Julia Pastrana, who was labeled as “Ape Woman” and described as “the ugliest woman in the world” during her time, has finally been shipped home and laid to rest after over 150 years of being on display to the public.
Pastrana was born with the rare disorder congenital terminal hypertrichosis, which left her face and body covered in thick hair, and gingival hyperplasia, which made her lips and gums thick. Combined, those things left her with the appearance of an ape, which was widely regarded as “freak” status in 1854. When she left her Pacific coast home of Sinaloa that year at age 20, she was quickly joined by Theodore Lent, who used her unique appearance to their advantage by taking her on a tour of Europe in a traveling exhibition. Pastrana sang and danced for paying audiences, and she and Lent eventually married. When she became pregnant, however, Pastrana developed a fever and she and the baby both died.
But rather than lay her body to rest, Lent kept Pastrana on display alongside their son, propping them up inside glass cases for audiences to look at. For years, Pastrana’s body toured the world, until Lent’s death in 1884. After that, the bodies found their way to a Norway fairground warehouse, where they were stolen in 1976. Pastrana’s body was recovered from a trash bin, but her son’s body couldn’t be salvaged. The remains were taken to the University of Oslo, where they’ve been until recently. After several requests from those who knew her story, Julia Pastrana’s body is now at peace in Sinaloa.
“Julia Pastrana has come home,” said Saul Rubio Ayala, mayor of her hometown of Sinaloa de Leyva. “Julia has been reborn among us. Let us never see another woman be turned into an object of commerce.”
Pastrana made quite an impact on those who knew her story, even decades after her death.
“Today, it’s almost incomprehensible that a circus used corpses for entertainment purposes,” said Jan G. Bjaalie, who is head of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the University. “Hers was used in a way we today would consider to be completely reprehensible,” he said. “It’s important that we now have a clear end to the way she was treated.”
Lead image: Wikipedia
Pastrana and her son on display (DailyMail)