“Mother isn’t quite herself today…”

Andy Poore
Special Collections
Mooresville Public Library

We all have a skeleton or two sitting around in a closet, a room, or the basement that we have had for years but now it is just collecting dust. What do you do with that skeleton that has been sitting in your basement for years when it is no longer needed? You donate it to your local archives? Do you dress it up and put it at your visitor desk? Do you dress it up as yourself and put it at your desk? This is the quandary that our local hospital found themselves in when they need to find a new home for their old teaching skeleton.

Several years ago, I received a phone call from the PR director of our local hospital with what she called, “an unusual question.” Her question was regarding an interesting piece of local history that she thought I would be interested in and something that might be of interest in adding to the Special Collections. She knew that I already had a diverse collection of items from the hospital that they had donated to the Special Collections over a two-year period prior to her call of which this item would be a part of that collection in her opinion. What she wanted to add to that collection was the teaching skeleton that was once used at the hospital’s school of nursing. The skeleton, female, was purchased in 1925 for the school to help teach new nurses anatomy and later as a teaching tool for school children regarding health and healthy bones. She was purchased in the days before there were plastic skeletons so the hospital’s concern was that they could not jut dispose of her in normal hospital fashion while at the same time they could not just place her in the dumpster as they did not want that image on the front page of the local paper. Therefore, they decided that it was time for her to find a new home and the Special Collections was first on the list.

Naturally, how could anyone say no when being offered a skeleton? After all she would fit into the Special Collections, albeit in a unique way from the normal photographs, documents, books, papers, and maps since she was part of the local history and part of the history of the hospital. I was not sure what exactly I would do with a skeleton as it is not something that is normally found in Special Collections although she would give a new meaning to genealogical research. The given was that I could not turn down the offer as the Special Collections; the quandary was what to do with her once she was here, and more to the point, how to get her here. I had to do some research on how to bring her to the library since it did mean transporting human remains. After a lot of questions, strange looks, a few “questions” from our local police chief it was determined that I could safely transport her without the use of a hearse; then it became fun.

On the day that she was to be donated to the Special Collections I met the hospital PR and general staff and the local paper at the hospital. Naturally, we had to have a photo or two for the local paper which normally would not be of much interest on a normal day; however, the Fates have a sense of humor as this group assembled bore a passing resemblance to the Addams Family 30 years later. The group consisted of one lady who was just over 5 feet tall with salt and pepper hair who resembled grandmama, another who looked a bit liked Wednesday, a gentleman who was all of 7 feet tall and who had more than a passing resemblance to Lurch, the official hospital lady dressed in all black with long black hair and myself dressed uncannily as Gomez. The fun began when we all carried the newly acquired skeleton out of the radiology building. As the procession passed through the lobby a few shocked looks were expressed by patients in the lobby with more to come when she was strapped into the passenger seat of my car for the trip to the library. She was a quite passenger as she just sat there and smiled at passersby. At the library, we employed a modified documents cart and Ethafoam supports and she made her way into the library. Yet the big question was amazingly not how to store her or where but instead what to do with her: Thank you Alfred Hitchcock!

The time she came to the library it was also the 50th anniversary of Psycho and the answer was clear – Mother! My idea was that since she was a teaching skeleton then she could still teach. She would introduce a whole new generation to this movie classic while at the same time telling of her history with the hospital and training several generations of nurses. Therefore, I found a periwinkle dress and order a “Mother” wig from a Halloween store including a sign that read Bates Motel for her lap and into the Special Collections she went. She was such a hit for the month of the anniversary that she now comes out every Halloween to take her place in the Special Collections all the to admiration of kids, the thrill of nursing students, and the surprise shock of parents. She has been the most interesting and most popular addition to the Special Collections so much so that our new retirement policy is that you do not retire, instead you gradually become item in the Special Collections.

The original teaching skeleton used in the nursing school of the local hospital, after being donated to Special Collections at the Mooresville Public Library. Photo courtesy Special Collections at the Mooresville Public Library.

2 thoughts on ““Mother isn’t quite herself today…”

  1. I was really quite shocked by your decision. Skeletons did not simply drop from the sky, nor did many people that early will their skeletons to science. Her DNA could still yield some ethnic placement: what if she turned out to be Native American? Or Asian: most skeletons that have gone into education for the last hundred years have been from India (https://www.wired.com/2007/11/ff-bones/) and most have been dug up from graves. The point is: she isn’t plastic; she not only was human: she still is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m surprised that you determined “prop for entertainment” to be an acceptable use for this donated skeleton. That seems to contradict the professional responsibilities and expectations of those of us who work with items trusted to special collections. This item should be treated as and preserved for what it is — a teaching skeleton. It is not a mannequin. It is not a plastic prop you buy at the store. It is not a mascot. It is the remains of a real human being. This is incredibly disrespectful. I sure hope you treat other materials in your collection with more respect and care.

    Liked by 1 person

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