Since 1930, La Popular, a bridal shop in the Mexican city of Chihuahua has had its gowns modelled by a uniquely beautiful figure – one who has not aged a bit in 85 years, and still looks as striking as the day she arrived. So legendary has she become, La Pascualita as she is known, attracts tourists from all over Mexico and the rest of the world, eager to decide for themselves whether she is merely a mannequin, or if her origins are far more sinister.
From the first time she appeared in the shop’s window, allegedly having been shipped over from Paris, La Pascualita aroused suspicion; her hands were so realistic that she had fingerprints and faint varicose veins were visible on her legs. But it was her large brown eyes that gave La Pascualita her almost human quality and though they were made of glass, those who looked into them swore they were animated and full of emotion.
Soon, word spread that La Pascualita was no ordinary mannequin; she was actually the perfectly embalmed body of the daughter of La Popular’s owner, Pascuala Esparza. Certainly, it did not go unnoticed that the model bore a strong resemblance to Esparza.
It was said that La Pascualita (meaning ‘Little Pascuala’) had been called Chonita and had died from a black widow spider bite on her wedding day. In order to fulfil her daughter’s last wish to be a bride, her distraught mother had her preserved and put on display in her wedding dress. This urban legend had no basis in fact, and records suggest that Esparza’s had one child, a son – indeed, she even went as far as making a public denial and it was rumoured that the police visited the shop to investigate whether La Pascualita truly was a corpse. Nevertheless, the tale persisted until Esparza’s death in 1967 and afterwards, some claimed that her spirit had been absorbed by La Pascualita.
Only a select few have ever been permitted to touch La Pasculita, and her dresses are always changed in private. Over the years, many of La Popular’s employees have confessed to feeling a sense of unease around La Pascualita, with one revealing ‘Every time I go near Pascualita my hands break out in a sweat.’ Another has confided that, having seen La Pascualita without clothing, she believed ‘the body was not that of a mannequin.’
Stories have been told describing how La Pascualita sometimes smiles, frowns and cries and that her eyes have a tendency to follow people around the store. It is thought that she walks about when she is alone and likes to choose her own wedding attire. On the hand, there are those who think La Pascualita is a saint, with one account of a girl being shot outside the shop and praying to her for salvation, which she granted. Occasionally, candles are lit and flowers are left outside La Popular in the hope that she will ensure the giver a long and happy marriage. During the 1960s, it was said that a visiting shaman fell madly in love with La Pascualita, and attempted to bring her to life by magic, so that he could marry her.
In all likelihood, the possibility that La Pascualita was once a real woman seems far-fetched to say the least, and the preservation of a body for such a length of time, and under such conditions would be nearly impossible, not to mention incredibly costly. Whatever she may be, the legend of ‘Chihuahua’s most beautiful bride’ lives on.