Taxidermy might, to some, represent all that is wrong with museums. Beautiful specimens are ripped from their natural habitat, stuffed and placed in a glass cabinet to be gawped at as they accumulate dust. To others, taxidermy can represent all the positive aspects too; the preservation of beautiful specimens. A chance to see an animal we might not necessarily see in the flesh, or a chance to preserve a beloved family pet.
Lofty ideas aside this adventure is all about one thing: seeing a celebrity badger.
(Now there’s a sentence you won’t read every day. Trust me, this post gets quite a bit odder…)
It all started in 1890, when a Brightonian Cambridge drop-out by the name of Edward Thomas Booth died without an heir, leaving his entire collection of stuffed animals to the people of Brighton. Stuffed animals, it seems were all the rage as well as Booth’s particular – and to modern eyes, peculiar- passion. One of my companions remarked how he should have been taxidermied too, so he could become part of the collection of his namesake museum.
But I digress. I’m sure you’re all excited to know about the badger, well, without further ado…here he is!
You might recognise him from such film adaptations of C.S. Lewis books as Prince Caspian. No? This chappy here provided the animators with the model for Trufflehunter. Here he is in his natural habitat: the Victorian parlour.
The Booth Museum also boasts “Probably the most famous toad in the world.” Here is what’s left of the little fellow. “So what Narnia film was this guy in?” I hear you ask. Actually the world’s most famous toad is not a cinematic-super-star but rather a very well travelled amphibian who has been displayed all over the globe since his discovery by Tom Nye and Joe Istead in Lewes in 1898.
But what makes him famous? The flint, you see, is 85 million years old but the toad is modern. He was only found when the men split the stone in half!
However, the star prize, ladies and gentlemen goes to Henry Willet and his marvellous merman. What’s that? You don’t believe that such a wonder exists? Laugh and scoff if you will but behold!
Do you know how we can tell he is a male mer-person? It’s all in the nipples. He only has two whereas the female of the species apparently has many. Yet another thing Disney has lied to us about. This merman though, is not all he seems. He is in fact two seperate beings spliced together to baffle and amuse a Victorian audience fond of oddities. This particular specimen is composed of a fish’s body with a monkey’s torso and head.
So next time you go into a museum and see some stuffed animals, take a closer look. There might be more to them than meets the eye.