The point of departure is the life of Julia Pastrana, an unusually hirsute Mexican woman who during the second half of the nineteenth century was exhibited as a freak, the missing link, or the Ape Woman, and who also attracted the attention of men of science. Her biography provides us with insight into the nature of viewing people endowed with bodies contrasting with the norms recognized by society. Their public display is interpreted as a phenomenon associated with the social approach to a basically ambiguous fascination with situations in which 'obvious' cultural divisions into human and animal, female and male, primeval and civilized, or living and dead, have been crossed. The latter motif is brought to the forefront by an analysis of the fate of the mummified mortal remains of Julia Pastrana, on show up to the 1970s. The article also reflects on the tension emergent between the domains of entertainment and science, treated as mutually inspiring.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.