Today we visited the Museo de las Momias in Guanajuato City, Mexico. My daughter and her friend (they are seven years old), had really been looking forward to the Mummy Museum. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and while I had not thought much about a mummy museum before today, I was excited too, especially to have them hopefully occupied (read, with little complaining) for a little while. The parking lot at the Museo was packed.
Our incredible guide, Dali, from Discovery Tours, told us it is the museum most visited by Mexicans in the country. Once we were inside, we skipped the introductory video, since we had hired a guide, and went straight to the first wall of mummies.
Gulp. A wall of mummies? As I stood and took my first mummy, a wave of something washed over me. And it wasn't giddiness or excitement. We were staring at a wall display of dead people that had been perfectly preserved by optimal conditions and time. I was nauseous. I felt faint. I felt like I should not be looking at a wall of dead people, perfectly preserved, hanging upright, most of their mouths hanging open in what looked like a scream. I felt a sense of dread and insecurity, kind of what one might feel in the face of death.
I took a few deep breaths and forced myself to be calm and not run out of the room. I also felt claustrophobic, as there were no windows or any kind of natural light in the place, for good reason, I suppose, in the name of preserving the mummies. For the sake of my daughter and her friend, I told myself, DO NOT FAINT. I looked down at them, and I had a feeling the mummies were not what they expected either. They too seemed creeped out, as these WERE NOT cartoon mummies you would find on a t-shirt, or in a movie, which all seemed friendlier in this moment. We were informed by our guide that these were not actual "mummies" as you might find in Egypt, as they were not wrapped and treated like those had been. These were in fact just perfectly preserved bodies that had been exhumed from the nearby cemetery when annual taxes had failed to be paid to the city government by the deceased's family to ensure their place in the cemetery. The bodies had all been in simple wooden caskets, which, because of the moisture being absorbed by wood, the caskets being stacked in a wall like they were, the bodies were perfectly preserved, skin and all. Some with socks, some still with facial hair, even down to their shoes. The "screaming" faces came as muscle tissue disintegrated and the mouth would sag open.
No wonder I felt creeped out. Not only was I looking at a wall of mummies, these were people whose family members had thought they had put to rest eternally, then dug up because THEIR FAMILIES COULDN'T PAY THE TAXES. I felt like I was looking at something without permission. Regardless, it was a small museum, and a short tour, and a fascinating experience.