A little mummy removed from the city center (Mummies of Guanajuato)

September 20, 2023

Mexican mummies?!  Yes! The facial expressions of the mummies of Guanajuato show the terror they felt when they awoke in coffins and realized they had been buried alive. 

The Mexico mummies you see in the Guanajuato Mummies Museum or, El Museo de las Momias, all share a horrifying story.

What is the story behind the mummies of Guanajuato?

The Mummies of Guanajuato, Mexico have a sad history that dates back to a  cholera outbreak in 1833 | The Vintage News

The year was 1833. The place, the sleepy town of Guanajuato, a colonial town in central Mexico. One day, townspeople suddenly became sick and died.

First the very young or very old died, then everyone else. In just a few weeks the population was decimated.

Cholera outbreak! Panic ensued. People tried everything to ward off the disease; casting bizarre spells, applying strange and useless medicines, and prayer…lots of prayers.

Still, the death rates mounted. The cholera epidemic was relentless.

As the corpses piled up, the devastated population buried them as quickly as they could to prevent the health risk inherent in the spread of the disease.

The dead were placed in mass graves, multiple corpses were interred in single crypts, bodies were buried in shallow graves, others in above-ground crypts.

THE GRUESOME MUMMIES OF GUANAJUATO, MEXICO

The mummies of Guanajuato
Museum of the Mummies, Guanajuato, Mexico

Disinterred Bodies Discovered

Time passed and the cholera epidemic was mostly forgotten. In the 1870s the local government imposed a burial tax on anyone that wanted to continue perpetual care for the graves of their relatives buried so long ago.

Any bodies for which the local tax was not paid were disinterred and stored in a warehouse.

Once disinterred, the townspeople were shocked to see that the bodies were remarkably well-preserved. In fact, they were mummified bodies, preserved corpses.

Scientist determined that the unique mineral rich soil composition, arid environment, low-humidity weather and the 6000 feet above sea level elevation of Guanajuato facilitated natural mummifications and kept the bodies from decomposing.

The Mummies of Guanajuato Become Famous 

THE GRUESOME MUMMIES OF GUANAJUATO, MEXICO

The local population was fascinated with these mummies of Guanajuato and curious people began sneaking into the warehouse to peek at them.

Word spread and tourists began to arrive paying a few pesos to the local cemetery workers to allow them to see the mummies.

Finally, the trickle of tourists turned into a stream and local authorities established a formal museum with admission fees that would generate income for the city of Guanajuato.

That’s how the Museum of the Mummies of Guanajuato came to exist.

For decades the mummies were propped against the walls held up by ropes. Visitors could get as close as they wanted. Some tourists detached mummy parts as souvenirs.

Fearing the destruction of a major tourist draw the local government remodeled the museum placing the mummies behind temperature controlled glass cases. That’s where I saw my first mummy.

Celebrity Mummies of Guanajuato

The museum has its mummy celebrities. Foremost among these is Dr. Remigio Leroy, a French doctor.

As an immigrant with no family to pay the perpetual grave maintenance taxes, his was the first mummified body to be disinterred.

The good doctor was a prominent citizen and as such was buried in a formal, elegant suit of clothing much of which was surprisingly well preserved.

Also on display is what the museum claims is the world’s smallest mummy.

It is also the youngest mummy, a fetus buried next to his mother, a pregnant woman that died of cholera. It is a sad exhibit.

Mummified fetus
Baby Mummy

Sadder still is the legend of Ignacia Aguilar. Ignacia had a heart condition which caused her heart to slow to the point that she appeared dead. During one of her spells, her family believed she had died.

In the rush to contain cholera, they buried her. When she was disinterred she was found turned over in the coffin, as if trying to push it open with her back.

Her arms were lifted above her head. She appeared to have bitten her arm and blood was found in her mouth.

I have decided to believe this story is only a scary legend created to drum up business. The alternative is just too appalling to contemplate.

There are mummies found with cords around their necks implying they were murder victims. The mummy faces and their expressions are disturbing the first time you see them.

woman mummy
One of the Mummies of Guanajuato

You can’t help imagining what the cholera epidemic was like in that small colonial town in 1833.

What terror the people must have felt as their neighbors succumbed one by one. Am I next?, they must have thought.

What precautions did they take with no medical knowledge?  They must have clung desperately to the superstitions of the day.

The perpetual maintenance tax was eliminated in 1958 but the mummy exhibit and the images of the screaming corpses endured. Today there are about 120 mummies, 59 of which are on display.

To this day the mummies of Guanajuato continue to be a major tourist draw for the town, especially during Halloween and All Souls Day.

The town even sells Guanajuato Mummy candy, different flavored candies in the shape of little mummies (I’m not making this up.)

Today, the mummies of Guanajuato have become a notable part of Mexican popular culture. One of Mexico’s iconic performers, a masked wrestler named Blue Demon appears in a horror movie battling the Guanajuato mummies.

They have even influenced the culture of the United States. Science fiction author Ray Bradbury wrote a popular short story titled, “The Mummies of Guanajuato.”

Guanajuato has really found innovative ways to promote its Guanajuato Mummy Museum.

The Mummy Museum of Guanajuato, Mexico is open from 9 to 6 every day. A taxi will cost you about US$5 from the town center to the museum.

Buses also leave from the town center going directly to the museum. Take the bus with the “Las Momias” sign (The Mummies.)

Renting a car in Guanajuato or anywhere in Mexico is easy. There is a parking lot next door to the Mummy Museum.