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.

Buy the book on Amazon

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.”