Monday, July 27, 2009

The Bodies Exhibit

Yesterday, we went to the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport. I knew what it was about. I knew. But, but, but—I didn’t expect to “think” about who these people once were. A woman somewhere gave birth to a person who was (hopefully) loved and cared for. A person who went out in life and maybe raised a family, had a dog, held a grandchild. A person who had dreams … And, where did all of that take them in the end? On exhibit stripped down to bones and hanging flesh.

Caution! Gross examples up ahead!

For example, picture a full sized skeleton, arms stretched out in front holding hands with someone of the same size as though they are playing Ring Around the Rosie. This person is made up of skin, muscle and organs. These two are the same person. The bones were taken out and reassembled. Can you feel the weirdness and strange sadness of it?

There was a complete flap of skin taken from a woman’s breast area (breasts still attached), a sheared off tattoo, a complete person cut in half from head to toe, another sliced exactly the same but only in threes, fetuses, embryos, babies (all of which I skipped—didn’t feel like crying and blubbering all over the place). The crazy list goes on and on.

I get the medical aspect of it. My 14yr. old pointed out things she learned in Bio class (yes, I was impressed), I even heard a couple of people around me who sounded like they were studying to become a doctor. That’s all good, right? But, but, but … it left me sad.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. We all think too much. Both a gift and a curse? Could be.


  1. I saw the Body Worlds exhibit in Chicago almost 4 years ago. It was absolutely fascinating, and humbling, to me. Of course, the idea is that those people chose to donate themselves to the exhibit, or science. They had some idea where they were going. We are all at the eternal debt of people who are selfless enough to let medical science use them to better our understanding of physiology.

    The ones that I can't take are the mummies, and remains that are "excavated" from ancient graves. I don't care if you're from a museum or university, it's still grave robbery to me. I've been to plenty of museums with those "artifacts" on display.
    Weird, but that's my reaction.

  2. I'd have been torn between fascination and sadness myself. I minored in biology and I took two anatomy classes; in the second one, we had human corpses. On one hand, it's so interesting to see how we are all made; on the other, it breaks my heart to see what all flesh comes to in the end. And there is something terribly voyeuristic about the remains of others, displayed in such a way for our viewing pleasure or to excite our curiosity. I can't help but think that whoever those people were, they had little choice in the matter -- that if they did give their bodies up to science, it was due to poverty, not because they actively wanted to do this.