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The Boston Globe


‘The Ape Woman’ comes to Passim

The Wikipedia page for Julia Pastrana is not for the faint of heart. Known as the “Victorian Ape Woman,” Pastrana was an indigenous Mexican who was born in 1834 with hypertrichosis terminalis, a genetic disorder that left her face and body abnormally covered with black hair. Charles Darwin is quoted describing Pastrana as “a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead.”

From there Pastrana’s story gets lurid. A man named Theodore Lent became her manager and made her a circus sideshow attraction who could sing and dance and read and write in three languages. Lent married Pastrana, and after she gave birth to their son, who survived only a few days, Pastrana died in 1860 of complications from childbirth. Lent mummified their remains and had them displayed in a glass cabinet before they were eventually stolen and vandalized. Lent was later committed to an asylum, by his second wife, and died there.

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