Top ten dead things in museums

A close up picture of a gorilla's face

© Trustees of the Natural History Museum

    • Many museums are full of dead things and we love them for it.

      On our travels around museums, the Show Me team has seen our fair share of dead things. Many of them were mummified in ancient times, others have been stuffed for science and some more have been pickled for posterity. Here's our top ten...

      The Horniman Walrus

      A photograph showing an overstuffed walrus sitting on a fake icebergThe Horniman Walrus© Horniman Museum and Gardens
      At the top of our list is the much loved, over-stuffed Walrus from the Horniman Museum and Gardens in Forest Hill, London.

      The Walrus has become a symbol for the museum, where he has lived for over a century. You can find out more about him on the museum’s website.

      Not so long ago, the walrus left the Horniman for a short visit to Margate for an exhibition. The museum recorded how they packed him up for his travels, take a look at Moving the Walrus to find out how they did it.

      Did you know that he’s the most popular Walrus on Twitter?

      The Kittens' Wedding

      Walter Potter is a well-known Victorian Taxidermist who specialised in making tableaux from animals. One of his most famous pieces is the Kittens’ Wedding. Potter’s work used to be displayed in his museum in Bramber, East Sussex, but it has since closed down and his collection has been sold.

      You can find out about Mr Potter and even see a canary he worked on in the Steyning Museum, which is just down the road from Bramber.

      Glass Jar of Moles

      This jar of moles is one of the most popular things in the Grant Museum of Zoology. The jar is notorious in museum circles. Like the Horniman Walrus, they have a twitter account, but we won’t link to it because sometimes they can be quite rude.

      But why, oh why would anyone want to keep a mass of moles in a jar in the first place? Find out at the Grant Museum’s website.

      Cat Mummy

      A photograph showing a cat that has been mummified.A mummified cat© Science Museum, London, Wellcome Images
      The two things everyone knows about Ancient Egypt are:

      1.    They mummified  their dead

      2.    They were fond of cats

      So here is a mummified cat from The Wellcome Collection in London. But why would someone want to mummify a cat? Well, the British Museum can shed some light on that for you.

      Sue the T-rex

      Who doesn’t love a T-rex? Sue is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered and she is named for Sue Hendrickson, the palaeontologist who found her. You can find Sue the T-Rex in the Field Museum, in Chicago. If you can’t make it that far, you can see her on the Field Museum's website.

      Guy the Gorilla

      A photograph showing a close up of Guy the Gorilla's face© Trustees of the Natural History Museum
      Guy was a famous  resident of London Zoo. He was named for the notorious Guy Fawkes because he arrived at the zoo on 5th November 1947.

      After he died, Guy moved to the Natural History Museum where he has acted as a helpful research specimen.

      You can find out more about him, his life and his legacy on the Natural History Museum’s website.

      Barry the Saint Bernard Dog

      Barry the Saint Bernard dog was bred over 200 years ago by monks who ran a shelter for travellers on a dangerous, snowy mountain road called the Saint Bernard Pass.

      During his lifetime, Barry rescued more than 40 people and helped lead them to the safety of the hospice.

      Barry became a hero, and when he died at the age of 14 he was preserved and put on display in the Natural History Museum in Bern (the capital city of Switzerland), where they recently celebrated his 200th anniversary. You can visit their website about Barry here.

      Snowy the Polar Bear

      A photograph showing a white bear in front of a blue background© Courtesy of Museums Sheffield
      Weston Park Museum is actually on their second Polar Bear (or Ursus maritimus to be scientific) named Snowy.

      The story behind how both of their bears ended up with the same name is quite something - you can find out all the fascinating details about Snowy's life on Weston Park’s website.

      Like Guy, Snowy had also lived in a zoo – do you think that  it’s a good idea for zoo animals to become museum displays when they die?

      Gerald the Giraffe

      Gerald the giraffe lives at used to be known as George, after George V but a former museum director wasn’t a fan of the monarchy so the Giraffe was re-named Gerald. It all sounds a bit treasonous to us – OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

      Even without the re-naming, Gerald has quite a controversial past, as he was the victim of a game hunter, who has spoken in defence of his actions – you can read what he said and discover more about Gerald at the museum's website.

      Do you think there is ever a defence for hunting?

      Athena the Owl

      In Athens, in 1850, a little owl fell from its nest. The lucky little owlet was found by the nurse Florence Nightingale, who rescued her from the hands of some naughty children and took her home.

      Florence named the owl Athena, and hand-reared her, teaching her tricks and keeping her in her apron pocket. The two we inseparable until Florence was called up to help wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. While she was away Athena sadly died, and the heartbroken nurse had her preserved by a taxidermist.

      You can visit Athena the owl and learn all about Florence Nightingale’s amazing nursing work at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London. One of the members of staff working at the museum has picked Athena as their favourite object, find out why here.

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