That’s right folks, today is ALL about mummies. We have another pre-release for you #DickSquad members and we are talking about all the creepy gross things that have to do with mummies.

Today on the menu (pun intended, you’ll get it later) we’ve got Mexican mummies, Sicilian mummies, Russian mummies and so much more!

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What is a mummy?

A mummy is very simply a deceased human (or in some cases an animal) whose body, including their skin and organs, has been preserved. This preservation can be both intentional or accidental, and it can happen due to the exposure of chemicals, extreme cold, exceptionally low humidity or lack of air.

This preservation means that the body is not able to decay any further, so long as it’s kept in cool and dry conditions.  So where in the world can you find mummies? Here are a few places:

The Guanajuato Mummy Museum sees more than 4,000 visitors per week. Pictured is a hall of mummies behind glass cases at the museum.
The Guanajuato Mummy Museum

Mummies of Guanajuato

What happens to the bodies of your deceased family members if you can’t pay the crypt-keeping fee? Wherever in the world you are, the answer to that question is probably not as fascinating and utterly morbid as it is in Guanajuato City, Mexico.

Guanajuato City is the capital city of the central Mexico state of the same name. Today, the population hovers around 70,000 people but back in the 1860s when our story starts, it was a small town known for its silver mining. And it appears they have, or more precisely had, a bit of a body problem. 

Sometime around 1860 an outbreak of cholera (a disease that can lead to dehydration and death if untreated) swept through Guanajuato and mass graves were dug to house the enormous body count, but the bodies were tossed in without burial salts to assist in the decomposition. Years later, the bodies were dug up but to the shock of all involved many of the bodies had mummified. 

This would be a very basic story, if not for the reason why the bodies were dug up and the what of what the government did after the bodies were found.

In Guanajuato, families of deceased relatives were made to pay a rental fee for the grave plots of their loved ones in four-year periods, and when relatives were unable to pay the tax within 5 days of the expiry, the bodies were exhumed and marked for cremation by the local government.

However, much to their surprise about 2% of the bodies buried in the graveyard mummified so the workers started to house them in the museum.

The Guanajuato Mummy Museum, owned by the state government, sees more than 4,000 visitors a week. Tourists pay $50 to “gape” at more than 100 cadavers, all of which have been disinterred from graves that were previously housed in the cemeteries next door.

The first mummy to enter the museum was Remingo Leroy, known as the “French Doctor.” He was a French man who died during his visit to Guanajuato sometime in the 19th century.

After 20 years in a crypt his body was released in 1865 and the owners were amazed to find that he was almost perfectly preserved, complete with the clothes he was buried in (which he still wears today for those who come to visit him)!

The freakish state of the doctor’s body became so popular that the museum began to collect other well-preserved corpses, eventually officially establishing a dedicated mummy museum in the 1950s.

The Guanajuato Mummy Museum is also home to the smallest mummy in the world, a 4-month-old fetus from a woman who unfortunately fell victim to a cholera breakout in the 1860s. The museum’s most recent addition was Baby Enrico, an infant who died at 6 months old in 1999.

Following the expiration of his crypt’s 5-year lease, he was added to to the museum in 2004, when his parents could not pay the renewal fee. A museum guide was quoted explaining that even though his parents couldn’t afford the fee to keep him buried, they still come to visit him occasionally.

Visiting the Guanajuato Mummy Museum

The Guanajuato Mummy Museum is open 7 days a week but closes for a day every two months so the mummies can be cleaned. It’s located at 502 Ave. Benito Juarez, Guanajuato, Mexico, has a 4/5 rating on TripAdvisor. It is open from 9 to 6, daily and costs you $50 to see the centuries and decades-old mummies.

SIDE NOTE BITCHES: The museum also separates the mummies who died a “Holy Death” AKA died peacefully in their sleep, with ones that did not by displaying them in separate sections of the exhibit.

Over 8,000 bodies can be found in the Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks. Pictured is a row of these bodies displayed on the wall behind a barrier.
Mummies in Palermo, Sicily at the Catacombs of the Capuchins.

Catacombs of the Capuchins

The Catacombs of the Capuchins sits outside of Palermo, Sicily. It is a vault that houses the perfectly-preserved bodies of professionals, religious men and children, whom with their hollow eyes are dressed as “if at any moment they’ll celebrate mass, command troops or wake from a nap.”

Sometime late in the 16th century, the Capuchin monastery’s cemetery ran out of room, so the current monks built a catacom underground to house the bodies instead.

The 45 bodies that occupied the previous cemetery were dug up and moved to the catacombs, but when the monks unearthed the bodies they found that many of them had not decomposed.

They were mummified, so well, in fact, that many of their faces could still be recognized. Seeing this as a true “message from God” the monks decided to preserve all of the bodies and display them.

The bodies in the Catacombs of the Capuchins are so well-preserved that many of the mummies still retain their skin, hair and, in some cases, even their moustaches. Over 8,000 bodies can be found in the catacombs, 1,252 of which have been mummified.

The remains are segregated by male, female, priests, monks, children, professionals and virgins. The bodies of high-class men (politicians, military officials, surgeons and sculptors) can be found dressed in clothing that was specified by their wills, religious men dressed in their vestments with robes and ropes worn as penance.

Bodies can be found hanging from hooks on walls and lying in glass-enclosed coffins, and there is even a display where 2 children share a rocking chair. Those families that were unable to afford special placement can be found lying on shelves. Many appear to be screaming in horror.

The first mummy in the Catacombs was Silverstro da Gubbio in 1599; and the last a 2-year-old girl, Rosalina Lombardo, who died in 1920 of pneumonia and was subsequently placed there. She still has ribbons in her blond hair and appears to be sleeping peacefully.

Unlike other bodies on display that have been dried out, Rosalina was preserved with a process using formaldehyde and water plus zinc, which keeps her looking ridged and lifelike. Visitors who have photographed her swear she cracks open her eyes, but the keepers say it is just the light.

Visiting the Catacombs of the Capuchins

The Catacombe dei Cappuccini is located at Piazza Cappuccini 1, 90129, Palermo, Sicily, and has an average rating of 4 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. Here you will find over 8,000 mummified bodies that date back 500 years and are still dressed to the nines.

While you cannot take pictures when you’re at this historic site, the entry fee is less than 10€ and visitors say you must see it. It’s located about a 10-minute walk from the city centre.

The body of Vladimir Lenin (pictured) is on display in Moscow, Russia.
The mummy of Vladimir Lenin is on display in Moscow, Russia.

The Bloody Kremlin

Vladimir Lenin Ulyanov, more commonly known simply as Vladimir Lenin was born April 10, 1870 (according to the modern calendar today this would have been April 22).

Lenin was the founder of the Russian Communist Party, he inspired the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and was the architect, builder and first head of the Soviet state.

He was driven to revolutionary action after his brother was executed in 1887 for the plotting of assassination against then Czar Alexander III. He was jailed in 1895 then sent to exile in Siberia for 3 years, after which he attended Eastern Europe to continue planning his revolutionary activity.

And returned to Russia briefly in 1905 when the Russian Revolution broke out, but he was exiled again in 1907. Eventually, and without going into any detail from us because it’s probably worth a whole episode or six, czarist Russia was defeated. In 1920, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) was established with Lenin as the ruler.

But he wasn’t the most popular…

On August 30, 1918, Lenin was speaking at a factory in Moscow, Russia, called Hammer and Sickle. After his speech was complete, as he walked out of Hammer and Sickle a female revolutionary named Fanya Kaplan called out to him before firing 3 shots. One of those shots hit him in the sounder and the other in the neck, or so the Soviets officially say, the final one we think was a miss. While Lenin survived the shooting, he never fully recovered always having to walk with a cane. In the Spring of 1922, he feel ill. Then experienced a series of strokes that ended up killing him.

A very strange story was experienced by witnesses in 1923. Many saw Lenin walk the halls, moving quickly without his cane. This was surprising, not only due to the fact that he was without his cane, but also because he was away from the complex at a time. Many described this as a bad omen, and in January 1924, mere months after witnesses experienced an unreal Lenin walking around, he died. 

Today, his body has been embalmed and entombed in the Red Square in front of the Kremlin wall surrounded by 240 victims of his October Revolution.

Ghost of Vladimir Lenin

Reports of Lenin’s ghosts walking around the fortress where he is kept are frequent. And Lenin isn’t alone. His other ghostly friends include Ivan the Terrible who died of a stroke while playing chess, he is sometimes found in Ivant the Great Bell Tower.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (Lenin’s successor) is also seen milling about the area, he died of a stroke as he slipped into paranoia in his old age; and even his alleged killer, revolutionary Fanya Kaplan who was executed shortly after shooting Lenin, for shooting Lenin, is seen traipsing about the Komendantskaya bell tower, and is often described as a “pale dishevelled woman holding a gun.”

Visiting the mummy of Vladimir Lenin

Lenin’s Mausoleum can be found at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia. It’s open to the public Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 AM–1 PM, which doesn’t give you a large window. And visitors do line up to see the body (though not nearly as many these days).

Contrary to popular belief, many of the mummies we talk about today were buried in the Valley of the Kings and not the Pyramids of Giza (which are pictured against a blue sky with a line of camels walking in front of them).
Pyramids of Giza

Mummies in Egypt

In Egypt, one of the most enduring views of death is that it is a paradise, basically a continuation of life on Earth but without any disappointment, loss or distress.

While this vision of life and death wavered on acceptance levels over the eras, it remained a constant belief. This calming view of the afterlife comes with an understanding of “disembodied spirits” or ghosts. And from earliest evidence through the end of ancient Egyptian history, ghosts were as real as any other aspect of existence.

So our final story about mummies today is not a modern story at all, we are travelling all the way back to the mid-2000s B.C. 

In ancient egypt, mummies weren’t just dead bodies, they were precious bodies for the spirits from the afterlife to occupy. Ancient Egyptians believed that death was a temporary state and those who passed away would eventually get to a new afterlife.

Due to this belief, the ancient Egyptians believed that one’s body needed to be preserved so the soul would be safe for the afterlife. 

The mummification process was different depending on status and wealth. For those that received the best mummification first had their internal organs removed (save for the heart because the ancient Egyptians believed that your heart was your brain, and you needed your brain for the afterlife) and the body was stuffed with sawdust or sand to ensure it stayed in its original shape.

Once stuffed, the body was covered in salt and placed on a slanted table to drain and try for 40 days. Once the 40 days were up, the body was washed with water from the Nile, then embalmers worked to make the body as lifelike as possible.

The skin was rubbed with spices and oils. After cleaned, the body would be rapped during the next 15 days in linen bandages soaked in resin. Layers upon layers wrapped the body, fingers, toes and legs were all wrapped separately. They were then placed in a coffin, and that coffin was placed in another one, then possibly in another one or two coffins. 

Side note, bitches: In between the layers of cloth are valuables so the Pharaoh and/or average mummy can take them with them in the afterlife.

The Pharaohs

Pharaoh Khufu was the second king of the 4th dynasty of Egypt AND he was the builder of the Great Pyramid that we are talking about today, which was the largest single building in the world at that time.

Our knowledge of Khufu and his life is limited because very few written sources remain today, but we do know that Khufu was the son and successor of King Snefru and his Queen Hetepheres.

We also know that Khufu liked the ladies because it is somewhat settled guesswork that he was likely married 4 times:

  1. To Merityetes who is buried in one of the 3 small pyramids in front of his
  2. To an unknown woman also buried in one of the 3 small pyramids
  3. To Henutsen who is the final small pyramid
  4. To Nefert-kau, the eldest of Snefru’s daughters (who we should point out… was his sister)

Greek historian Herodotus tells of the reigns of Khufu and his son Khafre as 106 years of oppression and misery. But this is in direct conflict with Khufu’s posthumous reputation as a wise ruler…. So the truth probably somewhere in the middle.

After Khufu passed, he was briefly succeeded by his son Redjedef, who was the 3rd king of the 4th dynasty of ancient Egypt. He was the son of Khufu by the second queen. He became the Pharaoh, albeit for a brief time, because the original crown prince of Egypt, Kawab who had married the heiress Hetepheres II, predeceased his father. 

At Kufu’s death, Redjedef married Hetepheres II and became king. However, because his mother was the second queen he came from the second branch of the royal family, so it’s possible he may have usurped the kingship. Meaning he took the throne by illegal or forceful means, and he wasn’t in power long. 

Because Khafre became the Pharaoh shortly after his father’s death—though admittedly we couldn’t find out HOW long. He was the 4th king of their dynasty.

Khafre built the second of the 3 Pyramids of Giza. Like father, like son, Khafre married his sister Khamerernebti, before marrying Meresankh III, and perhaps two other queens. While many of Khafre’s family was buried in what was described as “hastily buried” “cheap” tombs, his pyramid was as elaborate as his father’s.

Side note: The Great Sphinx, which is situated close by the Pyramids of Giza, is said to bear many of Kahfre’s features.

Menkaure was the son of Kahfra and the grandson of Khufu, and he was the last great pyramid builder on the Giza Plateau.

Menkaure was the 5th (sometimes referred to as the 6th… couldn’t figure out why) King of Egypt of the 4th Dynasty. He was his father’s successor and according to the Turin papyrus he reigned for 18 or 28 years. According to everything we could find about him, Menkaure was a just and pious king. 

At the time of his death, Menkaure’s pyramid and mortuary temple (the place of worship for a deceased king where food and objects were offered to them), but his successor Shepseskaf completed them.

Inside were some of the “finest sculptures of the Pyramid Age” which included a slate statue group of Menakure and his sister/wife Khamerernebti II, along with a number of smaller slate statues representing Menkaure, the goddess Hathor and various other nome deities.

Visiting The Pyramids of Giza

Welcome to 20 miles outside of modern-day Cairo where the Pyramids of Giza stand tall and mysterious all at the same time. The 3 pyramids were “built during a frenetic period of construction” from approximately 2550 to 2490 B.C, to house the mummified bodies of Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. If you look at a photo of the pyramids, you’ll see that Khufu’s is the tallest pyramid and in the middle, Khafre’s sits in the background and Menkaure in the foreground. 

Side note bitches: There are some that suspect a single pyramid, the Great Pyramid that houses Pharaoh Khufu was built over a span of 20 years, which would have required over 867 stones to be placed per day.

Carved into the walls of the pyramids are magic spells designed to help the Pharaohs navigate the afterlife, and eventually become part of the Egyptian book of the Dead. Along with the spells is a celestial map that details all of the ways in which the Pharaoh’s spirits can travel along with a guide to reanimating his corpse that goes a little something like this:

Take your head, collect your bones. Gather your limbs, shake the earth from your flesh

Ghosts in the Valley of Kings and the Pyramid of Giza

Now, no Lady Dicks Podcast episode on ancient Egypt would be complete without the inclusion of ghosts, and as one could image hosting dead Pharaohs for the past 5,000 years the Valley of the Kings (where the Pyramids are situated) along with the pyramids themselves are definitely supposed to be haunted. 

In the valley of the Kings, manya sightings have been reported including:

  • A pharaoh in a chariot roaming the valley
  • Strange noises including footsteps, screams and shuffling without a source. Some watchmen actually believe these are spirits whose tombs have been desecrated who are now looking for their treasures, which are mostly in the Egyptian Museum a few hundred miles away.
  • Ghost of Akhenaten, a pharaoh of ancient Egypts 18th Dynasty, appears in the Egyptian desert

In the haunted pyramid eye witnesses have reported:

  • A man and his 3 children dressed in clothing from the 1920s roaming around the pyramid looking for something… perhaps the children’s mother?
  • The ghost of Khufu himself, dressed in traditional Egyptian armor. It is said that he appears at midnight and walks the streets, visiting homes in the area and telling the occupants to leave the area.

The Curse of the Pharaohs

But now for the best part, the Mummy’s curse… The Mummy’s curse or the curse of the pharaohs is a supposed curse believed to be cast upon anyone who disturbs the mummy (any mummy) of an Ancient Egyptian person, most especially a pharaoh.

The curse is said to cause bad luck, illness or death, and in case you’re wondering it is said not to differentiate between archaeologists or looters. Some have argued that there is a “real curse” of sorts caused by scientifically explicable causes such as bacteria or radiation.

This curse is most prominently associated with the opening of Tutankhamun, or King Tut’s tomb. His tomb was opened in November 1922 by British archeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter. Shortly after the opening, a few members of Carter’s team along with prominent visitors to the tomb died shortly thereafter. 

  • George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon aka Lord Carnarvon,  who bankrolled the the discovery and excavation of King Tut’s grave, died before he could “harvest the fruits of his investment” shortly after the discovery was made due to an infected mosquito bite on his neck that turned into pneumonia. Interestingly enough, an inspection of King Tut’s body found the same wound on the young Pharaoh’s body (also he died at 19).
  • Howard Carter himself died shortly after the chamber was open due to chemicals used in the chamber. Prior to his death, Carter’s canary was eaten by a cobra (the symbol of the egyptian monarchy) when it somehow got into his cage.
  • A radiologist who supposedly x-rayed the remains of the boy king died of a mysterious illness
  • A man succumbed to pneumonia after visiting Tut’s tomb

After Lord Carnarvon’s death in 1923, Marie Corelli a British novelist wrote: “The most dire punishment follows any rash intruder into a sealed tomb.” Whether it’s real or not it is alleged that the house where Downton Abbey is filmed (Highclere Castle) is haunted by Egyptian ghosts, according to the actors. Carnarvon was the master of the estate when he died and it’s alleged that the tomb of King Tut was kept in the basement.

Strange laws in Egypt

To round out our episode, and make sure we all have a good laugh regardless of how dark it gets we wanted to give all of you planning to travel to the pyramids in Egypt (those of you that dare to disturb the Pharaohs graves anyway) a taste of some of the stranger laws in the country… you know, so you can avoid getting arrested.

  • In Egypt, not voting is punishable with fine or imprisonment.
  • It is against the law to take photographs near a military or government installation, in Egypt.
  • In Egypt, it is against the law to attempt to convince citizens to convert to Christianity.
  • In Egypt, a rapist can avoid being imprisoned, by marrying the woman that he raped.
  • It is illegal for males to belly dance in Egypt.
  • Public displays of affection are illegal in Egypt.
  • All families with only one son don’t have to send him to the army, but if they have two or more sons they should be send to the army but not at the same time, so that there is always one son home

Strange things people have done with mummies throughout history

And just for a few more laughs, and things to be generally grossed out about. Here are some of the strangest things people have done with mummies:

There was a time in history where anything, and we mean ANYTHING that had to do with ancient Egypt was HAWT. People were illegally smuggling mummies out of Egypt with little-to-no respect and doing the most bizzare things with them. Some even imported them to their homes in Europe and unwrapped mummies at parties.

  • In the early 1900s, an American businessman decided to save money by making wrapping paper for food and decided to import mummy wrappings to do the trick. His plan was not so smart because you know, dead bodies and what not, and his guests started catching cholera from eating the food he was wrapping in mummy paper
  • The western world is commonly seen as being cutting-edge when it comes to health, except in the 1600s and 1700s when doctors wrote scripts for mummies to treat illness — OK technically we don’t know if any doctors wrote “mummies” down on a pad of paper — but during this time period a craze swept through Europe where people were crushing bits of mummies up and eating them to cure themselves of ailments. So, cannibalism. They were also drinking blood to cure blood-related disease (duh) and eating bits of crushed skull to help with brain problems (makes sense, ha).

Visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza is often touted as the last surviving wonder of the ancient world and exists on the Giza Plateau in Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately, while this scene is absolutely breath-taking, it’s not nearly as untouched as the images make it out to be.

Despite this, the site has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on TripAdvisor, and almost everyone who visits says it’s well worth the wait, even though you’ll see signs for McDonald’s and KFC in the background.

Did you love this episode? Check these other historic gems out:

The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with the information for Mummies Around the World: Guanajuato, Palmero, Moscow & Cairo, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:

The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks are Andrea Campion, Nikki Kipping and Tae Haahr. “Mummies Around the World: Guanajuato, Palmero, Moscow & Cairo” was research, written, edited and produced by Tae Haahr. The Lady Dicks theme music, A Pink Panther, is licenced through AudioJungle.

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That's right folks, today is ALL about mummies. We have another pre-release for you #DickSquad members and we are talking about all the creepy gross things that have to do with mummies. Today on the menu (pun intended, you'll get it later) we've got Mexican mummies, Sicilian mummies, Russian mummies and so much more!

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