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I’ll teach you people to talk about food on my blog

Somehow, in the run up to the holidays, I missed this heartwarming story: they have (more or less) positively identified the head of French king Henri IV. It’s been banging around in private collections for a years without proper identification. They couldn’t get a clean DNA sample, so they identified him from marks and scars.

Henri was a good and popular king who was stabbed to death by a nutter in 1610. He was decapitated in the Revolution almost 200 years later. Nothing personal; the mob desecrated all the dead royalty they could get their hands on. A sort of posthumous guillotinage.

Interesting to me, when I was Googling around about the story, the amount of outrage commenters expressed that anyone would keep a body part as a knick-knack. Now, there’s an area where Western attitudes have changed mightily in a hundred years or two.

In the early 19th C, they had to box up the royalty at Westminster Abbey because people were snapping bits off the monarchs for souvenirs (yep, some of their majesties had been out on display before then). The churches around here are full of dessicated bits of jerky certified to be the hearts of knights and other benefactors. Don’t get me started on the toe bones of saints.

People aren’t keen on taxidermy any more, either. The shabby antiques markets we used to haunt up in London were full of beautifully-worked Victorian silver-mounted deer hooves and rhino pizzles.

Well, me neither. I grew up in a house full of taxidermy and medical curiosities, though, so I can’t work up any outrage. Disgust born of familiarity, but not much outrage.

Oh, except for the kittens.

Welcome back to work, everyone!


Comment from Mitchell
Time: January 3, 2011, 7:54 pm

A few years ago my Mom gave me a book about the interesting “lives” some people had after becoming dead. It was fascinating. Alas I lent it to somebody who never gave it back.

One story it had was of a case where a tree root found some dude’s grave and the root essentially absorbed the body and took his shape.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 3, 2011, 8:09 pm

Roger Williams. Founded Providence. In the 19th C, Zachariah Allen (another interesting dude) dug him up and found the tree root roughly in his shape.

Part of the lore of my last home city, as luck would have it 🙂

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: January 3, 2011, 8:12 pm

That’s my ghoul!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 3, 2011, 9:39 pm

As an addendum, Roger Williams’ final resting place — or, where they put the root, I guess — is under a really ugly statue in a park overlooking Providence called Prospect Park. I lived near it as a student. We used to call it Pervert Park.

Comment from Pablo
Time: January 4, 2011, 12:38 am

Ekshully, you can go see the root if you’re into that sort of thing. Whatever else was left is what got stuck under the statue. Me, I think Roger escaped up the root. He was a slippery sonofagun, and the bestest state founder ever.

Prospect Park, while a crappy location, is at least not Roger Williams Park.

Comment from Nina from GCP
Time: January 4, 2011, 1:06 am

That’s interesting stuff!

With that said, I wouldn’t particularly want parts of people or things hanging around my house…don’t even much like my parents’ ashes. Don’t dig dead things unless they’re fossils.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 4, 2011, 1:10 am

Huh. I’ve been to the John Brown house, Pablo. I don’t remember the root. Perhaps because I didn’t find it all that persuasive.

Zachariah Allen’s house has been moved. It’s now the last house on Benefit Street. It was down on what is now North Main, which is a shit-hole.

Benefit Street is the oldest residential street in America. (Colonial Williamsburg is older, but it’s no longer residential).

Comment from Nina
Time: January 4, 2011, 4:08 am

Pablo, I love the caption under the picture–definitely a resemblance. 🙂

Comment from Allen
Time: January 4, 2011, 5:21 am

Cool, we can still talk about food… Wolf food.

I give my wolf hybrid special additives, it soothes his savage inner beast. One of the ingredients is bone meal. Now ground bone of past kings is probably not the right sort but I’d love to give it a try.

“Here Nikita, we’re eating French tonight.”

Srsly though, I make a special sausage for the guy. It’s gruesome, and stinks to high heaven, but he loves it. In fact it smells so bad I have to make it outdoors, with him locked up in the barn. AhhhhWooooooo!

Comment from Pablo
Time: January 4, 2011, 7:01 am

Stoaty, depending on when you were there, it may have been respectfully tucked away.

Nina from GCP, I went to Frederick Douglass’ house over the summer. I found his death mask fascinating.

Comment from JuliaM
Time: January 4, 2011, 7:14 am

“People aren’t keen on taxidermy any more, either.”

I am! There’s a veritable forest of horns in my hall (which if we ever buy replacement furniture are going to have to come down to get it in, or risk impaling a deliveryman ) and a leopard skull by my bedside table…


Comment from steve
Time: January 4, 2011, 6:17 pm

How much am I bid for the shinbone of Zsa Zsa?

I think it will be hitting e-bay tomorrow evening.

Comment from Deborah
Time: January 4, 2011, 6:22 pm

I can see keeping a lock of hair, but nothing more. And nah, I don’t want my walls decorated with the preserved remains of animals either. I won’t even wear “animal” prints.

But I worked with a cartographer who put himself through college with his taxidermy practice, which he continued to do on the side. His was especially famed for his skill in doing birds. But his wife came into the office one day and she was especially agitated. Seems she’d found a pillow case in her deep freeze, and when she opened it up, it had a very cold but non-dead rattlesnake in it. He was freezing the snake so he could skin it out without harming the skin. She was a patient woman, but she was not in favor of this particular methodology.

Comment from Monotone The Elderish
Time: January 4, 2011, 6:32 pm

ugh, people jerky… wonder what PETA would say?

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: January 4, 2011, 7:02 pm

One of my relatives had some pictures created by sticking different colored moth or butterfly wings (I never got the precise details–and didn’t want them!) on paper in patterns. Hard to describe, and actually quite pretty to look at–but they creeped me out, big time. Which I will concede is an irrational reaction, because I not only eat meat and wear leather shoes, but I am capable of admiring tooled leather, so I can’t protest that using body parts to create art as opposed to the merely utilitarian is offensive. All the same. . .

Hm. It occurs to me that part of what creeped me out was that they were pictures of butterflies; sort of like barbecue places that use a pig dressed up in a chef’s hat and apron as an advertising device. Eeeeeewwww!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: January 4, 2011, 7:25 pm

Oh, yes…I’ve always been intensely skeeved out by those smiling pigs wearing aprons and chef hats waving sausages around.

I’m pretty sure my grandmother would think me an idiot for being so uptight about it, though.

The one from Texas, not the one from Maryland. Though, come to think of it, my Maryland grandma wrote a long poem about a dead cat in some kind of whacked out dialect, so she wasn’t exactly over-sensitive.

Comment from steve
Time: January 4, 2011, 7:29 pm

Can’t Hark:

Back around Victorian times there was an entire art form built around microscope slides.

These are fairly rare and qhite pricy, these days.

They built these mini art thingies using diatoms, arranged into all manner of artsy forms, and often decorated with scales from butterfly wings.

Back in my college days, one of my professors brought in a few….it was really impressive.

You can see a few examples at the link.


Comment from David Bain
Time: January 4, 2011, 8:35 pm

Ah, you mean like this :


Yep. it’s an ad for Cochonou sausages. We can only hope they’re more tasty than the ad is tasteful!

Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: January 4, 2011, 9:03 pm

About saints’ relics. . .

In a medieval history course I took in College, one of the texts we read was a selection of excerpts from original source documents (translated, OK?–this was an undergraduate course). One of them concerned the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (which started out to go elsewhere and ended up through a series of unfortunate events diverting itself, and attacking another Christian nation–not the Crusaders’ finest hour.)

Accompanying the crusaders was a monk (well, I’m sure there were many monks, but we only got to read about one of them) who, as the rest of them trashed things and stole conventionally valuable stuff, improved the shining hour by running about the City stealing relics. There was a list of the relics he was thus able to bring back to the glory of his monastery. . .one of the listed relics was “a not inconsiderable piece of the body of St. John the Martyr.” That always struck me as a truly amazing phrase. . .

Comment from Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Time: January 7, 2011, 11:04 pm

The Vienna natural history museum has a roomfull of human skulls decorated like Easter eggs. This was a fashion among Vieners into early modern times, apparently.

Comment from Steve Skubinna
Time: January 8, 2011, 4:59 am

A college friend used to joke that he wanted his dead body stuffed and mounted, as a hat and coat rack, and donated to somebody along with a monetary legacy, provided the coat rack was placed in the entry hall.

Okay, a bit morbid but I thought it was amusing.

What was the most amusing was when he mentioned this fancy to a girlfriend of mine, who said dismissively “Well, you’re already stuffed, so all I need…”

In a flash I knew how she was going to finish, and so she looked puzzled at my laughter as she ended with “… is to mount you.” Then realization struck and she hit me.

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