Dead and Dying at the Field Museum

I went to the Field Museum in Chicago today.
It’s a huge place, and after wandering around the atrium, admiring “Sue” the huge T-Rex skeleton, I wandered into the hall called “Wild Mammals”. I walked down a hallway of windows looking in on dioramas of huge Asian mammals, most of which were endangered species. I think these displays must be some of the oldest ones in the Field Museum. They have the look of the old-school diorama—trying to re-create the natural environment as well as motions and posture of the animals. They also show signs of age—signage is worn in areas, falling off the wall, discolored; and the taxidermic animals themselves are worn in areas, and even missing elements referred to in the labels.

It was odd, wandering amongst these dead animals. Tigers, snow leopards, water buffalo, giant pandas. They were awesome, tamed in their frozen silence. They were so dead. Then I saw something really weird. I walked into a hall of dioramas with signage meant to evoke national parks in the U.S. More endangered animals…Then I saw at the end of the hall, a cougar carcass, strung upside down by its feet on a rope. The sign said “Why is this carcass here?” and went on to explain that this dead animal represents all the poached cougars, hunted by men to keep them from hunting the deer and elk that the men wanted to keep for their own hunting pleasure.

I read the sign again, “Why is this carcass here?” Huh? There are dead carcasses all over this museum! Seems like the curators did not realize that displaying this one dead carcass in this way (allbeit in a way that evokes how the animal was killed) may not seem different from the displays of dead carcasses everywhere else in the galleries. It has me puzzled. It made me even more aware of the death all around.



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