Warning: Not-For-Mealtime Reading

I feel the need to defend myself lest I be accused of having morbid fascinations. We’ve had a string of guests recently with an interest in science and medicine. Being a good host, I try to accommodate their interests, thus our visit to the Resurrection Men at the Museum of London and our visit to the Hunterian.  A friend told me my post about the Resurrection Men ruined her breakfast, so, in the interest of decorum, this post comes with fair warning and fewer pictures.


The Hunterian Museum  located at Lincoln Inn Fields, within the Royal College of Surgeons, contains John Hunter’s spectacular collection of 3500 human anatomy and pathology specimens, fossils, paintings and sketches.

John Hunter (1728-1793), credited with being the father or “scientific surgery” was born the youngest of ten children and was fatherless by 13. After a failed attempt at being a cabinetmaker’s apprentice, John  joined his brother William in London as a dissection assistant in William’s anatomy school. John showed great aptitude for dissection and preparation under William’s tutelage and earned a place studying medicine under more experienced surgeons. He was commissioned as an army surgeon where he gained experience treating the maladies of war and upon his return to London, established a surgical practice and published papers on the etiology and treatment of gunshot wounds, venereal disease and the disorders of the skeletal system.  As his reputation as a surgeon and anatomist grew, so did his collection of usual and unusual specimens.  Fossils, mummies and skeletons (both human and animal) joined the beak of a giant squid, parts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, exotic insects, diseased body parts and other oddities. His collection was opened to the public in 1785.


Hunter’s massive collection was purchased by the government in 1799 and subsequently turned over to the Company of Surgeons.  The established museum was restructured and redesigned numerous times between 1834 and WWII.



On May 10, 1941, bombs fell on Lincoln Inn Fields, destroying the Royal College of Surgeons building and over half of John Hunter’s specimens. The remaining collection was reorganized and rehoused in numerous forms during the subsequent 64 years, reopening in its present form in 2005.

If you have more than a passing interest in nature and the sciences, the Hunterian Museum is well worth a few hours.  The depth and breadth of the collection is mind-boggling.  I particularly enjoyed the fossils, skeletons, insects and animals. Our medical student friends were riveted by the process of disease displays. Eeeshhh.  One of my children refers to the museum as the “parts in a jar museum” and refuses to return as the more graphic human specimens left her in need of the well-placed “fainting couches.” Check details here before you go.

Things to know:

*You must sign in at the Royal College of Surgeons front desk and get a little badge before proceeding upstairs to the Hunterian.

*No  photography allowed.

*The museum is free, but they do ask you to consider a £3 donation.

*While young children are permitted inside the museum, parents should seriously consider the ages and maturity level of their children before bringing them. The children WILL have questions.


Lions and Tigers and A Few Polar Bears.

Do you remember me mentioning the photography exhibit I missed because I was playing in the snow?  I had the chance to go this morning with d3, so I woke her up early and hopped the bus to the Natural History Museum.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit is showing at the Natural History Museum until 3 March.  The annual contest (currently in its 49th year) is co-owned by the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide.  The judging panel received  48,000 entries from 98 countries, which they distilled to the final 100 photographs on display.


 Photograph by Larry Lynch, Warning Night Light, sourced here
Winner, Animal Portraits category, 2012

When I entered the gallery I was surprised to see that the photographs were not framed and hung on the wall. The gallery, arranged by award category;  Underwater Worlds, Wildscapes, Nature in Black and White, Creative Visions, Animal Portraits, Behavior: Mammals/Birds/Cold-Blooded Animals, Animals in their Environment, Botanical Realms as well as a “Young Photographer” category (10 and under, 11 – 14, 15- 17, presents the photographs in a stunning, backlit format.


Photograph by Francisco Mingorance (Spain), Spirit of the Volcano sourced here
Commended, Botanical Realms category 2012

Each photograph was accompanied by an interesting back-story about the subject and setting and a map showing  where the photo was taken. The display also noted the technical details involved in taking the photo (type of camera, lenses, filters and other things I don’t understand but wish I did).

The photographs were stunning.  One made my cry. They all took my breath away.  Patrons filled out an exit questionnaire (voluntary) asking us to list our favorite photograph.  We argued for a bit, went back through the gallery and settled on our favorite seven.  It was a difficult choice.


Photograph by Charlie Hamilton James (UK), Lookout for Lions, sourced here                            http://www.charliehamiltonjames.co.uk/ 
Specially Commended, Nature in Black and White category, 2012


Photograph by David Maitland (UK), Sands of Time  sourced here
Runner up, Creative Visions category, 2012

Even if you have only a passing interest in photography, the exhibition is well worth it.  My daughter and I were incredibly inspired and spent a significant amount of time flipping through the photography books in the museum bookshop. Maybe there’s hope for my photography after all.

Things to know:

The exhibit ends 3 March.

Entry cost is £10 for adults, £5 for students/concessions, free for museum members.

Check for details here  before you go.

You can see some of the photographs online , using a search feature, although they are much better seen in person.

Mr. Burke, Resurrection Man?


Back in the early days of my education, I was asked to research my surname and create a heraldic crest representing our family’s illustrious past. Being the good student that I was, I hurried off to the library (that’s how we did these things back in the day) to see what I could dig up on the family name “Burke.”   I envisioned an encyclopedic family history rich in Celtic kings and vast tracts of fertile Irish soil. What I found was a tiny write-up on the “Burke” lineage and extensive information about “William Burke/Burkers/Burking.”  Grave-robbing.  Body-snatching. Part-harvesting.  Wisely, I created a heraldic crest of shamrocks and swords and buried (ha!) any knowledge I had of how the term “Burking” came to be.


Those early memories surfaced again during my visit to the Museum of London‘s Doctor’s, Dissection and Resurrection Men” exhibit, a macabre and grisly exploration of the body-snatching trade and its relationship to the 19th century medical community.  The Museum of London’s Archeology team uncovered 262 burial sites in a 2006 excavation at Royal London Hospital. Many of the burial sites contained piles of unrelated bones exhibiting signs of dissection, amputation and autopsy, prompting a more extensive inquiry into the history of the hospital, medical research and Resurrection Men.


The medical profession needed real “subjects” to dissect and study, which created a huge demand for fresh bodies. The corpses of executed criminals provided some legal samples for study, but demand for bodies far exceeded supply. Criminal gangs of body-snatchers (Resurrection Men) stole bodies from wakes, graveyards and mortuaries to sell to surgeons and private anatomy schools.  The fresh body trade became quite competitive and some Resurrection Men decided to skip the risky, complicated work of stealing bodies and decided to  create them instead.  Thus the case of  Burke and Hare , who murdered 16 people for the sole purpose of selling their bodies.  Thus the term “Burker/Burking.”    Both men were executed and their bodies delivered to the surgeon’s dissection table.  Ironic.


The horrendous Burke and Hare case, followed by London’s own Italian Boy case prompted the Anatomy Act 1832, which regulated a legal trade in bodies for medical science.

The exhibit itself is a fascinating, gruesome compilation of models, diaries, drawings and implements outlining the relationship between doctors and the Resurrection Men.

Things to know:

*The exhibit is not for the squeamish and not recommended for children under 12 (museum’s suggested age restriction).

*Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men is open until 14 April 2013.  Information and advanced tickets here.

* I am 99.99% sure the heraldic crest I created in 6th grade is accurate and my surname connection to Burke/Burker/Burking is only by unfortunate coincidence.

A Dickensian Christmas in London

When you imagine a Dickensian Christmas, what comes to mind? Austere surroundings? Dark, winding, lantern-lit London alleyways?  Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge?

Dickens House street-1

The Charles Dickens Museum opened its doors this week after the completion of a £3 million restoration and just in time for patrons to experience a true “Dickensian Christmas.”  The 5-story house, located at 48 Doughty Street, was Charles Dickens’ home when he wrote Oliver TwistBarnaby Rudge and Nicholas Nickleby. The restoration is exquisite, the rooms carefully curated and the house filled with items related to young Mr. Dickens and his family.

Dickens House entry-1

Letters to and from Mr. Dickens and framed first editions hang in the Entry Hall
Dickens House Dining-1

Personal artwork and family heirlooms are displayed in the dining room.

Dickns kitchen-1
Dickens Drawing Room-1

His favorite chair, a reading podium and items collected in his travels are displayed in the Sitting Room.
Dickens House Laundry-1

Much of what Charles Dickens wrote about was gleaned from his life, observations and experiences.  This innocuous Wash House copper bowl usually held the washing, except for once a year when it was scrubbed and filled with Christmas pudding as it was in A Christmas Carol.

“Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper”   A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Dickens Desk-1

Dickens_dreamHis writing desk, quill and inkstand used to create Fagan, Bill Sykes, Wackford Squeers and Ralph Nickleby sit in a library filled with signed editions and a stunning painting titled Dickens Dream.

Dickens personal effects-1

His personal effects; razor, moustache scissors and other toiletry items are encased in glass in his upstairs bedroom.  I took dozens of pictures today, but only included a few rooms here.  It’s tempting to post them all, but I think it a more personal and meaningful experience if you go and visit. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said …”Come in, and know me better,man!”

Dickens House tea-1

When you’ve finished the tour, make time to visit the tiny tea shop in the back of the house.  You can have a cup of tea and make a list of Dickens’ novels you need to read and re-read.  I had a cup of tea and toasted Mrs. Johnson, my 9th grade English teacher, who taught me to love them all.

A Christmas Carol-1

The Museum is hosting a number of special Christmas events.

Dickensian Christmas Walks  10:30 to 12:30 and 5:15 to 7:15 (The night walk…very atmospheric after a museum visit, but both are excellent). £7  There is a special walk and museum visit package scheduled for Boxing Day (26 December).

A Christmas Carol with Michael Slater  Highly recommended dramatic reading in perfect surroundings.  Tuesday, 18 December 6:30 to 8:30  Tickets £12. Not suitable for children under 10. Tickets can be booked here.

A Very Dickensian Christmas  December 24, 25 and 26th  Minced pies, mulled wine, festive readings and classic film screenings.  Highly advised to book ahead.  11am to 6pm (last entry at 5).  Admission £18 adults, £8 children

Lions and Tigers and Bears…and Holly Golightly


A brightly lit marquee and a giant screen playing a montage of epic Hollywood films immediately draws you into a larger-than-life Hollywood experience.  Central to the V & A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibit  is the critical role of the costume designer in creating memorable characters and telling a believable story. The design of the exhibit allows visitors to slowly walk by and view not only the costume, but the story behind it, how it was made and why it was chosen.  The curators brilliantly added actual movie scenes and small screens projecting the actors faces over the costumes, giving context to each display.

photo courtesy of V & A images

The continuous gasps and excited whispers from the crowd when they recognized a scene or a costume from a favourite film reinforced my initial impression that this was much more than a costume exhibit. It was interesting to see how many of the costumes evoked powerful memories and emotions.  The Hans Solo costume prompted a conversation from a group…”Remember when we used to play Star Wars as kids?  You were always Solo. I always had to be the Wookie…”

photo courtesy of V&A images

The costume worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic prompted one woman to remember her first date with her future husband. More than one man stopped and took a moment in front of the suit worn by Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

There were quite a few little ones dressed as Dorothy complete with sparkly red shoes à la Wizard of Oz trailing past Spiderman, Superman and a few other childhood favorites.  I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of  Daniel Craig’s costume from Casino Royale.  It was hard not to touch.

There was absolutely something for everyone, regardless of your age, gender or movie genre preference. Sadly, no photography allowed  (and you know I’m such a rule follower…ha!) so I listed some of my favorites costumes as they appear via movie clips.  Seems appropriate, yes?

 Matt Damon’s costume (Jason Bourne) in Bourne Ultimatum

The Oceans Eleven  costume display includes a storyboard of sorts, explaining the research and design that went into the creation of each character’s style.

 Harrison Ford’s costume (Indiana Jones) in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Whip, hat and jacket included.

The Darth Vader (Star Wars, Episode V) costume was a huge draw.  The original started with a black leather motorcycle suit, a nazi helmet, a gas mask and a cloak borrowed from the middle ages costume department.  The rest is history.

Daniel Craig’s (Bond. James Bond) costume from Casino Royale. No touching.

Keanu Reeves’ costume (Neo, aka the One) from The Matrix

Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) cape from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

The infamous/famous dress from Gone With The Wind, worn by Vivien Leigh. (This one is for you, Norma)

And yes…THAT dress…from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

 Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress from The Seven Year Itch

And the most anticipated costume of all…Dorothy’s blue checked dress and ruby slippers.

There are so many more (Austin Powers, Independence Day, Blue’s Brothers), but I have work to do and so do you…Put this on your must-see-once-in-a-lifetime list, book tickets online  and plan on visiting for at least two hours. The exhibit is on until 27 January.

Thank you, Harry Winston.