Communications departments at museums around the world are working overtime to come up with original and entertaining social media challenges to engage the public with their collections during the COVID-19 lockdown. In one of the latest, the Yorkshire Museum in the United Kingdom challenged museums worldwide to post pictures of the “creepiest objects” in their collections, and they gladly abided. (Warning: this article includes images that you will not be able to unsee.)
The Yorkshire Museum kicked off its #CreepiestObject challenge last Friday with an unsettling image of a third or fourth-century hair bun found intact in the burial of a Roman woman, with hairpins still in place. “CAN YOU BEAT IT?” the museum wrote in a tweet and opened a pandora box of eerie imagery.
Our #CreepiestObject has to be this ‘mermaid’… ???♀️ #CURATORBATTLE #TroublingTaxidermy pic.twitter.com/GMSosyuqIX
— Natural Sciences NMS (@NatSciNMS) April 17, 2020
The National Museums Scotland (NMS) responded with a haunting image of a bizarre “mermaid.” The image naturally invokes the question: what the hell is this thing?
Allison Meier explains in an article for Hyperallergic that these are “Fiji Mermaids” assembled from the back half of a fish and the torso and head of a monkey. The taxidermic fakes can be found in several leading science and natural history museums around the world. The NMS followed up with another ghastly “mermaid” combining the rear of a Pacific wrasse and a sculpted thorax and head with fish jaw inserted in the mouth.
Many museums have one but they usually look more like our other ‘mermaid’…
We have a little more information about this one: The posterior half was formed from a Pacific wrasse, & the head/thorax were sculpted, with fish jaw inserted in the mouth. #CreepiestObject pic.twitter.com/7MrPcaZqdh
— Natural Sciences NMS (@NatSciNMS) April 18, 2020
A little late to the creepy party but we want to play! How about a disturbing taxidermy bat who watches over our collections?? Bartholomew (or Bart) has been in the collection since 1962, watching silently ever since. #CURATORBATTLE #CreepiestObject pic.twitter.com/WH1h65u7zb
— RGRMHC (@RGRMHC) April 22, 2020
The Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center in Colorado shared a threatening image of a taxidermied bat. The museum’s staff have nicknamed the bat Bartholomew (or Bart) and hung it from the ceiling to “watch over our collections.” It’s been hovering there with its exposed fangs since 1962.
Thanks for thinking of us @HottyCouture and wow, will we be having nightmares tonight with all these #CreepiestObject|s ! Here is the one we just can’t hide from you, one of our many creepy gems – our Plague Mask (1650/1750)! #curatorbattle pic.twitter.com/JrMjqAJSIM
— Deutsches Historisches Museum (@DHMBerlin) April 17, 2020
Our #CURATORBATTLE entry from @NAM_London – frost bitten fingertips anyone? https://t.co/PGD61mG5rz pic.twitter.com/KcWgnGwEdP
— Kirsty Parsons (@museum_owl) April 17, 2020
The Norwich Castle Museum in the UK contributed a pincushion featuring miniature heads of children. “You’re welcome, Twitter,” the museum joked. It remains unclear why anyone would ever want to push needles into the faces of little children.
The German Historical Museum shared a plague mask dating back to the 17th or 18th century. The bird-like masks were designed to protect medieval doctors in times of epidemics. The beak-shaped nose was typically stuffed with herbs, straw, and spices.
Dan Hicks, a professor of Contemporary Archaeology at the University of Oxford and a curator at Pitt Rivers Museum, posted a disturbing image of sheep’s heart stabbed with pins and nails and strung on a cord, to be worn around the neck. Hicks explains that the object was made in South Devon in England circa 1911 “for breaking evil spells.”
Not to be outdone, Kirsty Parsons, a curator at the National Army Museum of London, posted a picture cut-off, frostbitten fingertips from the museum’s collection.
Sheep’s heart stuck with pins and nails and strung on a loop of cord. Made in South Devon, circa 1911, “for breaking evil spells”, @Pitt_Rivers collections #CreepiestObject #CuratorBattle pic.twitter.com/z5vdCFCU4S
— Dan Hicks (@profdanhicks) April 17, 2020
This parade of horror continues with a plethora of creepy dolls — some shattered, some distorted, and others just downright hideous. One of the most disturbing submissions belongs to the Museum of Fear Wonder in Alberta, Canada, which posted an image of an early 19th-century wax child mannequin from Germany with a smashed nose (flattened by storing the doll face down) and a “snout”-covered face.
Our museum joined twitter solely to participate! This contribution is an early 19 c. wax child mannequin from Germany. It was stored face-down in a heated attic for many years, flattening its features into a snout. Please enjoy. #CreepiestObject #CURATORBATTLE pic.twitter.com/W3kitF7Utt
— Museum of Fear and Wonder (@MuseumFear) April 21, 2020
Imagine rummaging through an archive and unwrapping this ?
MC 490A: Broken Dolls head in many parts with fair hair c.1920
Found on the grounds of @StJudesHead. Let’s hope they treat the pupils better ?#CuratorBattle #CreepiestObject pic.twitter.com/J5aVRNuSo6
— Egham Museum (@EghamMuseum) April 17, 2020
@RedHeadedAli how can we ignore such a call to arms?
This particular item has caused a few nightmares for our followers this week.
Our #CreepiestObject is…this pincushion! Complete with tiny children’s heads. You’re welcome, Twitter.#CURATORBATTLE pic.twitter.com/0YdmCE5dYD
— Norwich Castle (@NorwichCastle) April 17, 2020
The challenge is the latest theme of the Yorkshire Museum’s #CURATORBATTLE series. Previous editions challenged museums to present some of their dullest, prettiest, and deadliest objects, including a recent Easter-themed call for the “best egg.”