Lemon Grove Girl
Stolen from a Mexican burial cave
In 1966 in a cave near Chihuahua, Mexico, two mummies (Lemon Grove Girl and an infant) were discovered by two California teenagers. The teens had gone to Mexico in search of their very own mummy. They had heard that local Indian tribes had once buried their dead in caves around Chihuahua; because of the cool dry air of the caves, the bodies often became mummified naturally.
They were quite serious about wanting to find a mummy. Consequently, they spent more than a month exploring caves. Finally, they found not one, but two mummies: a 15 year-old girl and a 1 year-old girl. The teens packed their mummies, smuggled them across the border and took them home.
But what do you do with two mummies when you get home? Turn them into lamps? Use them as a foot rest? Display them as art objects? The teens had no idea either. And apparently because they did not want to share this information with their parents, they eventually asked a friend if they could store a box in her garage in Lemon Grove, California.
For 14 years, the mummies of the girl and the infant remained in the Lemon Grove garage, until the mother of the friend began to clean out her garage. Of course, she was shocked to find the body of the girl in a carton. Shaken, she thought a murder had taken place and called the police. When they arrived and inspected the box, they realized that two bodies were in the box (the girl and the infant) and that both were mummies, not necessarily murder victims.
While the police conducted their investigation, the mummies were taken to the Museum of Man in San Diego which is known for its mummy collection. Shortly, the police tracked down the two teens, now men. They told police how they had found the mummies, smuggled them into the U.S., and stored them in their friend's garage. Now, to make amends, they wanted to donate the mummies to the San Diego's Museum of Man. Of course, the mummies were not theirs to donate. (This would be similar to a robber stealing your car and then donating it to a charitable organization; the car would not be his to donate.) This did not stop the Museum of Man, however, from pursuing the donation. Museum officials contacted Mexican authorities and asked for permission to keep the mummies, to use them in an upcoming exhibit and them as an addition to the permanent collection. Permission was granted, and the Museum carefully studied the mummies before placing them on exhibit, where (as of August 2001) the Lemon Grove Girl is still on display. A book was published about the scientific studies.
What's special about the mummy
Stolen Body on Display. The Museum of Man contains the only display in the United States where a stolen mummy is on display.
Native American Mummy on Display. Interestingly, if the mummies had been American Indians (rather than Mexican Indians), they would have been repatriated to their ancestral tribe and reburied. It is now against the law in the United States to display the remains of American Indians. Because they came from Mexico, where no such laws about mummies exist to my knowledge, they were allowed to remain at the Museum of Man: stolen, smuggled, hidden, and (in the case of Lemon Grove Girl) now displayed, the mummy of a Mexican Indian.
In these days of technological wonders, it would be quite easy to make a reproduction of the body and display it in a Lucite box. In these days of heightened sensitivities, it would be admirable to return the mummies to their people. The girl, it is believed, died between the years A.D. 1040 and 1260. A DNA sample could easily be taken from her body and possibly traced to her living descendants.
Where to see the mummy
Lemon Grove Girl is on display at San Diego's Museum of Man in Balboa Park.
The main source of information about the Lemon Grove Girl is a scholarly book entitled Two Mummies from Chihuahua, Mexico: A Multidisciplinary Study by Rose A. Tyson and Daniel V. Elerick (eds.). Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but you can still order a used copy. It is well worth reading if you are interested in more scientific information about the mummies. But it will not give you any clue as to why the museum continues to exhibit these mummies stolen from Mexico.