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By Danielle Bain on

Six creepy Science Museum objects

To honour All Hallows Eve, we explore six of the Science Museum’s creepiest objects.
  1. The ‘Merman’
Dried 'merman'
Dried merman, possibly Dutch or Japanese from the nineteenth-century

A ‘creepiest objects’ list would be incomplete without mention of this creature, who we lovingly call the ‘merman’.

This strange stitching together of fish, bird, and monkey, which was probably made in the 1800s,  would often be seen inside gentlemen’s cabinets of curiosities. However, this chimera seems far more Frankenstein’s monster than mere curiosity.

You can see other mermen at The Horniman Museum and the British Museum.

  1. Tattooed human skin
An anchor, pierced heart, fish and the inscription 'VICTOR' are tattooed onto human skin.
A piece of tattooed human skin, French from the nineteenth-century

I came across this while browsing our collections, and all I kept thinking was; why do we have this?

To answer that, we need to travel back to nineteenth-century France, where Parisian surgeon Dr. Villette, was busy collecting and preserving hundreds of samples of tattooed skin from the bodies of dead French soldiers.

These samples were collected to decipher their meanings and to identify symbols that could tell the researcher something about the individual’s behaviour.

  1. Crash test dummies
Science Museum Conservation Intern working on a crash test dummy from the Museum collection.
Science Museum Conservation Intern working on a crash test dummy from the collection

There is something inherently creepy about mannequins and dummies, right? They often feature in horror movies and are the source of many scary stories. Here at the Science Museum, we have our own collection of crash test dummies, but the problem is that some of them are bleeding.

Yes, you read that right, some of our crash test dummies are bleeding. According to Selina Hurley, curator of medicine, the bleeding dummies are actually disintegrating and producing a red substance that spookily resembles blood. It then falls to our brave conservation team to step in and patch them up before we give our visitors a fright.

  1. An ivory model of a skull
Ivory model of a skull, stylized, with moving eyes, tongue and mandible.
Ivory model of a skull with moving eyes and tongue

Now this, this is the stuff of nightmares. Let’s just move on.

  1. Phrenological death mask
Death mask from a set of phrenological heads known as 'murderers' row'.
Death mask from a set of phrenological heads known as ‘murderers’ row’

A plaster cast head is creepy but seems quite harmless, but not when I tell you that this is the death mask of James Bloomfield Rush also known as ‘the killer in the fog’. Rush murdered his landlord Isaac Jermy and injured Mrs. Jermy at Stanfield Hall, Norfolk, England on 28 November 1848. He was later hanged on 21 April 1849.

His face lives on as part of a set of phrenological heads known as ‘murderers’ row’. Phrenologists attempted to decipher the murderers’ characters by reading the lumps and bumps found on their head.

  1. A wax model
Wax model of a female head depicting life and death, European and 18th century.
Wax model of a female head depicting life and death, European from the eighteenth-century.

This creepy model takes on a new meaning when you translate the Latin plaque from ‘Vanitas, Vanitatum & Omnia Vanitas’ to  ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’ This quote originates from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament; a book that primarily focuses on the pointlessness of human activity.

You can see even more wax models in the museum’s collection here.

Happy Halloween!