Oct 192009
 

This essay originally appeared in the now-defunct Nose magazine issue 24 pages 42 and 43. The author is Tim “Zamora” Cridland, and includes two of my photographs.

Tales From The Crib

The Nose Crawls You Through the Sickening World of Medical Museums

By Tim Cridland

Photos by Matt Crowley

Herds of seedy traveling carnivals once roamed the U.S., offering staples like the girlie show, the “mitt joint” palm reader and the “ten in one” sideshow, which often included a “pickled punk” exhibit – carny slang for a dead baby in a jar. The most popular was the infamous two headed variety, “born alive!” the banners would proclaim, showing a happy baby in diapers, playing with its rattle, all four eyes beaming.

As any freak fan knows, there actually are two kinds of pickled punks: the real thing (preferred) and “bouncers,” or realistic fake rubber babies. As sideshow owners retired or moved on, collections were sold an exhibit origins became obscured; even the operators couldn’t tell the bouncers from the punks.

Pickled punks eventually became another archaic curiosity, seen only in odd books and postcards. But you don’t have to travel back in time to see the real deal. Pickled punks still exist, publicly displayed in cities all over the world. You just have to know who to ask.

Many gruesome and weird displays are kept in medical museums, often affiliated with medical schools or hospitals. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a real pickled punk (though that my not be what the label says).

Before you begin your quest for the two headed grail, keep in mind that medical museums are intended for the education of medical students, not for your entertainment. Some are open to the public, but others will require you to bribe a medical student or doctor into taking you. Play it low key. Hide that purple streak in your hair, Take out those lip piercings. Leave the Beavis and Butt-head T-shirt at home. Carry a note pad and try to look like a student. Don’t go in groups of more than three. For god’s sake, don’t blow it for everyone. Even if that Cyclops baby is demanding that you scream or giggle, try to stifle it. “Look at the size of that colon!” you may want to holler to your pal across the room. Internalize your commentary. Save the conversation for dinner.

Museum Vrolik, Amsterdam Medical Center

Where: Outside Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Getting In: Open to the public, but don’t flaunt your status as a layman.

A visit to Amsterdam might mean smoking some hemp and checking out the red light district, but don’t sell yourself short by missing one of the world’s biggest collections of malformed babies in jars. It’s not in any of the tourist guides, and not many locals know about it. Take a train several stops out of Amsterdam. The Medical Center is the only thing at the stop, so it’s hard to miss. Get off and follow everybody else into the main building. Keep going straight past the library, toward the back. Go into the main entrance. Act like you belong there.

Contents: A wall of deformed skulls, deformed baby skeletons, about 40 or so malformed fetuses, Cyclops babies, elephant-nosed babies, pinhead babies, two-headed babies, two bodied and one-headed babies, a blob of flesh with a face.

Most medical museums have a “No Photographs Allowed” policy. When Matt started clicking off some shots, a doctor started yelling at him in Dutch. Matt asked in English, “Is there a problem here?”

“It is you who have the problem!” the irritated physician retorted. Luckily, Matt snapped a couple of skeleton frames before he made us put the camera away. (see photos)

Mutter Museum, College of Surgeons

Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Getting In: The public is welcome.

No need to bribe a medical student; they encourage all comers. Their popular calendar features images by photographers like Joel-Peter Witkin.

Contents: Malformed skulls, things people have swallowed, old gynecological tools, deformed baby skeletons, a giant’s skeleton, semi-ossified skeletal remains, a soap corpse. Bonus freak point: Not only do they have the death cast of Eng and Chang, the original Siamese twins, they also have their preserved and still joined liver, which has yellowed over the years.

Fetus collection, Tulane Medical School

Where: New Orleans

Getting In: You are in a “restricted area.” Go there with a student.

Walk briskly into the building-don’t linger in the lobby. Tulane security is stationed there and may question you. If there is an open elevator, head straight to the third floor. If not, go for the stairs, on your right and go up four flights (there is a mezzanine between first and second). The exhibit is along the third floor’s hallways. At first, it appears to be a fairly mundane “growth of the fetus” display, but as you move along, the deformities are presented. By the time you reach the end of the hall, it’s freakshow time.

Contents: Pinhead babies, Siamese twin babies, two headed baby, no-brain babies. Freakshow bonus; Anomalous tiny “goat-boy baby” near the end, with strange horn-like things growing out of its head and hoof-like hands.

Tulane also features mirrors behind the exhibits for all-around viewing. My visit had an added bonus: four police officers showed up and ushered us to the exit.

Here are museums I have not visited but know people who have:

National Museum of Health and Medicine, Walter Reed Medical Center

Where: Washington D.C.

Getting In: General Public welcome.

The Walter Reed Medical Museum used to be right next to one of the Smithsonian buildings. Some suspect that people accidentally wandering into Walter Reed’s ‘elephantiasis of the genitals’ exhibit were the source of those “the Smithsonian had John Dillinger’s 20-inch penis in a jar” rumors. After moving across town, the Walter Reed Museum has reportedly tried to make their exhibits more family oriented, All the good stuff is now in the back room and you need special permission to see it. They apparently still have “conjoined twins” in a jar, however.

Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons

Where: London

Getting In: Bring a doctor. They are strict.

This is supposed to be one of the best and is reputed to contain the Elephant Man’s bones.

Here are some other museums of interest:

Morgue Museum

Room 601, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York, New York City

Rumored Contents: Cyclops fetus, eight-pound heart, mummified babies, other atrocities

Wayne County Morgue Museum

Detroit Michigan

Rumored Contents: Shriveled heads and penises, gouged skulls, mummified hands.

Anatomy Museum (Anatomisch Sammlung)

Basel, Switzerland, Pestazzistrasse 20

Rumored Contents: Very old fetuses and skeletons

Kulturama

Zurich, Switzerland, Espenhofweg 60

Rumored Contents:

Painted and posed skeletons, preserved embryos and organs, birth-control display

Kunstkammer Section of St. Petersburg Museum

St. Petersburg, Russia

Rumored Contents: Collection of Peter the Great – One-eyed baby, four legged rooster, pickled child’s arm holding a human eyeball

Thanks to Ray Nelke and Collectors of Unusual Data International, Anneli S. Rufus and Kristan Lawson for Europe Off the Wall and Roadside America.

Postscript

I’m not sure what the publication date of the original Nose issue was, I suspect it would have been in the early part of 1994. Strangely, I hardly remember the trip to the museum, except for the encounter with the doctor that Tim mentioned! So much happened in so little time when I was on the sideshow that truly amazing things began to be taken for granted. Anyway, here are two photos that I took inside the Vrolik before being told to stop:

James Mundie was recently granted access to several museum including the Vrolic, and uploaded a number of genuinely outstanding photographs to his Flickr stream.

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Science Comments Off on Tales From the Crib: The Sickening World of Medical Museums
Oct 192009
 

Go back to the Bigfoot Compendium.

The following montage originally appeared on the JREF Forum:

The original image without the stacked feet between the front and side views of “Patty” appears in Chris Murphy’s book Meet the Sasquatch. The digital representation of “Patty” was created by Doug Hajicek and Reuben Steindorf. Unfortunately, analysis of the proportions of the digital model yields a strange outcome. This was the reason that the feet are included in the JREF montage. As measured by the claimed length of the film subject’s feet, the resulting height is anomalously short.

Being skeptical I decided to double check the math. I measured the actual image from page 94 of Chris Murphy’s Meet the Sasquatch. For the length of the foot I measure 41mm:

For the height I measure 188mm:

Dividing 188 by 41 I get 4.585. Multiplying 4.585 by 14.5 inches ( the length of what is asserted to be Patty’s foot) gives me 66.48 or 66.5 inches. 66.5 inches is 5 foot six and one half inches or 5’7″.

The proportions of Steindorf’s digital model of “Patty”, the subject of the Patterson-Gimlin film, suggest a height of about 5’7″!

Now you might think this is a victory for the dreaded “scoftics”, that what is claimed to be an element of “Bigfoot Science” is deeply flawed, almost bordering on “pseudoscience”. But no, I feel that this is an advocate opportunity, because it can be used to show how “inhuman” Patty really is. Earlier in Murphy’s book, we are introduced to Jeff Glickman who came to the scientific conclusion that “Patty” weighs 1,957 pounds (page 81). This is good news for Sasquatch advocates. If Patty is 5’7″ and weighs 1,957 pounds then her density surely approaches that of depleted uranium, a most “inhuman” characteristic if there ever was one.

I propose that this newly discovered characteristic, inhuman density, be added other claims about the film subject, such as the “inhuman gait”

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Bigfoot, Hoaxes Comments Off on Is Patty 5’7″?
Oct 192009
 

Go back to the Bigfoot Compendium.

In the spring of 2005 I was helping out the Seattle Museum of the Mysteries by manning a table they had set up at the annual science fiction convention. The table had various books for sale, including some published by Hancock House. I had also set out several early plaster test casts that displayed desiccation ridges. I got into an interesting conversation with a man who did plaster casting of figurines. As I spoke to him, a woman came up and began to look through Chris Murphy’s re-issue of Roger Patterson’s book, now re-titled The Bigfoot Film Controversy.

When I ended my conversation with this man, this woman suddenly spoke up. Mind you, she initiated the conversation, and I had no idea who this woman was. She opened the book to page 88, and pointed out this photograph to me:

For those who have not read the book, the photo on page 88 is of Roger Patterson, allegedly taken in Ape Canyon, which is on the south side of Mt. St. Helens in Washington. This was the site of a classic Bigfoot encounter in 1924.

Out of nowhere she tells me that the picture is a fake, and that she was there when the picture was taken! I was so taken aback that I asked her to write down what she had told me. Note that she puts Ape Canyon in California, probably due to our subsequent conversation about Patterson’s Bluff Creek California film.

Her note reads (with personal information redacted)

“Bobbie H. 509-***-**** #########@aol.com

p. 88 Bigfoot Film Controversy

I was there when picture was taken — South Fork of Ahtanum 20 miles west of Yakima. My mom threw gas on fire to make it flare up. NOT taken in California.

Niece of Jerry Merritt”

The Niece of Jerry Merrit! If true, it suggests Patterson engaged in Bigfoot related fraud before his Bluff Creek film.

I had always assumed that Bob Gimlin took the photo. At the Bellingham conference in late May 2005 I asked Bob Gimlin about going to Ape Canyon with Patterson. Surprisingly, Gimlin told me that he was not in Ape Canyon with Patterson! He told me he went to Spirit Lake with Patterson, but Spirit Lake was on the NORTH side of the mountain, and quite a distance from Ape Canyon.

So who took the picture???

Personally, I’ve always been more interested in physical evidence than anecdotal evidence. It’s possible that this gal is mistaken or is being deceitful. But part of the reason that I bring this little tidbit forward is to counter the claim that Greg Long set out to find witnesses that had a negative opinion of Roger Patterson. This information was VOLUNTEERED to me, and I asked no “leading questions” at all. This gal’s testimony is totally consistent with what the other witnesses in Long’s book relate about Patterson, and further it goes beyond what Patterson apologists claim about Patterson’s deceit, that it was not Bigfoot related.

I understand Dave Murphy (no relation to Chris Murphy) has been working on a pro-Patterson book. I advised Murphy of this woman’s story. We will have to wait and see if Murphy follows up on it.

UPDATE: July 14, 2010. It has been pointed out to me that the testimony of Bobbie H.’s mother, Florence Showman (née Merritt) is also recorded in Long’s book on pages 131 and 132.

From page 132: “I also remember taking pictures of Roger sitting around a campfire at Tampico. He was going to use them in his book or whatever. I took pictures of him in his western outfit sitting on his horse.”

I don’t know my Yakima geography, but I assume That Florence and Bobbie are referring to the same place and the same event.

Also, it’s been five years, and still no pro-Patterson book from Dave Murphy, as far as I know.

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Bigfoot, Hoaxes Comments Off on Did Roger Patterson Stage His “Ape Canyon” Photograph?
Oct 192009
 

Go back to the Bigfoot Compendium.

Noted Sasquatch advocate Jeff Meldrum has previously argued that valid inferences regarding the Patterson – Gimlin film site track maker’s foot morphology can be drawn from the tracks themselves:

The subject left a long series of deeply impressed footprints. Patterson cast single examples of a right and a left footprint. The next day the site was visited by Robert Laverty, a timber management assistant and his sales crew. He took several photographs including one of a footprint exhibiting a pronounced pressure ridge in the midtarsal region. This same footprint, along with nine others in a series, was cast two weeks later by Bob Titmus, a Canadian taxidermist. A model of inferred skeletal anatomy is proposed here to account for the distinctive midtarsal pressure ridge and “half-tracks” in which the heel impression is absent. In this model the Sasquatch foot lacks a fixed longitudinal arch, but instead exhibits a high degree of midfoot flexibility at the transverse tarsal joint. Following the midtarsal break, a plastic substrate may be pushed up in a pressure ridge as propulsive force is exerted through the midfoot. An increased power arm in the foot lever system is achieved by heel elongation as opposed to arch fixation.

http://www.isu.edu/~meldd/fxnlmorph.html

The “pronounced pressure ridge” that Meldrum is referring to is clearly seen in this photograph by Laverty:

The pressure ridge is indeed striking, and on the face of it, would suggest a non-human track maker, and thus tend to rule out or even eliminate the possibility of hoax.

Unfortunately Meldrum ignores a serious examination of alternate possibilities, especially that of considering what kind of tracks a man wearing an ape costume would make. In an attempt to find out for myself what kind of tracks would be left by a man wearing a fake, flexible, oversized foot, I decided to make my own. My assumption is that an ape-suit costume would have a flexible foot, in order to allow the wearer to walk naturally. Ideally, I should have obtained a genuine theatrical ape suit, but the results of this preliminary examination on my part are still intriguing.

Some time ago, I obtained via dumpster diving a large piece of semi-rigid plastic foam. It was about 2cm thick, with a 1 or 2mm sheet of yellow plastic adhered on one side. I suspect, but do not know, that both the white foam and yellow sheet are polyethylene. I don’t know the original application of the plastic. I cut out and formed two 15″ long matching foot shaped prosthetics. At this point I used Nylon cord to bind them to my feet, but they proved too unstable, and I eventually switched to flexible Urethane adhered “Aqua-socks”.

I took my fake feet down to Alki Beach here in Seattle and made some tracks. While many were distorted, some exhibited intriguing pressure ridges that were positioned unusually far back in the fake track. As far as I can tell, this is a result of the ball of my own foot being positioned closer to the mid-foot of the prosthetic, and thus providing the illusion of “mid-foot flexibility” in an oversized track.

One track in particular had a well defined and smooth pressure ridge morphology:

Even with crude and quickly fabricated prosthetics, I was able to create tracks that exhibited mid-foot pressure ridges.

It’s entirely possible that the mid-foot pressure ridges seen in one or more of the Patterson-Gimlin film site tracks have an explanation that does not involve Bigfoot’s mid-tarsal break.

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Bigfoot, Hoaxes Comments Off on Bigfoot’s Mid-Tarsal Break
Oct 192009
 

Go back to the Bigfoot Compendium.

One of the longstanding claims by advocates of the reality of the Sasquatch is that the subject of the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film exhibits an “inhuman” gait. If this is true, it would surely weaken or outright falsify the skeptic’s suggestion that the film subject could be a man in a suit. One of the difficulties of examining this claim is that “gait” is a rather complex affair. One way to make the examination of this claim easier is to break down the gait into specific features.

It had been noted many years ago that the film subject exhibits an unusually high lift of the lower leg, particularly in early frames of the film. Author Barbara Wasson went so far at to suggest that such a feature was beyond what a human being could reproduce:

Obviously the creature is different. If you examine the walk, the following leg rises off the ground far in excess of what a human leg rises. It almost parallels the ground. A human being cannot walk in this fashion. When attempted it produces an extremely awkward movement and cannot be reproduced.”

Barbara Wasson Sasquatch Apparitions page 73

A good example of what Wasson is talking about is seen in this early frame:

Note how the film subject’s head is pitched forward, the right arm is straight by the side, and the sole of the left foot is more or less vertical.

Surprisingly Wasson’s strong claim went untested for many years. Advocates on various Internet forums as late as 2005 suggested that even if a human could reproduce this feature the individual would be “one in a million”.

Noted Sasquatch skeptic David Daegling went to some lengths in his book Bigfoot Exposed to demonstrate that the film subject exhibits a compliant gait, which is similar to the way Groucho Marx used to walk in his movies. A further, more technical explanation of the film subject’s gait is found here.

Indeed, walking with a compliant gait is quite easy for any reasonably healthy individual to do, though it does become fatiguing after extended periods. One of the interesting features of a compliant gait is that the lower leg tends to rise up, and thus, as Wasson says, “almost parallels the ground”.

This is a photograph of me walking with a compliant gait on a sandy beach:

Note how my head is pitched forward, my right arm is straight at the side, and the sole of my left foot is basically vertical, very much like that seen in the early frame of the Patterson film. Clearly the calf “almost parallels the ground” as Wasson says, and thus refutes Wasson’s strong claim that “it cannot be reproduced”.

It seems to me a rather damning indictment of the Bigfoot subculture that such an easily tested claim as Wasson’s would be uncritically accepted for so long, and yet prove so easy to debunk.

Update, February 24, 2012:

Recently Tom Pate posted an excellent video to YouTube in which he argues that the unique gait of the film subject may be a product of a human walking with over sized prosthetics. Here is a screen capture of the funky gait of a person wearing swim fins. It’s obvious that the “lower level leg lift” of the human subject nearly matches that of the Patterson-Gimlin film subject.

Tom created this comparison between himself walking with a compliant gait and the Patterson – Gimlin film subject. Tom is 6′ tall:

 Posted by on 10/19/2009 Bigfoot, Hoaxes Comments Off on Does the Patterson-Gimlin Film Subject Exhibit an “Inhuman” Gait?