Whence the oddities?

The National Museum of Health and Medicine in DC, home to innumerable medical oddities and various collections of carnal miscellania, is searching for a new home:

On one shelf rests a giant hair ball that filled the stomach of a 12-year-old girl who compulsively chewed her hair. Floating in a nearby glass container is a young man’s leg that ballooned in size because of elephantiasis.

This isn’t a carnival freak show. The specimens are among thousands of medical oddities—many ghoulish—collected by the National Museum of Health and Medicine, which is dedicated to tracing the history and practice of medicine over the centuries.

But the museum, located on the 113-acre campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, likely will have to find a new home. Last summer, the Base Closure and Realignment Commission voted to close the hospital and move many of its medical services to suburban Bethesda, Md., by 2011.

The commission does not indicate what will happen to the museum, other than to say it will not be “disestablished.” Museum officials are also uncertain, though it’s expected to move with the hospital to Bethesda.

It would be the museum’s 10th move since its founding in 1862 as the Army Medical Museum. The surgeon general originally wanted medical officers to collect specimens from dead and wounded soldiers on Civil War battlefields so that their diseases and injuries could be studied.

I’ve been to DC a few times and I never visited. Had I but known…

…the bullet that killed President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre also is displayed, as are bone fragments and hair from the president’s skull and the bloodstained shirt of a doctor who assisted in the autopsy.

Sarah Vowell, in her book Assassination Vacation, describes a visit to this particular exhibit. I knew I had heard of this place somewhere… The book itself is actually pretty entertaining. Vowell is a self-described “McSweeny’s person”, so I was fully prepared to scoff frequently and eventually lay the book aside. She held me until the end, though, and the only negative memories I have of the book involve her frequent references to just how weird she is. But I digress.

Apparently the museum isn’t a big draw:

Up to 60,000 people visit the museum each year, and many others participate in outreach programs and log on to its Web site, spokesman Steven Solomon said. Before moving to Walter Reed in 1971 — about five miles from downtown — the museum was on the National Mall where it drew 765,000 people in its final year.

The casual tourists are now gone, but scholars, military service members, doctors, Civil War buffs and school groups are among those who still seek out the museum. “This is definitely a destination attraction,” Solomon said.

I’m willing to bet that the move won’t help the museum’s annual draw.

3,000-year-old Cliff Painting Found in Yunnan

Chinese archaeologists have discovered a cliff painting dating back 3,000 years along the Jinsha River in southwestern Yunnan Province, an expert has confirmed.

A team of three discovered the painting on the cliff along the Jinsha River in Yongren County under the guidance of local people, said Ji Xueping, associate professor with the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and a member of the team.

The painting, 1.4 by 1.6, meters was made with 11 prints of human palms, which are as large as those of modern people. There are two dancing figures — the bigger one represents a man while the other stands for a woman — in the painting, according to Ji.

The red painting is still clear despite the passage of time. Archaeologists reckoned that ancient people drew it with a mixture of iron ore powder and animal blood.

(Source: Xinhua)


Oliverio Girondo is an author whose name, wherever I see it, is attached to words like “bizarre” and “crazy”. He was an Argentine (and as such doomed to be overshadowed by the Blind Librarian of Buenos Aries) whose only(?) book, Scarecrow and Other Anomalies was the beneficiary of an ingenious and somewhat eccentric marketing strategy:

After writing the indescribable collection of short pieces called Espanatapájaros (Scarecrow) in 1932, Oliverio Girondo rented a landau coach from a mortuary and hired liveried footmen and coachmen to attend the vehicle. In place of the floral wreathes he stacked copies of the book, printed with his own money and, in one seat, propped up a huge scarecrow he had made out of papier-mâché, with a top hat, button eyes and painted white gloves.

Then Girondo got in and, drawn by six horses, paraded through the streets of Buenos Aires announcing publication of Espanatapájaros through a megaphone, handing out copies and directing the bewildered public to a shop on La Calle Florida. There, on the sidewalk, a bevy of pretty girls, selected by the author, hawked the book, its cover bearing a likeness of the same well-heeled scarecrow. By such means the edition of 5,000 copies sold out in fifteen days. The dummy scarecrow retired to the vestibule of Girondo’s estate on Calle Suipacha, where it greeted unsuspecting visitors forever after. It was donated to the city museum after Girondo’s death in 1976.

I’d have bought one for sure.

I found what appears to be (I do not own the book so I can’t be sure) the title “story” of the collection here. Do check it out.

“Oh, Those Antiquities…”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has agreed to return some malacquired artifacts to Italy. Well, sorta. Link.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Italy signed a deal Tuesday under which the museum will return supposedly looted antiquities to Italy in exchange for long-term loans of other artifacts.

The unprecedented deal — which archaeologists hope will prompt other museums to change their acquisition policies — was signed in Rome by Met chief Philippe de Montebello and top Italian officials at the Culture Ministry.

The way this is written, it seems that the Met is using the artifacts as leverage. Possession is nine tenths of the law, right?

I wonder what would happen if all countries started reclaiming their antiquities. The British Museum and the Lourve would be emptied in no time. So many of our cultural relics (particularly in this country) have been stolen, smuggled, and otherwise removed from other countries under suspect circumstances.

At any rate, Italy appears to be quite serious about getting their stuff back.

The Met offered to return the items after saying it had received evidence from the Italians about their origins, a breakthrough in a dispute that highlighted other battles by countries such as Greece and Turkey to reclaim their cultural heritage from tomb raiders and the museums doing business with them.

As part of the Italian crackdown — and perhaps contributing to the pressure on the Met — a former curator from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles is on trial in Rome, accused of having knowingly purchased stolen artifacts for the museum from Italy. Marion True denies any wrongdoing.

I remember hearing an NPR story on the Getty situation (which is odd because anything I hear on NPR usually flies right out of the old dome). Marion True came off as pretty damn snooty. That’s really all I can say about that.

Non sequitur manifested: Today I got Mal Waldron’s early 60’s date with Eric Dolphy on sax and bass clarinet, Ron Carter on cello, Booker Ervin on tenor sax, and a solid rhythm section. Dolphy, as always, outshines everyone with quirky soloing and multi-instrumentalism. It is a solid set, and Warm Canto is a classic. Jazz anyone?

Batman Vs. Al Qaida

Frank Miller is back on Batman, but the villains this time are certainly NOT gaudily dressed eccentrics or menacing muscle-bound maniacs. Holy Propaganda Batman!

Speaking at a comic book convention in San Francisco at the weekend, Miller, the author of The Dark Knight Returns and the Sin City series, said Batman could ill afford to chase fantasy villains when the real thing was on his doorstep.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, it’s a piece of propaganda,” he said.
“Superman punched out Hitler. So did Captain America. That’s one of the things they’re there for.

“These are our folk heroes. I just think it’s silly to have Batman out chasing the Riddler when you’ve got al-Qaida out there.”

Comparing Batman to Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character – a lone urban hero fighting a crime wave – Miller said: “Batman kicks al-Qaida’s ass … I wish the entertainers of our time had the spine and the focus of the ones who faced down Hitler.”

In the book, Holy Terror, Batman is “a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we’re up against”, the author said.

Miller, 49, is credited with rejuvenating the Batman series when he returned the character to his dark roots in the Dark Knight Returns in the 1980s. He is one of the most successful graphic novelists, and last year turned to film, co-directing the adaptation of his graphic novel series Sin City.

Miller has drawn 120 pages of the 200-page graphic novel. There is no completion date.

Very interesting. Note, first of all, that Miller tells us EXACTLY what this is. Good. Very honest. Note also that Batman didn’t get in on all that Hitler action. For that reason alone, I’m willing to mostly ignore this “story”. With Miller at the helm, the plot of the graphic novel may even be pretty good. Probably not, mind you, but maybe.