I was at the Tucson Festival of Books, listening to a panel of authors discuss “Deep Secrets, Dark Places,” when one of them, T. Greenwood, tells the story of how she entered a house in Vermont that was the inspiration for one of her novels. Inside, she encountered a menagerie of stuffed and mounted birds.
In order to include this aspect of the house in her story, Greenwood had to engage in some additional research that she would not recommend for others. In fact, her specific words of advice were, “Do NOT google the word ‘taxidermy.”
So, naturally I did.
To be clear, I don’t eat meat for moral reasons. And if I had a mounted animal corpse in my house I would have nightmares about finding sawdust scat behind the couch, or I’d imagine the angry animal sliding one of its glass eyes under the door, pinched between two dusty, chipped claws in order to stare at me.
There are many bizarre twists on this macabre subject. In fact, taxidermy could probably provide the fodder for 10 posts. But the devil in me likes to tease. You will have to participate in your own damnation by clicking on the occasional link to find out more.
1. The term taxidermy comes from Greek and means, “arrangement of skin.”
2. If you Google the term “vegan taxidermy” you will get well over 150,000 hits. There are literally pages and pages of results which are as perplexing to me as their meat-puppet cousins.
3. Although the Egyptians embalmed animals (cats, mostly) for inclusion in burials, taxidermy as we know it today is relatively recent, only starting in the 16th century. In the 18th century, techniques were vastly improved and taxidermy became widely popular.
4. In the 19th century, “anthropomorphic taxidermy” became all the rage. Described as “Victorian whimsy,” this fad involved dressing dead animals as people in dioramas, or arranging them in the act of doing things that people do.
5. The newest trend in taxidermy is freeze drying animals. It is mostly used on smaller creatures like birds, lizards, and mice, because it is expensive and time consuming. Large animals take up to six months to freeze-dry.
6. According to Wikipedia, freeze drying is “the preferred technique for pets,” but freeze dried animals, “may later be susceptible to being eaten by carpet beetles.”
7. Preserving animals via taxidermy is not just for little creatures. Everyone is familiar with giant bear trophies, but apparently there are quite a few people who have—for real—preserved their beloved horses in an eternally striking pose.
8. “Rogue taxidermy” is a term used to describe people creating animals not found in nature. A famous example of this is the Jackalope, but enthusiasts have also created griffins, dragons, unicorns, etc. by mixing and matching parts from different animals.
9. In perhaps the most random and unexpected twist, my search on taxidermy led me to the nature guide and real life adventure, Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger. This book, which received wonderful reviews from all the heavies, was actually coauthored by one of my very best childhood friends, Michael Crewdson. As Bogart once said, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”
Anyway and in summation, I believe that taxidermy is compelling proof that we live in a strange and mysterious world. What do you think?