Saturday, January 24, 2009


My friend and follower Megan Distin McCabe is fond of squirrels (not to mention hamsters) and was pleased to send me the link to a beautiful video when our interests intersected. Click here and scroll or use the drop-down menu to find Melissa Dixson, Urban Taxidermist.

Enjoy, and then I'll tell you some stories...

Melissa mentions mailing animals she hopes to prepare to her workplace. This reminds me of my friend Jim Miller, also a self-taught taxidermist, who used to send such things to his mother with instructions not to open the packages, just pop them in the freezer!

In the book Tombstone Humour by the appropriately named Richard De'ath is a story about British taxidermist Neil Dewhurst of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, being approached by a family who wanted him to prepare the body of their grandfather to stand at attention in his military uniform in the front hall. He declined! During my research for Modern Mummies, I wrote to Mr. Dewhurst and received an informative handwritten letter in response. He confirmed the story and mentioned receiving a second inquiry about the cost of preparing a "large ape," the species of which the customer would not at first reveal. He later admitted that the family had agreed and received permission to have the body of a 30-year-old relative prepared by a taxidermist. Dewhurst quoted a high fee, hoping to discourage them. Instead, the family found the quote reasonable, but did not contact him again!

To be thorough, I made a field trip to the studio of Brian Price of Taxidermy Unlimited in Vienna, Virginia (since retired, I think). He kindly talked me through the steps that would be necessary to prepare a human body, with reference to his animal mounts so I could better understand. This theoretical application of taxidermy to the corpse became part of my manuscript.

Then I decided I needed an authentic prop for my Edgar Allan Poe costume (see Halloween slideshow below), so I called Taxidermy Unlimited. Though it had been many years, Brian remembered me and was not all that surprised when I asked if he could prepare* a raven for me. Although it was illegal to kill a raven, he said he'd be happy to shoot a member of the flock of crows that congregated next door. He did just that and mounted it on a rod that I could attach to my basket. This is the same crow that ended up on Aunt Judy's doorstep!
My last story is this: an acquaintance told me that she had a mounted specimen of a fetal deer that her father had retrieved from a doe that had been killed on the road. I was a bit jealous - not only did I want to see it (never did), I wanted to accession it for my Museum!
One more thing - I just watched the Urban Taxidermist again and learned in the blurb at the end that Melissa Dixson, too, has multiple sclerosis!

*"Stuff" is not a word that taxidermists use to describe what they do.

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