Bodies: The Exhibition

Today we drove 90 minutes to Cincinnati to see Bodies: The Exhibition on the last day of its run at the Cincinnati Museum Center. This was a real treat on several levels. Yeah, I know, it’s not strictly a photographic subject…but it was just too cool not to mention.

First, the exhibition itself. Clicking on the above link will take you to its information site. Bottom line, this is a traveling exhibit of a few dozen or so human cadavers that have been meticulously dissected and preserved so that the watery parts of us (about 70% by weight of the average person) are replaced with a plastic polymer that prevents decay and preserves the remains. All I can say after seeing it is, WOW.

As someone who’s studied anatomy, I wish I could have learned it like this, rather than by countless hours of tedious dissection (back in the paleolithic pre-multimedia days) in which everything is the same indistinguishably yellow-brown, greasy shade of fleshy. What a waste of time, hacking away at a cadaver, unsure what you are supposed to be seeing as you try to translate your anatomy text’s line drawings into smelly, greasy 3-D life, er, death. (The smell of fat mixed with formalin stayed on my person for months. I had to burn my lab clothes.)

The cadavers in this show, by comparison, were meticulously dissected in incredible detail by people who knew what they were doing (ie, not ham-fisted, sleep-deprived med students.) The man-hours involved must have been staggering. The accompanying text explanations did a marvelous job relating structure and function in terms accessible to the lay-person, in a way I never got in med school. One of the docents told me that this exhibit has had upwards of 300,000 visitors since it debuted in February, making it by far the best-attended show in the museum’s history. Not hard to understand why.

I strongly encourage you to see this show if it comes anywhere near you. The website I linked above has all those details.

The other part of the treat was the venue itself, the Cincinnati Museum Center:

Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati OH, 9/7/08. Art Deco train station built ca. 1933.

It is housed in a restored early-1930’s Art Deco train station that still handles rail traffic—freight as well as Amtrak—albeit at a much-reduced volume from its heyday before flight displaced rail as the nation’s prime people-mover. The image above shows exhibit visitors queueing up in the main room of the station, with beautiful marble underfoot and along columns and facades; and gorgeous mosaics encircling the base of the domed ceiling, stopping only in the front where the stained-glass windows are interposed. I wish I’d had a tripod and faster film on hand to really do the place justice.

I couldn’t help but contrast this sweeping, graceful structure with the my experience a month ago in the filthy, frantic Continental Airlines terminal at Newark Airport. There, bedlam erupted during a looong day of flight cancellations, stranded passengers, and beleaguered airline personnel. Who’s to say we’d not be better off now had we opted, back when we reached the collective decision point, for rail rather than flight as our preferred way of making shorter, regional intercity trips. If you’ve ever traveled by train you know what I mean.

Imagine: arriving rested and fed, and in many instances I’d wager not much later than if you’d managed to dodge weather, TSA, and ATC to actually get airborne; to survive surly passengers, grumpy flight attendants, and peanut-enhanced aerial starvation; and arrive with baggage in hand, free of homicidal ideation.

Give me the train any day of the week.

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