Fear, Dread Soon Give Way to Awe, Fascination At World-Famous Exhibit
By LYNN DOAN, Courant Staff Writer
December 23, 2007
A severed ear. A human heart. The tendons and muscles of a man.
In a horror movie, it'd be gory. In "Bodies Revealed," a world-famous exhibition that debuted at the XL Center in downtown Hartford on Saturday, it's educational.
Parents ushered their wide-eyed children into the exhibit, which features 10 whole bodies and more than 200 partial body and organ specimens, in hopes of giving them a science lesson impossible to learn in a classroom, they said. At first, some of the children were apprehensive.
"It was gross ... the heart thing, scary," said 10-year-old Mary Volpe of West Hartford, who at times clung to her father, Emilio Volpe, during their visit to the XL Center, previously the Hartford Civic Center, Saturday afternoon.
By the end of their visit though, Mary was the one ushering her father around, pointing out the development stages of a row of human fetuses suspended in fluid-filled cases.
"It's gross, but it's cool at the same time," she said.
Mary's 12-year-old brother, Emilio Jr., raced from display to display, soaking in the anatomy facts printed on cards beside the cases.
"Daddy, you see those parts on your bones there?" he said, pointing to the exposed muscles on a foot. "I have those on my feet. I can see those on my feet."
Emilio's reaction is exactly what the organizers of the exhibition are looking for, said Roy Glover, an anatomy professor and medical director for the exhibit.
"When I was a kid, we never talked about the body — it was kind of a closet issue. We want to change that," he said. "We feel that kids are not only inquisitive, they are smart. They have a right to know what's in their bodies."
More than 360,000 schoolchildren have visited the exhibition since it began touring the world three years ago, Glover said. The exhibition, which opened in the United States a few weeks ago, in Sacramento, even provides — at an additional cost — audio tours designed specifically for school-aged children.
Visitors walk through a maze of rooms, each dedicated to a different aspect of the body, like the brain and the skeletal, muscular, and respiratory systems.
The bodies displayed are of people who donated them to a medical university in China for study and education. They were preserved through a process known as "polymer preservation," in which the bodies are embalmed, dissected, dried out and cured.
"Now, take a deep breath," reads a sign, posted at the entrance of the respiratory system displays.
Inside the room, children peered at a healthy lung and a lung diseased from years of smoking. The goal, Glover said, is not to tell children that smoking is bad, but show them.
"If you ever want to talk to your children about health-related issues, about smoking, exercise and diet, this exhibition is the place to do it," he said. "We encourage parents to bring their children here and talk to them about how they can keep their bodies strong and healthy."
But the lesson isn't just one reserved for children.
"I'm a biology teacher, and I'm still learning a lot here," said Tracy Snyder, a Glastonbury resident who visited the exhibition Saturday with her husband. "It's so much better than learning from a diagram in a book."
Mary and Emilio Jr.'s father said he, too, was fascinated by the displays.
"It's amazing. I will never look at my body the same, ever again," Emilio Volpe said. "Makes me want to take care of it a little better than I have."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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