It's Never A Mannequin
Picture this: you are walking along the busy streets of Chihuahua, Mexico. The shops are bustling, the air is loud with conversation, the breeze is dry as it rustles through your hair. You come upon the intersection of Ocampo and Victoria Streets and notice a large group of people peering curiously through a shop window. As you get closer you see that it is a bridal shop, and the crowd is admiring the gown displayed in the window. It’s a beautiful gown, but upon approaching, you realize that the dress is not what has everyone’s attention. It’s the woman wearing it. No, not a woman, a mannequin. Right? It must be a mannequin, there’s no way a model can stand that still. Yet, the hands, they seem so real, so detailed and soft. Store mannequins don’t have hands like that. As you move your gaze upward and take in the waxy face and exaggerated eyelashes you conclude: it must be a mannequin…but those eyes, they seem alive, and they seem to follow you as you move across the window to get a better look. A chill moves down your spine, despite the warm, dry air around you, as you can’t shake the feeling that what you are looking at is so much more than a mannequin display. You can’t shake the feeling that it’s a human. That you’re staring into the eyes of a corpse.
La Pascualita, as she has come to be known, is a famous mannequin that lives in the window of La Popular, a bridal and quinceanera shop located in Chihuahua, Mexico. She first appeared on March 25th, 1930 and has decorated the display window for the last ninety years. She is striking, beautiful, and shrouded in an unnerving urban legend: she is actually the embalmed body of the original shop owner’s daughter.
Pascuala Esparza was devastated at the unexpected death of her daughter. The young woman was getting ready to walk down the aisle and was bitten by a black widow. The poison from the spider acted quickly and she died the morning of her wedding day. Days after her passing, the mannequin appeared in the window of Pascuala’s store, and as shoppers admired the new dress form, they noted how similar the doll looked to the grieving mother’s daughter. Upon closer inspection, patrons were alarmed with how lifelike she looked, how eerily detailed her hands and skin appeared to be. Rumors of the human like mannequin spread and the legend was born: the mannequin in the dress shop was the preserved remains of the owner’s daughter.
Pascuala never admitted whether or not that was true, so speculation festered. Rumor turned to fantasy as a new legend of a French magician, enamored with the mannequin’s beauty, used his magic to bring the doll to life at night. He would dance with her in the streets and have her returned to her perch by morning, but bits of his magic would be left behind, giving her waxy hands and glassy eyes their lifelike appearance.
While a magic man bringing a doll to life every night may be a bit of a stretch, people tend to continue to believe that she really is the preserved remains of a dead bride, though it’s heavily debated. The biggest question is whether an embalmed body can last nearly a century on display in a dress shop. Bodies have been embalmed and displayed in the past, but they are kept under careful and specific environmental restrictions and meticulously cared for by professionals. Without the proper care, if La Pascualita was indeed a preserved corpse, the skin on her lips and eyelids would dry out and crack, her skin would shrink and other signs of decay would be obvious. Others argue that the arid environment of Chihuahua is exceptionally perfect for maintaining a preserved body. Her face appears heavy with wax and makeup which could cover up the drying skin, and the thick layers of lashes could disguise receding eyelids. It’s possible that if there is someone to maintain her preservation combined with the natural environment of the city, that the body could indeed, remain intact. However, Caitlin Doughty of Ask a Mortician, is of the definitive opinion that there is no possible way a corpse, even if perfectly preserved initially, could last 90 years without constant care and professional upkeep. Not only would the decay cause mold, regardless of embalming fluid, but the smell would be unmistakable.
While professionals, sleuths, and those with the morbid curiosity debate the validity of the corpse bride mannequin, those who work in the shop with her every day are convinced she is a real person. One employee of the shop quotes, “Every time I go near Pascualita my hands break out in a sweat. Her hands are very realistic and she even has varicose veins on her legs. I believe she’s a real person.” Workers and patrons alike claim that they can feel her eyes follow them as they pass her, and some have even claimed to have seen them actually move. Others claim they have caught her slightly shift in position all together.
Even if you don’t believe she’s a real person trapped in the body of a mannequin, it’s hard to get passed the hands. It’s been suggested that the shop owner had her daughter’s likeness cast in wax, and that’s how the mannequin was made, which could explain the extreme detail of the hands, but it’s still so, so off-putting to look at them. They’ve yellowed, the “skin” around the nails has receded, the nails themselves have bruised and cracked, and the wrinkles and prints of the fingers are still visible. Wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s House of Wax are made with similar detail, but would that have been done in 1930? Maybe we’re just underestimating the attention and talent of the wax artists of the ‘30’s. Either way, the question remains, why? Why create a store front mannequin so lifelike in the first place?
La Pascualita still sits in the window today. (Or at least, a version of her is. It’s been rumored that she was removed from the window and taken to Mexico City for a display in 2019, and the mannequin that returned is completely different. The shop owner says that she has simply been serviced and repaired, but many claim that she genuinely looks too different now to be the same figure that has haunted the shop window since 1930.) She is changed twice a week, always behind a black curtain. Always wearing the latest dress, and driving traffic into the shop, there is a superstition that if a bride gets married in a dress modeled by La Pascualita, she is destined to have a successful and happy marriage. Happy to have the business, the current shop owner keeps the legend alive with winking remarks and vague answers to whether the rumors are true or not. Preserved corpse, or the incredibly detailed work of a talented artist, the image of La Pascualita has fascinated and disturbed locals and tourists alike for nearly a century. As her glassy gaze haunts the streets of Chihuahua and the minds of those who have seen her, so does the heartbreaking story of the young bride, gone too soon, and the grieving mother who couldn’t bear to move on without her.
Dimuro, Gina. “This Chilling Mannequin Is so Real That People Have Been Saying She's a Mummy for 90 Years.” All That's Interesting, All That's Interesting, 19 Aug. 2019, https://allthatsinteresting.com/la-pascualita.
Hammond, Stefanie. “The Reason This Bridal Shop Mannequin Is so Disturbingly Realistic Will Send Chills down Your Spine.” Ranker, 3 July 2018, https://www.ranker.com/list/la-pascualita-bridal-shop-mannequin-mystery/stefanie-hammond.
OrderoftheGoodDeath, director. La Pascualita: MANNEQUIN OR CORPSE BRIDE? YouTube, Ask a Mortician, 5 May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRVVX5pJ62I. Accessed 13 Oct. 2021.
Wilde, Caleb. “The Corpse Bride of Mexico: Is This a Dead Girl or a Mannequin?” CONFESSIONS OF A FUNERAL DIRECTOR, https://www.calebwilde.com/2014/07/the-corpse-bride-of-mexico-is-this-a-dead-girl-or-a-mannequin/.