Julia Pastrana: Biography

Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) was a Mexican woman who suffered from various diseases that affected her physical appearance. Because of that, it was exposed as an attraction in various shows. Pastrana toured part of the United States and Europe with different representatives, although some experts consider them rather owners.

Although she was exploited for her physical appearance, the truth is that she had many qualities . He had a talent for singing, spoke several languages, had great intelligence and, according to the chronicles that have survived to this day, had a very attractive conversation and personality .

Julia Pastrana biography

The unscrupulousness of her last representative, who got to marry her, led him to take advantage of Julia even after she died. Her corpse was walked through various European countries, exposed as a phenomenon of nature.

After a series of events, including the theft of her mummified body, Julia’s body was transferred back to Mexico, where it is now buried. His story has been made into a movie and served as the plot for a play .

Julia Pastrana’s early years

In fact, a great deal is unknown about the history of this woman’s early years. Much of what is told is contradictory, without knowing if they were later inventions or reality.

The only thing the chroniclers agree on is that Julia Pastrana was born in Sinaloa . The date varies according to the source, but the most accepted is 1834. Likewise, there are those who point out that he came to the world in Santiago de Ocoroni, in Leyva. In the absence of a birth certificate, the actual details are difficult to know.

Julia was from an indigenous family, from a tribe called “root diggers” ( root digger ). These occupied western Mexico. Also some author points out that there is evidence that he lived in a cave until he was four years old.

Account in the pamphlets about his childhood

Being already famous, the story of her life was part of the publicity that announced her shows, which does not guarantee its veracity.

According to these accounts, as a child she accompanied an Indian woman named Espinoza, although it seems that she was not her mother. Espinoza had been left for dead after separating from her tribe in 1830, but later turned up wearing jeans.

At that time Julia was only 2 years old and ended up adopting the woman’s last name after she married and baptized her. After the death of Espinoza, Julia began to work in the house of the governor of Sinaloa as a servant, until in 1854 she left her job and prepared to return to her land.


Before continuing with her life, it should be noted that Julia suffered from two illnesses related to her physical appearance and that marked her entire career.

His face, and also the rest of the body to a lesser degree, was full of hair. Her jaw was very prominent and she was short – only 1.4 meters. Many compared it to a monkey, and there were even those who claimed that it was the result of a hybrid between an orangutan and a human. Own Charles Darwin said the following about it:

“Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was an extraordinarily fine woman, but she had a thick beard and a hairy forehead. She was photographed and her skin put on display. But what concerns us is that she had an irregular double row of teeth on both her upper and lower jaws. One row placed inside the other, from which Dr. Purland took a sample. Due to excess teeth, her mouth was protruding and her face had the appearance of a gorilla »


The name of his disease was hypertrichosis, known as werewolf syndrome. Those who suffer from it have an abnormal amount of hair all over their body.

On the other hand, he suffered from prognathism, which caused him to have totally irregular teeth and gave his jaw the strange shape it had.

Entry into the world of entertainment

As with his birth, there are several versions of how he began his life as a circus attraction. Some claim that, when he was returning home from the house of the governor of Sinaloa, he met M. Rates, an American who took her with him to use in his shows.

Others claim that Rates saw it while he was still working for the governor, and others say that it was a Mazatlán port administrator who bought it from him. Finally, there are those who claim that it was directly sold to a circus.

Debut at the Gothic Hall

What is known for sure is that it debuted in front of the public in 1854, in New York. There, in the Gothic Hall, she was presented as “The Bear Woman” and as “The Wonderful Hybrid”.

Criticism in the press the next day made reference to his horrible appearance, but highlighted his talent for singing.

Route through the United States

From New York he went to Cleveland, now with a new owner (or representative, as they called themselves). In that city she was taken to numerous military galas, as well as social dances. From the looks of it, queues were forming to dance with her.

The route through the United States also took her to Boston, and they even went to Canada. Little by little she made a name for herself beyond her appearance thanks to her many qualities.

Trip to Europe

His fame had crossed the ocean and was claimed from Europe. Already with Theodor Lent, a new representative, she arrived in London and offered several performances. The media portrayed her as a woman satisfied and happy with her life, but it was always Lent who gave that version.

As early as 1857 Lent tried to take it to Germany, but the German authorities did not give permission for his show. To avoid that problem, the representative claimed that she was a stage actress and not a circus freak.

Thus, a play was invented for Julia to perform in Leipzig. Of course, the argument, finally, was based on her physical appearance. The city police ended up banning the performances.

Julia, well known at the time, received a large number of marriage proposals. In an interview in Germany, she declared that she rejected them because the men were not rich enough. All historians claim that, in reality, that was Lent’s intention: to marry her to a millionaire for his own benefit.

Ironically, it was the representative who ended up marrying Julia, who had managed to accumulate a small fortune. They were married in 1857.

Pregnancy and death

It seems that Julia had ended up caring for Lent, but the treatment he gave her was terrible. He forced her to go to numerous doctors to have her examined, as well as to visit many scientists for various tests.

When he moved to Vienna, he forbade him to leave the house and he became very aggressive. Somewhat later, while they were on tour in Poland and Russia, she became pregnant.

She had her son on March 20, 1860. The boy was born with the same illness as his mother. He ended up dying just a day and a half after he was born. As for Julia, the childbirth left her dying. She died five days after giving birth.

Exploitation of Julia after her death

Considering that Lent had not stopped selling tickets during his wife’s agony, it is understood that his death did not end his desire to obtain financial benefit at his expense.

He first sold the bodies of Julia and the deceased child to a Russian professor, who exhibited them at the Anatomical Institute of Moscow University after mummifying them.

When verifying the success that obtained, the widower went to the courts to recover the corpses. He won the trial and brought the mummies to England. There she exposed them to the public, with Julia dressed in one of her dance costumes. Thousands of people visited the macabre exhibition.

The mummies passed through various places, always on display for Lent’s benefit. Finally, she sold them to the highest bidder.

A new Pastrana

Lent gives a new twist to the situation. He met — and married — another woman with the same disease that Julia had. He affirmed to the public that she was his sister and recovered the bodies to put on a new show: Julia, the boy and his new wife.

Finally, the new marriage ended up living in Saint Petersburg. It was there that Theodro Lent became psychologically ill and died after a time in a sanatorium.

His widow, named Zenora, moved to Germany and, willing to continue living on the memory of Julia, is exhibited again together with the two mummies in 1889. Later, she sold them to JB Gassner who, in turn, auctioned them in Vienna in 1895.

In Norway

For some years there was no news of the whereabouts of Julia’s remains or her son. In 1921 they appeared in Norway, in a chamber of horrors. During the First World War it ended up being exhibited in the countries occupied by the Nazis, who wanted to obtain money.

The boy’s body is destroyed in 1976, when some vandals enter the building where it is located and take it out on him. Already in 1979, with the bodies still on display, protests by humanitarian organizations managed to get them to withdraw.

That same year someone steals the mummy, which somehow reappears in the Oslo Forensic Institute, but without identifying.

In this way, for 11 years the body remains there, without anyone knowing who it belonged to. In 1990 they discovered her identity and she stayed at the University of Oslo until the turn of the new century.

Back home

Finally, in 2012 the university of the Nordic country decided to send the body back to Mexico. It was on February 7, 2013 when Julia Pastrana was able to return to her land. Her body was buried in the Historic Cemetery of the state of Sinaloa, on February 13 of that same year, putting an end to her story.


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