GEEK LOVE – 25 Anniversary – WIRED Magazine

To honor the 25 anniversary of Katherine Dunn’s masterpiece Geek Love, WIRED Magazine has written the following retrospective. Featured in the article is one of my pieces – The Conjoined Twins Elly & Iphy.

I cannot express how extremely honored I feel to be included in this retrospective. Geek Love is without a doubt my favorite book ever and one of the major inspirations for my becoming an artist and photographer.




Evolution at the Circus continued…

Following the last post on P.T. Barnum and Joseph Leidy, below is a reprint of the Fall 2011 article as it appeared in the Academy’s Members Magazine, Frontiers.

Article by Brandon Zimmerman and Clare Flemming, ANSP Brooke Dolan Archivist.

What could the world’s most famous showman and the father of evolutionary theory possibly have in common? They, among thousands of other 19th-century notables, corresponded with the pre-eminent scientist of their time, Dr. Joseph Leidy (1823-1891). Leidy was an Academy curator for decades and the Academy president from 1882 until
his death. His expertise spanned so many disciplines that he is remembered today for expertise in fields as diverse as vertebrate paleontology and parasitology.

The Academy Archives contain close to 3,000 handwritten letters from a vast and varied selection of individuals who sought Leidy’s opinion. Two of the most legendary and unusual correspondents represent the extremes of the broad spectrum of authorities in natural history: evolutionist Charles Darwin and circus showman P.T. Barnum.

Darwin’s letter, in which he comments on Leidy’s support of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, is an Archival gem; Academy staff display it with great reverence for visiting VIPs and researchers. Barnum’s letter came about after his purchase of Jumbo, an elephant that he believed to be the largest in the world. While touring in Philadelphia, Barnum wrote to naturalist Leidy to request an evaluation of this extraordinary creature’s size. His
letter was newly revealed when Brooke Dolan Archivist Clare Flemming shared the collection of Leidy’s correspondence with scholar Brandon Zimmerman. Not satisfied with reading a list of signatories, the scholar asked to see the actual letters. He may
have been the first to recognize the Barnum letter as having been written by the famous showman. A typo in the Academy’s Guide to Manuscripts listing the letter as belonging to “N.T. Barnum” may have caused other scholars to overlook Barnum’s correspondence. Below we present a few lines from these letters:

March 4, 1860
Dear Sir, Your note has pleased me more than you could readily believe; for I have during a long time heard all good judges speak of your palaeontological labours in terms of the highest respect. Most palaeontologists (with some few good exceptions) entirely despise my work; consequently approbation from you has gratified me much. Your sentence that you have some interesting facts “in support of the doctrine of selection, which I shall report
at a favourable opportunity,” has delighted me even more than the rest of your note. Pray forgive this egotistical note and with cordial thanks for your letter … Believe me Dear Sir, With sincere respect, Yours obliged,
Charles Darwin

April 28, 1882
Prof. Leidy D[ea]r Sir,
I hope you will examine the Jumbo & write me to Arlington House Washington whether you think he is really an ordinary [or extraordinary] Elephant.
P. T. Barnum

The art of archiving allows a lifetime of messages received and stored by the original owner to be carefully identified, curated, and housed for many years; rehoused and catalogued;
and finally—most importantly—made available to scholars to study, interpret, and present to the world.

Evolution at the Circus

Read about a letter I found in the Archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences from legendary circus showman P.T. Barnum, to Philadelphia’s own “Father of American Vert. Paleontology and Parasitology” Joseph Leidy regarding his famous elephant “Jumbo.” This letter was featured as part of the Academy of Natural Sciences 200 years. 200 stories, an online celebration of ANSP’s Bicentennial.

Follow the link below to see the entire post.


Morton Skull Collection images included in UPENN Museum symposium!

Last night a symposium was presented by The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology and the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience & Society entitled From Skulls to Scans: How Brain Measurements Have Been Used, Misused and Misunderstood in the Study of Racial Differences. Interdisciplinary presenters included the wonderful Janet Monge, PhD, Curator Penn Museum who spoke on the history of The Morton Collection with a talk entitled Of Mice, Men and Morton: How Brain Size Was (And Is!) Misused to Measure Intelligence; Geoffrey Aguirre, MD, PhD, who spoke on brain imaging with a talk entitled Modern Brain Imaging of Group Differences: How Things Can Still Go Wrong; followed by a commentary by Dorothy Robertson, JD.

The presentations were wonderful and informative and further demonstrate the need of museums, and universities to hold more interdisciplinary lectures and symposiums of this kind – that is to say, those that bridge gaps between archeology and medical science, art and medicine, etc.

But, as fabulous as the lecture was, on a more personal note, several of my images and a brief mention of my research with the Morton Collection was shown as part of Dr. Monge’s lecture, which was a true honor and so very, very, exciting!! click on the image below.

Photograph chosen for ANSP magazine cover!

Exciting news! One of my photographs was selected to be the cover of the Spring 2012 issue of the Academy of Natural Sciences members magazine Frontiers. In honor of their 200th anniversary, ANSP produced a special Bicentennial supplement of Frontiers complete with metallic ink title. The supplement, regular Spring issue, and back issues are available for download on the Academy’s website here

The photograph is of miscellaneous species of Abalone from the Malacology Collection of ANSP.


Dr. William Osler Dissection Image, 1889

Construction is still obviously ongoing but I just wanted to take a moment to mix things up a bit…

Below is a wonderful image of famed neurologist Dr. William Osler (1849-1919) and Dr. Charles K. Mills (1845-1931) along with their students in Osler’s autopsy room at The Blockley Almshouse, 1889.

Photographer unidentified.

Student list includes future doctors: Kahn, McMillan, Ashton, Voorhees, Casper Sharples, Varmiman, Macleary, Bloomfield, N.J Sharples, Jamison, Miller, and two others.

The Blockley Almshouse, nicknamed “Old Blockley” was later known as Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH) in 1919.

Opened in 1732, the charity hospital and poorhouse was located in West Philadelphia. It was operated by a city committee known as the Guardians of the Poor, and quickly gained a reputation for providing rather miserable patient care.

PGH closed in 1977.

Took me awhile to digitally remove tears, large creases etc. but take a look at the new pristine image! Drs. Osler and Mills are in the center of the image at the foot of the autopsy tables.

Video of The Soap Lady X-ray

A video of my days back at The Mütter Museum at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia when we x-rayed the Soap Lady.

These x-ray sessions were some of the best times spent there. Jerry’s team was fantastic!! What a wonderful guy.

The Soap Lady is a mummy whose body chemically changed during decomposition into a soapy substance called adipocere (Add-eh-po-seer).

Adipocere is a soapy, waxy substance commonly referred to as “grave wax.” It essentially retards the decomposition process, allowing for the petrification of the deceased’s body fat. What is left is what you see in this video. The amazing thing is that inside all of this adipose tissue is a complete perfectly preserved skeleton – resistant to the passage of time.

One of my biggest challenges as Manager of Exhibits at the Mütter was stabilizing The Soap lady from the hazards of the living. One of the ways to do this was to move her to a more structurally sound part of the museum and the other was to encase her in a brand new display vitrine of my design.

To see more about The Soap Lady check out my “About” page for some photos of her, or check out my photography gallery for more images of the museum’s collection!