There’s a Morbid Anatomy-shaped hole in our hearts. Last year, on December 18th, the Morbid Anatomy Museum first announced that they would be closing their doors. Shortly thereafter the museum was beautifully eulogized by Evan Michelson. Now we here at Haute Macabre would like to raise a glass in tribute to a singular institution that was dear to our hearts.
For years I devoured the posts on the Morbid Anatomy blog and daydreamed about visiting the Morbid Anatomy Library, which was an endless source of fascination and inspiration for my own wunderkammer goals. Then, in 2013, I eagerly contributed to the Kickstarter campaign for the Morbid Anatomy Anthology, followed by the 2014 campaign to help fund the creation of the museum itself.
Shortly after The Anatomical Venus was published I learned that I’d soon be traveling to New York, which meant I’d finally be able to visit the museum myself. That trip took place in early November 2016, barely a month before the museum would announce its closure. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just barely made it.
“The real beauty in that room happened when someone fell in love with something. The looks of wonder, delight, bafflement and surprise were themselves a wonder to behold. You could see the gears turning, you could watch ideas being generated and connections being made. It was exciting, it was an honor and a privilege to be a part of that, to help reveal what was formerly hidden.”
I was already eager to visit the museum, with its wondrous library and permanent collection of morbid treasures, but I was over the moon when I learned that the Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality exhibit had been extended, so I was able to view that as well.
From beautifully mounted exotic game and beloved domestic pets to whimsical anthropomorphic dioramas and biological curiosities, there was so much to take in that conversation stopped and my party completely separated in order to devote our undivided attention to each and every piece. In fact, everyone moved about the space in almost complete silence. Whether out of respect for the countless dead creatures in the room or simply as a courtesy to each other, I do not know. But I was as quiet as the rest of them.
I’ve been fascinated by the work of English Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter for many years and longed to see some of his work in person. The odds of being able to do so became very slim once his collection was broken up and sold back in 2003, but thanks to yet another successful Kickstarter campaign, the Morbid Anatomy Museum was able to include Potter’s famous “Kittens’ Wedding” tableau in their Taxidermy: Art, Science & Immortality exhibit.
Displayed at eye level near the center of the exhibit space, viewers could walk around the surreal little scene and examine it from every side. I was delighted to discover that Potter’s feline wedding ceremony was every bit as charming and unsettling as I expected. The attention to detail throughout is remarkable, from every piece of miniature formalwear to the unique expression on each kitten’s face.
Can you see him there in the background, my favorite sullen kitten?
Why so frowny, gentleman puss?
I loved every moment of what would turn out to be my one and only opportunity to visit the Morbid Anatomy Museum. It was an unprecedented nexus of art, medicine, death, and culture. Just as the museum played host to “artifacts and ideas which fall through the cracks”, it felt like home, even to those of us who never made it there in person. Just knowing it existed was inspiring and reassuring.
“The Museum rode the crest of a cultural wave – we were a part of the ascendence of weirdness, and the mainstream embrace of the culture of curiosity. Morbid Anatomy was a community that gathered regularly to celebrate those strange, liminal ideas that led to the unexpected places where death, beauty, science and spirit meet.”
So now we mourn the closing of an extraordinary place run by extraordinary people. But we also look forward to whatever that same group of creative and morbidly-minded souls decides to do next, together and individually. And we can only begin to image what else will arise created by people who were somehow motivated by the museum, its exhibits, its events, and its community. Vale, Morbid Anatomy Museum, and thank you.