Professor Cabrera’s Cabinet of Horrors: Secret Chambers and Shocking Artifacts with Controversial Origins
In Ica, Peru, I visited the most mysterious museum on our planet. It is the Museo de Piedras Grabadas de Ica , (Museum of the Engraved Stones of Ica). Professor Javier Cabrera Darquea (1924-2001) created it. The museum offers two archaeological collections—of which one was kept secret for years. Actually, neither of them should exist: they are far too fantastical. But reality is sometimes stranger than even the most impossible fiction.
The Secret Chambers and Shocking Sights
Cornelia Petratu and Bernard Roidinger write in the postscript of their work The Stones of Ica : “Punctual, lively, and full of enthusiasm, Professor Cabrera greeted us in his museum. […] There was nothing in his presentation that could still surprise us. Yet, on the last day, he completed his act. […] And so, Professor Cabrera revealed to us the locked rooms of a house, which he called his ‘secret chambers’. If visiting Cabrera’s private museum had already shocked us, then what we were about to see would exceed all of our imagination. Cabrera’s ‘secret chambers’ contain things that shatter all boundaries of rational logic. Even if we attempted to explain what we saw, we could not. It simply is beyond our grasp.”
What did Cornelia Petratu and Bernard Roidinger see, but were prevented from describing? What images were they not permitted to publish? Or: what did they see and dared not include in their book?
I became aware of the mysterious objects in the private museum of Professor Javier Cabrera Darquea as early as the 1970’s. There was the mention of a public section, as well as a secret part of the mysterious archaeological collection, but concrete information was unavailable. Statements of scientists did not exist. What were Professor Cabrera, and his finds that allegedly ought not exist, all about?
The Secret Collection
I first attempted to view and photograph the mysterious artifact collections of Professor Cabrera in the autumn of 1992. In that year, three friends and I travelled through South America for two months, from Ecuador to Easter Island. When we arrived in Ica and went to Professor Cabrera’s private museum, we were bitterly disappointed. The museum was closed, and there was no one to ask about it. Our ringing of the bell remained unanswered. At last, someone told us: Professor Cabrera was travelling—in Europe. What irony: four Europeans had undertaken the long journey to Ica in Peru, to visit Professor Cabrera, while the scientist was travelling in Europe.
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But then, I found the opportunity to speak at length with one of Professor Cabrera’s brothers. He candidly confirmed the existence of a second, secret collection, which he was not permitted to show me without the express approval of his brother. Unfortunately, the latter was out of reach.
Years later it came to pass at last.
Prof. Cabrera (left) with Walter-Jörg Langbein (Photo by Ingeborg Diekmann)
My eyes slowly became accustomed to the dim light. The air was full of dust. Ahead of me stretched a narrow corridor the other end of which I could only guess. To my right and left stood shelves that reached to the ceiling well above me. Hundreds, no, thousands of clay figurines lay side by side, tightly crowded, several rows deep. It was evident that, over time, new shelves had gradually been added, to create more room for the steadily accumulating mysterious items. The huge collection constantly grew.
Hundreds of eerie sculptures in the once-secret collection. (© Walter Langbein)
Collection of Horrors
Several naked light bulbs were tied to wires und suspended from the ceiling. Their pale sheen cast an eerie light across the entire scene.
The air was dry and caused me to cough. I slowly walked past the shelves. The cone of light produced by my strong torch glided across the figurines on the shelves. Most consisted of two humanoid figures that presented a grotesque group: one figure lying on a kind of table, and a second one standing beside it, ‘treating’ the one in the prostrate position. The variation of this grouping consisted of the figure standing being in the process of cutting open, or into, the one lying down. In most cases, the ‘surgeon’ had already opened the ‘patient’.
Sculpture depicting heart transplant? (© Walter Langbein)
The many scenes all differed, yet resembled each other very much. I felt as though I had been transported into a stone figure cabinet á la Madame Tussaud—into the horror section. The beings made from grey clay were not life-sized, as in Tussaud’s wax museum, but very much smaller. They stood at the most thirty centimetres (12 inches) tall—I’ve measured them. But unlike at Madame Tussaud’s, where famous individuals have been immortalized, Cabrera’s collection featured mask-like creatures.