Who is the dummy in the bridal shop window, and what's the secret behind her eerie and silent smile?
La Popular is a busy bridal-wear shop on a long, dusty avenue in downtown Chihuahua, a bustling city in the north west of Mexico.
It’s been there a long time.
Passing pedestrians press their faces against the window and have done so for decades.
Some are brides-to-be, or young women with romantic daydreams, captivated by the displays of brilliant white bridal gowns and dresses, the floating, misty veils, halo headpieces and hairpins and delicate, glittery white heels.
But some press their noses against the glass not for the elegant bridal couture, gauzy headdresses, timeless white lace and embroidery.
Some come from great distances to see the shop dummy, the mannequin in the window modelling the wedding finery.
They come to see La Pascualita.
She’s stood in the middle window of La Popular shop for 87 years, ever since 25 March 1930.
For those 87 years, she’s smiled silently at passers-by through the glass, her glossy hair has shone in the warm Mexican sunlight and her eyes have sparkled.
And for those 87 years, passers-by have asked themselves the same question…
Is La Pascualita a corpse bride?
She’s like a woman frozen in time.
Almost as soon as she first appeared in the window of La Popular, questions were asked.
There was just something too life-like about her. From the realistic curve of her ears and hollows of her nostrils, to the small wrinkles and folds of skin on her fingers and thumbs, to the mesmerizing presence of fingerprints.
La Pascualita was nothing like the coloured-plastic shop dummies people were used to seeing.
She was far too realistic.
And before long, rumour had spread.
This was no ordinary shop dummy. This was an embalmed corpse. And the locals knew just whose corpse it was.
Shortly before 25 March 1930, tragedy had struck the town of Chihuahua and the owner of La Popular.
Pascuala Esparza had been looking forward to her daughter’s wedding day. She’d helped her pick a beautiful gown, lovingly placed a long, white veil over her daughter’s dark, satin hair.
And then, as the bridal procession made its way to the church, Pascuala Esparza’s beautiful young daughter had been bitten by a Black Widow spider.
The venom is much stronger even than a rattlesnake’s. And it acted fast.
It raced through her veins, paralyzing her diaphragm and suffocating her.
Within minutes, Pascuala Esparza’s daughter was dead.
Soon afterwards, the new shop-dummy modelling the finest wedding-wear appeared in the window of La Popular.
Locals noticed the realistic detail, and the resemblance between the dummy and the young bride who’d died so tragically weeks before.
They nicknamed her La Pascualita, or ‘Little Pascuala’.
Had Pascuala embalmed her daughter, dressed her as a bride and put her on display for eternity?
Was the new shop dummy a dead body?
Horrified by the stories that were spreading through the town, Pascuala Esparza issued a formal denial through town officials.
But no one believed her.
There were details on La Pascualita that couldn’t be explained. The ears, the fingerprints, the wrinkles around the finger joints. She’s even said to have varicose veins on her legs.
The rumours and stories persist to this day. Many shop workers refuse to go near her.
All the same, La Pascualita’s outfit is changed twice a week. But even the changing process is shrouded in mystery.
Unlike the other dummies who are changed in the window, curtains are drawn around La Pascualita. And only certain shop assistants are allowed to change her. As if to preserve La Pascualita’s modesty.
But why? What modesty would a plastic dummy have?
Are the shop owners scared to reveal La Pascualita’s naked, and very human body?
Most people who see La Pascualita are convinced she’s a corpse.
But some scientists need more persuading. They point out how difficult it is to preserve a body so perfectly over such a long period of time.
When he died in 1924, six short years before La Pascualita’s doomed wedding day, Russian leader Lenin’s body was embalmed and put on display in Moscow.
Ever since, he’s had regular bleach baths to preserve his skin tone and every year, his body is immersed in glycerol and potassium acetate for 30 days to help the dead skin retain moisture and to keep the body from falling apart.
It’s a huge, expensive and demanding task. And it seems unlikely the owners of a small bridal shop would have the knowledge or resources to do anything similar.
But if La Pascualita is not a dead body, how can the extreme detail of her features be accounted for?
Could the owners of La Popular have stumbled upon a secret formula for preserving the dead?
When journalists asked the shop’s current owner, Mario Gonzalez, to tell them once and for all if La Pascualia is a preserved corpse, his response was evasive.
‘Is it true?’ he said. ‘A lot of people believe it is, but I couldn’t say.’
Standing behind the glass of La Popular’s window, La Pascualita’s smile remains eerily silent, and perhaps will for many decades to come.
More… the embalmed leaders
Over the years, it’s not only Lenin whose body has been embalmed and put on display for eternity…
Kim Jong Il
When he died in 2011, Kim Jong Il was embalmed and placed inside a glass coffin in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang.
The Filipino dictator died in 1989. His body is on display in a public mausoleum and his wife Imelda has been photographed visiting him and kissing his crypt.
To embalm Evita after her death in 1952, the cells in her body were drained of fluid, which was then replaced with wax. This effectively turned her into a human candle.