It’s a strange feeling to walk into a hallway of sunken faces of the once-living, passing showcase after showcase of men, women, and children whose bodies the Earth has preserved. They’re posed similarly, mouths agape and arms crossed. Their skin bares the color of the same race – dead. They share a similar history of displacement, exhumed from their resting places due to the inability of their families to pay the city’s burial tax, enacted in 1865. While some stand naked, unconcerned with the investigative eyes of strangers, others carry the now tethered clothing of their burial day. They have names. They have stories. And one need not look further than the descriptions below to hear some of their voices. Take Juan Jaramillo, for example. The English version of his story reads:
I was brought to this cemetery on the first day of the year 1903. On February 19, 1910, they removed me from the niche number 212 of the fourth series of the Santa Paula Cemetery.
I have been invited to other museums in different countries, who would have thought it? a traveling mummy. But do not think that this was pure luck, the fact is that I am the best preserved mummified body: I have my dentures and my skin does not have any holes. Considering that for many years I had no protection whatsoever from nosey and touchy people, I am in much better shape than my partners.
Juan shares the dimly lit space with many others, including French doctor Remigio Leroy, one of the first exhumed bodies in 1865, following the burial tax, and Ignacia Aguilar, an alleged case of buried alive. She lays upright in a coffin, her wrinkled dress falling inches above her knees. She screams. It’s all an eerie scene.
The back walls display monochrome photographs of some of the individuals in the museum and their family members, their gaze quite powerful. It’s chilling, and in the presence of 59 corpses, why would it not be?