Mummified Corpses in Guanajuato’s Museo de las Momias
In this month of Halloween, I thought I would make mention of the most horrific museum I have ever visited, the Museo de las Momias (that is, Mummies) de Guanajuato.
Imagine to yourself a museum consisting of corpses dug up in a Mexican mining town that have been naturally mummified because of the mineral content of the soil. Many were interred during a cholera epidemic which filled the local cemetery to such an extent that the town had to charge a fee for the right to remain buried. According to Wikipedia:
The human bodies appear to have been disinterred between 1870 and 1958. During that time, a local tax was in place requiring a fee to be paid for “perpetual” burial. Some bodies for which the tax was not paid were disinterred, and some—apparently those in the best condition—were stored in a nearby building. The climate of Guanajuato provides an environment which can lead to a type of natural mummification, although scientific studies later revealed that some bodies had been at least partially embalmed. By the 1900s the mummies began attracting tourists. Cemetery workers began charging people a few pesos to enter the building where bones and mummies were stored.
When I visited Guanajuato in the late 1980s, my introduction to the museum was itself grim: A young father was carrying a child’s coffin on his shoulders to be buried, with no one else in the family following him.
Shades of Edgar Allan Poe: The Wikipedia entry continues with this grim fact:
One of the mummies who was buried alive was Ignacia Aguilar. She suffered from a strange sickness that made her heart appear to stop on several occasions. During one of these incidents, her heart appeared to stop for more than a day. Thinking she had died, her relatives decided to bury her. When her body was disinterred, it was noticed that she was facing down, biting her arm, and that there was a lot of blood in her mouth.
The only way I kept the contents of my stomach under control while I was in the museum was the extent to which I busied myself taking pictures. None of these are in this post, as they have yet to be converted to JPEG files from the Kodachrome slides I was then shooting.
Even a writer like Ray Bradbury had trouble seeing the displays of mummies in the museum:
The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.
Here is a poem redolent of the season by the U.S.’s new Nobel Prize Winner in Literature for 2020: Louise Glück.
Even now this landscape is assembling. The hills darken. The oxen sleep in their blue yoke, the fields having been picked clean, the sheaves bound evenly and piled at the roadside among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises:
This is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence. And the wife leaning out the window with her hand extended, as in payment, and the seeds distinct, gold, calling Come here Come here, little one
The Pico-Union District of Los Angeles is a tough neighborhood with heavy concentrations of Central American immigrants. Yet there on Bonnie Brae Street lies the Grier Musser Museum with its huge collection of antiques and seasonally related memorabilia. During the key holidays of Halloween and Christmas, there are fascinating exhibits of decorations, music boxes, pop-up books, greeting cards, postcards, and other popular culture highlighting the present and past.
Although Martine and I have visited only during those periods, there are also special exhibits for Valentines Day, Chinese New Years, and Independence Day.
Susan Tejada with Christmas Elf
On Saturday, we spent several hours viewing the Christmas exhibits and chatting with Susan and Rey Tejada, the owners (and inhabitants) of the museum. Christmas is now safely in the past, but it was nice to see the constantly growing exhibits that Susan has collected. They represent what we all want the holidays to be like, far from the mayhem in the parking lots and department stores in mega-malls which it has become. Visiting the Grier Musser Museum gives you a picture of what we all want Christmas to be like. It’s actually a nice feeling.
As a special Halloween present for you, I give you a paragraph from a wonderful ghost story from Mike Ashley’s Great American Ghost Stories: Chilling Tales by Poe, Bierce, Hawthorne and Others. The tale in question is Sarah Orne Jewett’s “Lady Ferry,” the tale of a woman who has lived has been cursed with an incredibly long life, reminding one of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman and Eugène Sue’s The Wandering Jew.
Although I wished to see my father and mother, I cried as if my heart would break because I had to leave the ferry. The time spent there had been the happiest time of all my life, I think. I was old enough to enjoy, but not to suffer much, and there was singularly little to trouble one. I did not know that my life was ever to be different. I have learned, since those childish days, that one must battle against storms if one would reach the calm which is to follow them. I have learned also that anxiety, sorrow, and regret fall to the lot of every one, and that there is always underlying our lives, this mysterious and frightful element of existence; an uncertainty at times, though we do trust every thing to God. Under the best-loved and most beautiful face we know, there is hidden a skull as ghastly as that from which we turn aside with a shudder in the anatomist’s cabinet. We smile, and are gay enough; God pity us! We try to forget our heart-aches and remorse. We even call our lives commonplace, and, bearing our own heaviest burdens silently, we try to keep the commandment, and to bear one another’s also. There is One who knows: we look forward, as he means we shall, and there is always a hand ready to help us, though we reach out for it doubtfully in the dark.
We may not go to Halloween parties (I’ve always thought dressing up was for … well … you know), but I find myself celebrating the day in my own way. It has been over fifteen years since we’ve seen any Trick-or-Treaters here (they stick to suburban neighborhoods without stairs to climb), but both of us like horror films—especially the classics—and I am growing increasingly fond of Victorian and Edwardian horror literature.
One of the ways we celebrate is visiting the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A., where Susan and Ray Tejada have assembled an outstanding collection of Halloween-related memorabilia, including cards, animatronic gizmos, figurines, and paintings. There are half a dozen rooms full of displays.
This is a museum for which one has to make an appointment, and Susan gives each group a thorough tour during which she turns on all the battery and other electrical figures and answers questions about how she and Ray assembled the collection. On Sunday afternoon, October 26, there will be a special tour with refreshments included.
Other holidays that receive the full treatment are Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, and Christmas.
I know that all of you are either getting ready for some serious cosplay or stockpiling candy for the ravenous hordes preparing to descend onto your doorstep. Be sure to read some scary books (see my post entitled Thirteen More Horrors for a reading list) and see some scary movies (see my post entitled Thirteen Horrors for a list of my faves from last year).
Yesterday’s visit to the Grier Musser Museum near downtown L.A. put Martine and me into the holiday spirit. We discovered the museum and its fabulous collection of holiday-related antiques and displays as a result of watching Huell Howser’s shows on KCET. In all, he did two shows on the museum, so we decided it was a place we should get to know better. Although the museum has displays all year round, curator Susan Tejada puts together a special show around Halloween, Christmas, and Valentines Day—with the best show being around Halloween.
Martine particularly enjoys talking with Ray and Susan Tejada over a snack of punch and cookies afterwards, one of the advantages of attending the museum’s holiday Sunday exhibits.
If you want to visit the Grier Musser Museum, you have to make an appointment by calling (213) 413-1814. It is located at 403 South Bonnie Brae Street in the Pico-Union Area, which is near some excellent dining such as Langer’s Delicatessen-Restaurant with its great hand-cut pastrami, Papa Christo’s Greek Restaurant and Market, and a host of world class Korean restaurants.
Somehow, the Grier Musser always puts Martine and me in a holiday mood.
Today, Martine and I visited the Grier Musser Museum near downtown Los Angeles for their annual Halloween display. Susan Tejada, the museum’s curator, has gathered together an incredible collection of memorabilia relating to All Hallows Eve, from paper to dolls to battery-powered moving skeletons. (The most frightening is one in a cage above a toilet in the bathroom screaming that he wanted out.) Almost every inch of the rooms open to view is crammed with Victorian memorabilia (the house on Bonnie Brae Street goes back to the 19th century) and exhibits relating to Halloweens past and present.
In addition, there is a room with television and film exhibits relating to The Wizard of Oz (about to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its release), The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Monster High. If it weren’t for the fact that the tour is guided by Ms. Tejada, one could spend hours among the thousands of items on display.
The late Huell Howser, whose PBS television show visited the Grier Musser Museum twice over the years, had a sure knack for highlighting the very best of California, especially the Los Angeles area. Two visits was a singular mark of recognition.
A Rare Victorian Beauty: The Curator’s Grandmother
In a room on the second floor, we saw the above photograph of Susan Tejada’s grandmother. I am always stunned when I see a photograph from over a century ago of a young woman who, even today, would be accounted a great beauty.
For some reason, this year we are spending more time getting into the Halloween spirit. In my case, it involves reading several books of spooky stories and visiting the Grier Musser Museum. Unfortunately, children have not come here to trick-or-treat for almost twenty years now. The schools have attempted to replace door-to-door trick-or-treating with school parties—especially in neighborhoods such as mine consisting mostly of multistory apartment buildings. Neighborhoods of posh single family homes still are inundated with lisping ghosts and monsters of short stature.
Halloween Exhibit at the Grier Musser Museum in L.A.
It’s that time of year again: Halloween, becoming an ever more important celebration in the calendar of the year, is almost upon us. I have prepared for the festivities by reading four horror classics: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells and a trio of stories from Edwardian horror writer Algernon Blackwood, namely The Willows, The Wendigo, and The Listener.
Then Martine and I capped it off by visiting the Grier Musser Museum on Bonnie Brae Street close to Downtown L.A. Ray and Susan Tejada have purchased a Victorian mansion with which they have family associations and filled it with collections of antique and recent decorations pertaining to the seasons. At this time, it is full of eldritch Halloween exhibits, including animated figures, dolls, puppets, old greeting cards, and horror film tie-ins. The whole place is jammed full of ghosts, goblins, mad scientists, monsters, skeletons, and demons.
As for Halloween itself, it’s a working day. In the evening, if it’s anything like the last fifteen years, there won’t be any trick-or-treaters. The schools have been very effective at alerting parents that the practice is dangerous, what with so many child molesters about. Parents are afraid their children’s candy will include rusty razor blades or strychnine. Instead, there are Halloween parties at the schools which include a distribution of “safe and sane” candy.
I remember going trick or treating when I was a kid. I had an old blue cub scout shirt, to which I had my mother sew some impressive epaulets, and wore a Union army cap. My disguise: A Civil War and Old West Cavalry officer. I didn’t bother wearing a mask—too uncomfortable! I liked the costume because I was a devoted fan of such TV series as Rin-Tin-Tin and F-Troop. And I got a ton of chocolate, candy corn, popcorn balls, and apples.