Here’s a story for you with multiple layers of creep. Deep in a catacomb of Sicily resides the remains of a two-year-old girl who tragically died of pneumonia back in 1920. But unlike her deceased roommates in the tomb, the girl, Rosalia, is nearly perfectly preserved from the time of her death. What’s more, spectators report that occasionally the so-called “sleeping beauty” appears to open and close her eyes. Video evidence, y’all. What manner of sorcery is at work here?
Unfortunately, according to researchers there’s an utterly scientific reason for both of these eerie realities. Pshh. Let’s examine them.
Rosalia enjoys the distinction of being one of the world’s best preserved mummies, as well as a prime attraction at the catacomb beneath the Capuchin convent in Sicily (this place is a real exhibition extraordinaire of our skeletal comrades). Rather than a corpse formerly ravaged by infection and left to decay in the elements, she looks to be a peacefully napping toddler—her angelic face framed by curly blonde hair and a ribbon still tied around her head. The catacombs house loads of other mummies partially preserved by the tombs’ arid environment, but Rosalia? She got star treatment—artificial mummification from a local embalmer.
You see, the girl’s bereaved father was determined to preserve her for all eternity, so in his grief he turned to a Sicilian taxidermist to immortalize her body. The concoction of chemicals clearly did the trick, though the embalmer never revealed his near-magical formula.
Then in 2009, an anthropologist discovered the long-lost secret used to keep Rosalia looking sweet as sugar. In an unearthed handwritten manuscript, the embalmer had listed his brew: Formalin to kill bacteria, glycerin to keep the body from over-drying, salicylic acid to kill fungi and zinc salts to petrify her.
So now that you know the go-to formula should you want to preserve yourself for posterity, let’s get to this blinking business. It’s been speculated on for years and recorded in various time-lapse photos and videos. Even Italian newspapers have reported on Rosalia’s apparent ability to peek open her eyelids, revealing the innocent blue eyes beneath.
But in reality? "It's an optical illusion,” said the curator of the Capuchin Catacombs in a recent statement. “[It’s] produced by the light that filters through the side windows, which during the day is subject to change.” The fact that her eyes don't fully close allows for this light-trippy appearance as the rays hit her face at different angles.
So alas, it seems Rosalia doesn’t retain her life force. But at least she recently got a spanking-new, humidity-free glass coffin to help preserve her for many years to come. And Sicily’s tourism department couldn’t be happier.