MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The “ugliest woman in the world” was buried in her native northern Mexico on Tuesday, more than 150 years after her death and a tragic life spent exhibited as a freak of nature at circuses around the world.
Born in Mexico in 1834, Julia Pastrana suffered from hypertrichosis and gingival hyperplasia, diseases that gave her copious facial hair and a thick-set jaw. These features led to her being called a “bear woman” or “ape woman”.
During the mid-1850s, Pastrana met Theodore Lent, a U.S. impresario who toured the singing and dancing Pastrana at freak shows across the United States and Europe before marrying her.
In 1860, Pastrana died in Moscow after giving birth to Lent’s son, who inherited his mother’s condition. The son died a few days later, and Lent then toured with the mother and son’s embalmed remains. After changing hands over the ensuing decades, both bodies ended up at the University of Oslo in Norway.
“Imagine the aggression and cruelty of humankind she had to face, and how she overcame it. It’s a very dignified story,” said Mario Lopez, the governor of Sinaloa state who lobbied to have her remains repatriated to her home state for burial.
“When I heard about this Sinaloan woman, I said, there’s no way she can be left locked away in a warehouse somewhere,” he said.
Crowds flocked to the small town of Sinaloa de Leyva on Tuesday to pay their respects to Pastrana, who was buried in a white coffin garlanded with white roses.
“The mass was beautiful,” said New York-based Mexican artist Laura Anderson Barbata, who has led a nearly decade-long campaign to have Pastrana returned to Mexico for a proper Catholic burial. “I was very moved. In all these years I’ve never felt so full of different emotions.”
Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Christopher Wilson