The Grant Museum of Zoology's Micrarium

I just got back from a whirlwind last-minute trip to London - it was primarily a work trip, but time was made to see some of London's more curious sites. I have more than 1,000 photos to comb through, but I thought I'd share a highlight; the Micrarium.

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A mirror on the ceiling makes the Micrarium appear to go on forever. Unless you accidentally photograph yourself in that mirror.

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The Grant Museum of Zoology is amazing all on its own. Founded in 1828, the museum walls lined floor-to-ceiling with wet specimens, taxidermy, dissections, skeletons, wax models, and even, inexplicably, a collection of jars full of multiples - a jar of snakes, a jar of moles, a jar of starfish, a jar of turtles.

I am obsessed with old collections, but amazingly, my favorite feature of the museum is brand new. The Micrarium opened in February of this year, and is a magical room of backlit microscope slides, more than 2000 of them.

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An estimated 95% of the known animal kingdom is smaller than a human thumb, so they say, and the Grant Museum decided to dig into their slide archives and give some of these smaller specimens in their collection a bit of time in the spotlight.

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Old Magic lantern slides line the bottom of the Micrarium.

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Each slide deserves a moments' pause.

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Each one is more beautiful than the last. Dare I say, this may just be my favorite spot in London.

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Congdon Anatomical Museum

I just finished writing up an article and photo tour on Atlas Obscura of one of the best medical museums I've ever visited (and I've visited a lot!). Traveling through South East Asia last year (oh god, was that already a year ago?), the Congdon Anatomical Museum in Bangkok was one of the last places we saw before boarding that 15 hour flight. It was well worth the wait. A few pictures of fetal skeletons below, but for more photos and more about the experience, check out the article on Atlas Obscura. (WARNING: Images in the link may be disturbing to some people)

Birds of Hanoi's Zoological Museum

One of the highlights of our trip was the chance to see the incredible Bảo tàng Động vật, a little-known French-Colonial era zoological museum in Hanoi, Vietnam. The museum consists of three rooms - Mammals, Reptiles and Fish, and Birds. While all of the rooms were bursting with charm, the bird room boasted recently installed lights in the antique display cases - the lights were a harsh white shade, yet despite that harshness, they were also quite dim. The resulting photos of eyeless birds and lifeless skin studies in this odd light have a slightly eerie tone that I love.

Antique Cabinet Museum

I have a thing for Natural History Museums - no matter how small, how old, or how new, there is also something inspiring to see. When I realized that Lancaster has one of their own, I decided we should pop in for a quick look. From the website, the museum looks very modern, but the site does not hint at the treasure trove to be found in the basement next to the bathrooms. The Antique Cabinet Museum is literally a museum within a museum. I attempted to research the history of the antique cabinets, but came up with nothing - I think it's safe to say that these are the collections from the North Museum before they made a major update into the modern world. They couldn't throw all those incredible pieces away, but didn't have room in the museum for them any longer. The solution? Stick them in a basement and slap a a label on it, and the Antique Cabinet Museum was born. It is an absolute gem. I wish all museums put their historic specimens on display in the old style like this.

By far, the best part of the Cabinet Museum was the Dichotomous Cabinet - cabinets with pull-out drawers, each one representing a different category of specimens. Our favorite drawer was the Polycephaly Animals (having more than one head) - just look at that disembodied two-headed calf head! This is antique natural history at its best, folks.

Object Lessons, No. 1 : Wax Jaw

I love old objects. I love the way they look - rusted, chipped, cracked. I love the way they feel - heavy, solid, or ready to crumble. They offer me endless inspiration and comfort. These are some of my favorite objects.

This is my antique wax anatomical model of a child's jaw. Dylan and I got a large lot of old dental implements and bits and bobs from a man on Craigslist in 2008. He was selling the treasures for a friend whose father had been a dentist in New York in the 1920s. That is the extent of the information we have on our little jaw's personal history. As to its birth, according to the lovely peeling old labels on the back, it was made in Germany and then imported to New York by a man named Gustav Scharmann. I think the German label translates to something along the lines of "Wax Preparation. Keep out of the sun." Makes sense, and we've complied, keeping in it our dark hallway where nary a ray of sunlight hits.

The label under the jaw reads "Dentes decidui" which I believe translates to deciduous teeth, meaning baby teeth, and apparently, according to the internets, also known as milk teeth.

Little known and sort of boring fact about me, I only ever lost 2 of my baby teeth. The rest refused to fall out, and my permanent teeth started growing in all around them. For awhile I had nearly two complete rows of teeth, earning me the nickname Dragon Teeth, or D.T. for short (actually, that was a pretty good one, Mom). Eventually I had to have the rest pulled, 4 at a time (they could only numb part of my mouth at a time for fear that I might swallow my tongue) which was pretty much the most horrible thing ever. I became very familiar with laughing gas at that time. I remember the first time they gave it to me, the dentist told me to think of something nice like puppies, which I thought was hilarious, and, deciding to teach him a thing or two about little girls, thought of alligators instead. (It didn't really occur to me that he didn't know what I was thinking.) He had the last laugh when I left with a drooling bleeding face full of cotton balls. I still love alligators though.

Obscura Day 2011

Travel to wondrous and curious places on Obscura Day 2011.

On April 9th, I'll be doing my darndest to attend three, count em, three Obscura Day events. If you don't already know, Obscura Day is put on by the Atlas Obscura, and aims to be a day of expeditions, back-room tours and hidden treasures in your own town. With over 86 events all over the world, Obscura Day 2011 is shaping up to be an epic celebration of the curiosity seeker.

My own Obscura Day will start off racing with Dylan off from Brooklyn to East Shoreham, Long Island to tour Tesla's Wardenclyffe Laboratory, (Nikola Tesla's only remaining research facility), then we'll book it back to Brooklyn in time for the ghost ships of Coney Island tour led by the folks from Underwater New York, and we'll end the night at the Coney Island Spectacularium. The Spectacularium - run by friend and Morbid Anatomy's Joanna Ebenstein, and the amazing Aaron Beebe of the Coney Island Museum - sounds like it's going to be nothing short of incredible. From the exhibition's website,

At the end of the 19th Century, Coney Island was the pinnacle of an astonishing era of live attractions – pre-cinematic spectacles that brought millions of people to the shores of the Atlantic to see things that were completely unique in their experience. The Great Coney Island Spectacularium will be a live exhibition and experience exploring that momentous age, bringing you sites, sounds, and immersive experiences that can’t be seen anywhere else on earth.

I'm incredibly excited and I'll be back on April 10th with pictures and full reports from each event. I just hope my lazy self can actually make it to all three events without collapsing!

Anthropomorphic Mouse Taxidermy

Back when we first began Observatory (the lecture space I co-run), we had a wine-soaked brainstorm session of all of the amazing events, lectures, screenings, shows, and classes we wanted to host in our then-empty room. Of all of the many ideas, the one I was most excited about was hosting a taxidermy class. 2 years later, after searching far and wide, Joanna finally found an amateur taxidermist to teach it! Last night, I was able to squeeze into one of only 4 classes, and only then because I'm a member of Observatory. Otherwise it would have been the waiting list for me - these classes have been incredibly popular. I guess I'm not the only girl in Brooklyn interested in pulling the guts out of animals. (The class of about 15 was comprised entirely of girls...there were a few boys in the previous class, but it's so interesting that taxidermy seems to so strongly attract the ladies. Pay attention fellas looking for a cute, hip girl with a strong stomach - they're all at Observatory stuffing mice!)

*DISCLAIMER* I love animals, and I do not believe in the killing of animals to create new taxidermy - I only collect antique and vintage pieces that have been dead many years. These mice are no exception. Sue, the teacher of the class, gets her mice from a place where mice are raised to feed pet snakes and other reptiles. The mice she receives are too old to sell as food for pets and would literally be thrown away otherwise.

To be honest, the taxidermy process, at least for a little mouse, was much less gross than I expected. It's a lot less about guts and a lot more about very gentle, tiny work. Well - de-braining was a bit disconcerting, but it only lasted a second and then it was over.

Here I am preparing to put my clay form into my mouse skin with a small group of strangers doing the same.

One girl putting the finishing touches on her Houdini mouse.

This mouse captain was pretty cute.

I had a time trying to work out how to keep tiny glasses on a mouse whose ears wouldn't stand up.

My mouse! He is a young, bookish Victorian gone a-courting. I was going to give him away as a gift, but I don't think I can ever part with him. Just look at that face! Just look at it!

More info here on the Taxidermy Classes at Observatory

The Explorers Club

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to tag along with the Atlas Obscura team on a backstage tour of the Explorer's Club in Manhattan. I've been dreaming about seeing the inside of this place for years, and I can assure you that it far exceeded my expectations. The globe on which the Kon-Tiki route was (rumored to have been) planned! A sperm whale penis bone charmingly mounted on a cutout of a sperm whale! Pith Helmets galore! Numerous piles of rocks from exotic locales haphazardly balanced on every shelf! A mounted walrus head (which I took about 765 pictures of because I want to marry it)!

It's a truly inspiring and remarkable place, and knowing that there are death-defying expedition stories of exploration and adventure behind every object in the place makes it a priceless collection. Sadly, our tour guide knew nothing of these stories ("What expedition is this arctic sledge from?" "An important one." "Do you know anything about this tusk?" "It's very old.")

Explorer's Club Flag

I was able to figure out, with no help from the tour guide, that this flag was taken to the Gobi Desert in 1925 by famous paleontologist, Roy Chapman Andrews.

View of the Trophy Room 2

The trophy room. Mark my words, one day my living room will be an exact replica of this room. Does anyone have a spare woolly mammoth tusk they want to give me to start things off?

Mounted Walrus Head

My boyfriend.

Pith Helmet and Puka Shell Mask

Who doesn't love a pith helmet and a puka shell mask?

Polar Bear on the second floor landing

Polar bear on the second floor landing! Our guide managed to impart some information here - "It's not a very big one."

Globe, rumored the globe on which the Kon-Tiki route was planned (detail)

This is obviously an extreme close up, but this globe is huge. Like if you took 4 exercise balls and stuck them together to made one big ball out of them (I've never been very good at similes).

The Library Room

It's a library full of books solely on the subject of exploration. YES. (Books are on the other wall, not pictured. I promise, they were there)

Arctic Explorer Figure

I love this little guy with his harpoon.

Lion Rug, Caribou and Deer Heads

I think the big antlered one is a caribou.

Stones from Mt. Everest

Who knew there were stones on Mt. Everest?

The Explorer's Club Reseach Collections

Explorers Club Research Library: even more books on exploration!

Sperm Whale Bacculum

The aforementioned sperm whale penis bone. It kind of looks like a carrot. A huge, giant carrot.

Lots more pictures of our tour can be seen in this here Flickr Set.