum was less than we were expecting, the experience turn into so much more, thanks to Ursula.

With Ursula on the porch of Edward Hopper’s house in Nyack, NY

Ursula, was a lonely, older woman who volunteered at the museum. She was also a friend of Edward Hopper’s sister. We’ll tell you more about her later. For now, it’s enough to say that Ursula told us roughly how to find the “house by the railroad” in Haverstraw, NY..

Edward Hopper’s House By the Railroad (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6a/House-by-the-railroad-edward-hopper-1925.jpg)

We drove around for 40 minutes, looking for this house. That’s because Hopper didn’t paint the house as it is. He re-interpreted the house according to his own issues of loneliness and isolation.

Hopper’s Loneliness: Is Artistic License The Same As Lying?

Edward Hopper didn’t paint the house as he saw it, we found out. I was disappointed. I wanted something similar for Instagram.

The spot where Edward Hopper painted The House By The Railroad

We drove around for 40 minutes, looking for a house that looked very little like Edward Hopper’s famous painting, as you can see why we drove around for 40 minutes. This wasn’t going to be a very good Instagram post, since it was so unrecognizable. Hopper painted the story he wanted to tell, so I decided to tell the same story using a little photo editing magic.

Here are the changes Hopper made:

1. Hopper removed two bedrooms and removed part of the porch and a few windows.

2. The NYC Museum of Modern Art says Hopper added deep afternoon shadows, but on the late afternoon we were there, the sun was on the other side of the house so he added a lot of his own to the painting.

3. The NYC MoMA says he added railroad track next to the house to make it look difficult to access. His message was how modernization was isolating us.

My Plan: Artistic License In My Photo-editing

My edited version where I t

The house in my edited photo was taken from the corner of the property with a wide angle lens, since I wanted the same exact angle as this photo just above. This eliminated the houses next door so I could isolate the house like Edward Hopper did.

I added the house to this photo just above using the Enlight phone app. The photo already had a slight red shade so I made that a little deeper.

I deepened the shadows just like Hopper did and also isolated the house even more by darkening the house behind it.

Making the changes helped me understand the painting better. What’s the point of art except to convey a message? Hopper had a story to tell. Technology was of what he wanted to convey. I wanted my photo to share Hopper’s vision. After all, Hopper was the subject of this trip.

Hopper’s “House by the railroad” impressed film director Alfred Hitchcock. He used the painting as a model for the Bates Motel in Psycho. Hitchcock made his own interpretations on the house. He isolated Norman Bates with long stairs and he changed the train tracks for a highway.


Stepping Into history

We parked the car behind the house and we immediately walked up to the porch. As we were taking a few photos, out of nowhere a man’s voice asked, “So you’re Hopper fans?”

This house is large and has several apartments. One of the renters was just coming home. He invited us in and told us about his experiences living in this house. Then he said he would introduce us to the owners. We accompanied him to their front door, also on the second floor. They introduced themselves as Edwin and Lori Castillo and said they had lived in the house for 40 years. Lori invited us into her beautifully-renovated apartment with a spiral staircase to the third floor.

Lori was very proud of her house’s fame. She showed us a collection of articles written about it. She said she loved when people come to visit because sh got to share their passion about the house.

Connecting to the Past: Meeting Ursula

As I said at the start of this post, the museum has very little. All of Edward Hopper’s paintings are in museums or in private collections. The musuem is where you get a glimpse into the artist’s private life.

His bedroom had a view of the Hudson River and the morning sun came right through the windows. When Hopper painted “House by the railroad” the population was only 4,400. Today it’s still a small town of just 7,000.

On the porch we met Ursula, who grew up around the corner and knew Hopper’s sister well, but she never felt comfortable talking to the artist. He was very, very tall and stood with a slight hunch and was always grumpy.

Ursula remembered how the wisteria tree behind us in the photo used to reach all the way across the street. The current gardener, she said, doesn’t know how to cut this tree properly.

Loneliness & Isolation In “Modern” Times

Ursula was happy to find people who wanted to listen to her nostalgia-filled stories. The worst part of old age is the loneliness.

Edward Hopper saw modern life in 1925 as isolating, a time we look back on as so much simpler. The real *House By The Railroad* was filled with friendly, welcoming people. Life has always been all about how we interpret it.