I don’t usually do anything at Halloween. I know that must sound sacrilegious being a goth n’all, but to me it seems that most people only use it as an excuse to wear a costume and get riotously drunk – some even dress as goths. I’d rather stay at home and watch a movie. Dressing up in a corset and black makeup is something I do most weekends, so it seems slightly pointless at Halloween when everyone else is doing it too. Perhaps I’m sulking because Halloween is one of the only times of the year I don’t stand out.
Anyways, this year was slightly different in that I went out and actually did something. I did not dress up (well, any more than I would do usually for a Saturday night, I think having white dread locks and bat tattoos is enough most of the time) and went to the museum. That might not sound particularly in keeping with the season, but this museum was slightly different to most. It was the Grant Museum of Zoology in central London, home to many an odd specimen and on Halloween they were having a late night opening. Although compared to most museums the Grant is quite small, it has over 68,000 specimens from prehistoric times right up to the modern day in its one room, and they had added macabre, and sometimes occult facts to their displays for tonight (as well as a wine bar by the entrance. Perfect!). Some of the specimens are of now extinct animals, including the Dodo, Tasmanian Tiger and the Zebra-like Quagga.
Inside the single room the walls were lined with glass cabinets showcasing dissections, skeletons, preserved specimens and quite frequently ‘exploded’ skulls of various creatures. Above these displays was a balcony, its walls lined with books and research papers, with a number of skeletons, human included, leaning over the rail to peer down at visitors. These were not specially arranged for the occasion, this was their usual resting place, standing watch.
As we made our way around the room, wine in hand, the cabinet containing Alizarin preparations was particularly fascinating, as the ‘Alizarin’ stain highlighted hard tissues in red and made soft tissue clear and colourless, giving an odd ghostly appearance to the little creatures inside. Quite apt for the time of year. There was a whole cabinet dedicated to bats (my favourite of course) including a vampire bat skeleton, complete with tiny fangs. Throughout the museum little blue labels were propped against certain pieces, with ‘Adopted by’ and then someone’s name. Each specimen was available for ‘adoption’ for a small fee to support the museum. Unfortunately the majority of the bats had been taken, as well as some of the less cuddly animals. I quickly moved on passed a whole cupboard of spiders and another of incredulously long worms but the infamous ‘jar of moles’ held a macabre fascination. There was a collection of noses, a partial dissection of a monkey head, half a domestic cat, a huge Galapagos tortoise shell and a complete Anaconda skeleton. The walk-in cabinet of microscopic animal slides was almost overwhelming, but the most beautiful specimens were the Venus Flower
Baskets. A kind of sponge I believe, woven most intricately and with mathematical precision, they looked as if they had been made from fine strands of glass.
After peering through every display case and pointing out every specimen to each other, in case something should be missed, we left to make our way home. I don’t know if it was the shine from the wine wearing off or the other-worldly contents of that one room, but upon leaving the fantastical Grant Museum the real world seemed…almost dull.