All human beings are born with the certainty that they are going to die, and yet nobody wants to talk about it. Now that we have extended our life span to almost 100, we live in constant denial of our own mortality. This was not always the case...
In one of the most offbeat psychological dramas ever produced by a major film studio, Lon Chaney plays Alonzo The Armless Wonder, who performs amazing feats with his feet. He's not really armless, but has his upper limbs strapped to his sides to hide a peculiar anatomical deformity from the police. He falls in love with a young gypsy girl (Joan Crawford) who cannot stand men's hands and seeks to possess her at any cost.
"Anyone who considers this entertainment should be placed in the pathological ward in some hospital" said one contemporary review of this notorious film. The initial outrage over the use of people with genuine abnormalities overshadowed the film's real sympathies; if there are 'freaks' on display here, they are not the versatile circus performers to whom the title seems to allude.
Halloween, Samhain, Dia de los Muertos – there are few cultures that have not, at one time or another, celebrated, honoured and propitiated their dead at certain moments in the year. Outside of any specific date, many of these cultures have also engaged in regular communion with the departed, alluding to a somewhat more nuanced perspective on the nature of life and death.
Infanticide, the act of killing a baby or a very young child, remains an intensely complex and emotive subject. In Victorian London, the number of predominantly poor, unmarried women accused of murdering their babies dramatically increased. In light of this, public opinion varied towards mothers charged with murder. This talk will discuss Nineteenth Century ‘popular’ (often conflicting) attitudes towards infanticide, by examining the transcripts of court cases tried at London’s Central Criminal Court.
On 23rd December 1876, tragedy befell the lighthouse on the island of Skerryvore. The three crewmen vanished, leaving a meal on the table and a fire in the grate. Only Mary was left. A little girl with nowhere to go. A witness without a memory. But tonight, via the miracle of mesmerism, Professor Barrett will return Mary to the eye of the storm. At last, she will tell all she knows about the tragedy at Skerryvore, finding redemption in the process. That is, if everything goes to plan…
A documentary which still remains in a category by itself; Gates of Heaven focuses on an assortment of people involved in the pet cemetery business and the grieving owners who simply want to give the animals they love a proper send-off. For a film supposedly about dead pets, this is a moving reflection of human nature which combines comedy, irony and pathos. The characterful subjects are allowed to speak for themselves, musing on the need for companionship, what it means to be alive and why we work so hard to be remembered in death.
How a society views death and how it deals with the practical problem of what to do with its dead is very revealing. There are always Philosophical and attitudinal issues around disposal of the dead, but at least as important are the practical matters relating to Public Health and Finance.
We are delighted to announce that in April 2018 the Museum’s learning team will be running an intensive revision workshop for Key Stage 4 students studying the Medicine Through Time GCSE History series. This 4-hour session will cover the key themes of the current Edexcel: Medicine through time, c1250-present, but will also be useful for those studying AQA: Health and the People.
Before 1832 dissection was a feared and hated punishment for murder. The 1832 Anatomy Act requisitioned instead the corpses of the poor, transferring the penalty from murder to poverty. The Anatomy Act contributed to the terrible fear of the Victorian workhouse and influences attitudes towards death even today. This talk by author Ruth Richardson analyses the subject drawing on many disciplines to explore the fundamental issues of folklore and science, life and death and the political struggles surrounding ownership of the body in the 19th century.