Julia Pastrana: The True Story of the Hybrid Bear Woman. Also Known As The Ugliest Woman In The World
A unique woman
Julia Pastrana was born in 1834. She arrived, steeped in mystery, and her life was as strange and sad as her birth. She was believed to have been born within a small tribe of Native Americans on the western slopes of Mexico. Not a lot is known about her early childhood, but she first appeared in public, when, in 1854, she was brought out and exhibited at the Gothic Hall on Broadway. The name she was billed under was a cruel and sad insult to her condition. Known as the marvelous hybrid or Bear Woman, others called her The Ugliest woman in the World. Her handler or owner was named as a Mr M. Rates and he saw the potential in her the second he found her, working as a servant girl to the governor of Sinaloa Mexico. Realising that she would earn him lots of money, he decided to start showing her to the public, A quote from the time stated her as, The Great Freak of Nature. The newspapers of the day said she was hideous, but in her favour she had a very nice singing voice.
To the publics eye, she did have a very strange appearance. Her body was covered in hair, and her face even more so. A Jutting jaw, and very swollen gums added to her appearance. At four and a half feet, she was also said to look very like an ape in features. But she had dignity. Standing in front of an audience of thousands, Julia looked down at the audience and sang in a most beautiful voice. She had great poise. She was aware of the fact that she was different, but used her small frame and powerful persona to her advantage.
The scientists of the day thought that she was a hybrid between human and orangutan, and believed that they had found a missing link.
After moving to Cleveland with another new promoter, J.W. Beach, Julia began to turn the tide around and, charming the public with her grace, she began to get very well known, even being invited to grand balls and military gala's. On one of these occasions, she was given the honour of dancing with the soldiers, who lined up to have the chance to dance with this unique but strange human being.
Soon she began to travel all around America, and when she arrived in Boston she was billed as the 'Hybrid Woman, or The Bear Woman. Others called her the Bearded lady. By this time, curiosity had began to turn towards admiration, and she was invited to the Horticultural Society and the Boston History society.
England became aware of her and stated in the newspapers at the time, she is an amazing oddity, and promptly started to call her The Nondescript, which is similar to what we say today as unexplainable. The newspapers couldn't get enough of her and when they realised that not only was she a very good singer but she could also speak several different languages, including Spanish and English, they were astonished.
She had a great thirst for knowledge and willingly gave herself up to medical examination. Money didn't interest her at all.
By this time she was being 'shown' by a Mr Theodore Lent who became, in a sense her manager, helping her with her dancing and singing on stage. Soon she became better known on stage than just being a 'Freak', as they used to call people like her. But she was anything but a freak, she could cook and sew, sing romance songs, and even better, hold an intelligent conversation which impressed the gentry, in a time when women were not treated as intelligent human beings.
Fame in Berlin
After the adulation in London, Julia began a tour In Berlin Germany, which both changed her appearances from freak show, to Stage actress. She appeared in a play called Der Curierte Meyer, which was a cross between a love story and a comedy. By this time she had received many marriage proposals, and when asked why she had never married, she replied that they were not rich enough. This Idea came from Lent, who suddenly realised that if he didn't want to lose her, he had better marry her himself. In 1857 they married, and even though Julia was quite fond of Lent, he treated her appallingly. Taking her to scientists and Doctors, they examined her without any dignity afforded to the poor girl. By the time they got to Vienna, she wasn't allowed out in the daylight, because Lent was embarrassed to be seen with her. Mr lent became more and more aggressive, and by the time they had toured through Poland and Russia, Julia realised that she was pregnant. This was a disaster. Not only would she have to take time off, and lose money, from the tours, but Lent panicked because he thought she might die. And then where would that leave him? He Took her to many different Doctors who were afraid that she would not be able to have the child naturally because they believed her hips would be malformed.
On March 20th 1860, Julia gave birth to a baby boy. He was covered in hair. All Julia could think of was, please be healthy and not have a personality like your father. Sadly the child died after thirty five hours.
Julia's time was coming to an end. Complications during the birth left her weak and drained. Only five days later, Julia was dead.
Horrendous Treatment of a Legend
You would think that after she had died, Julia would have been given a dignified funeral, and treated like the lady she was. But it was not to be. Her husband would not let go of her earning potential that easily. Lent sold her corpse and her baby son, to a professor of Moscow university. He dissected them and then mummified them so that they could be put on display. After a few months perfecting the process, he put them in the Museum of the university, where they attracted great crowds of people.
Was this the end? No.
Lent realised what had happened and much to the public horror, he took the awful and unbelievable steps to go to court to win her back. He succeeded. In 1862 Julia returned to England. Displayed and humiliated, she was dressed in one of her dancing dresses.
Her son was placed on a pedestal and displayed, wearing a sailor suit.
The crowds came in their thousands, paying up to a shilling to look at this poor woman and her baby son. Unbelievable.
From University to museum, from curiosity stands, to freak shows, Julia was passed around and around. Eventually Lent got fed up of It and hired her out to the person who would pay the most for the privilege.
But it doesn't finish here. Oh no. Lent unbelievably went on to marry another woman who looked liked Julia, and after a while he then made claim to the fact that his new wife was Julia's sister. He named her Zenora Pastrana. If that was not bad enough, he then returned to the museum where Julia was being exhibited, and took her on tour with him and his new wife. One big happy family then.
Hypertrichosis terminalis: Excessive body Hair
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What goes round comes around.
Eventually, Lent and his new bride retired to St. Petersburg, and set up shop in a small waxworks museum.
Then, unexpectantly, Lent had a mental breakdown and ended up in the towns local mental sanatorium. His wealth meant nothing. He was never going to be able to enjoy it. Shortly after, he died.
Zenora, his bride, carried on touring with the mummies, and then eventually married a much younger man.
Julia's mummie disappeared over the next few decades. She appeared again in Hitlers Germany where she was put on display in the occupied territories.
In the fifties and sixties, the mummies were displayed, mainly as a curiosity. Not many people believed that these mummies could possibly be real.
So we come to the end. Or do we? There is so much more to this story, but in a nutshell, Julia and her baby were passed from person to person, country to country, until one day in 1976, the storage facility where Julia was being kept, was broken into and vandalised. The baby was torn to pieces. Julia was then moved and the same thing happened again.
Then in 1990, Julia was eventually found in the basement of the Institute of Forensic Medicine, in Oslo, Norway. It is still there.
Maybe our compassion and moral sense now realise that not only was she a unique woman, but with her quiet dignity and poise, and our disgust at our own human nature, makes us ignore her, and shut the door on our shame.
One day and I hope very soon, she will be buried with dignity, and a statue will be erected to show us all, this woman of courage.
Latest News - Julia Comes Home
At last Julia has been laid to rest in her home state of Sinaloa De Leyva in Mexico on Tuesday 12th February 2013. After a Roman Catholic Mass in a local church Julia's coffin was carried to the town cemetary and buried as a band played the local traditional music.
Saul Rubio Ayala the local mayor of her town stated 'Julia Pastrana has come home'. He went on to say ' Julia has been reborn among us, let us never see another woman be turned into an object of commerce'.
I am so pleased that at last she is at peace. To be returned to the home of her birth is something that we should all be thankful for. At last Julia Pastrana has come home.
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