Julia Pastrana – The Bearded Lady

by J-Mirabelli
Julia Pastrana the bearded lady

The baby’s mummy was destroyed in 1976 by vandals and Julia’s mummy was stolen in 1979 but was later recovered and is resting in a sealed coffin at the Department of Anatomy at the Oslo University.

Julia Pastrana, known as “the Bearded Lady” or the ¨Ape-Woman” was one of the most famous human curiosities of her time. In the mid 1800s, she toured Europe, Canada, and the United States. Julia suffered from a rare disorder (hypertrichosis), that caused her entire body to be covered in silky, black hair. To make her more conspicuous, she had a jutting jaw with huge teeth. The last thing you would have expected from her was to exude feminine grace. But that’s exactly what she did. She sang sweetly, had slender feet and hands, and displayed a buxom figure at a petite four-and-a-half feet tall. She styled her hair in elaborate coiffures and wore embroidered lace dresses that barely covered her knees. She spoke three languages, cooked, and sewed. In her stage act, she danced a Highland Fling. Looks can definitely be deceiving.

Julia married her manager Theodore Lent, and started being billed as ¨The Nondescript”, suggesting that she was perhaps ¨the missing link”. She freely submitted to medical examinations. Charles Darwin mentioned her in his book, The Variation of Animal and Plants under Domestication, writing,“Julia Pastrana, a Spanish dancer, was a remarkably fine woman, she had a thick and masculine beard.”

On March 20, 1860, Julia gave birth to a hair-covered little boy. He died within 35 hours. Julia died five days later, at age 26.

Theodore Lent had lost his revenue source, but not for long. He had the body of Julia and their son embalmed and mummified to look lifelike. He dressed them up, put them on a pedestal and exhibited them throughout Europe for 20 years. Over the next 100 years, the mummies of Julia and her child changed hands countless times.

As luck would have it, when touring Sweden, Theodore met another hairy young woman named Zenora who suffered from a condition very similar to Julia. He married her and began touring her as Zenora Pastrana, Julia’s sister. Theodore grew filthy rich, and in the 1880s, he and Zenora retired to St. Petersburg, where they purchased and operated a waxworks museum. Theodore didn’t enjoy his retirement for long because he got sick and was sent to a lunatic asylum where he died in misery. Somehow that seems like a fitting end for him.

Read more:

Julia Pastrana – The Nondescript | The Human Marvels

The Restless corpse of Julia Pastrana | Lisa’s History Room

The Tragic Story of the Victorian Ape Woman | Amazon

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