BYO Roadkill

How to Stock a “Morgue”

A taxidermied possum, part of the Harris Center's teaching collection. (photo © Ben Conant)

Taxidermied mounts are an important part of the Harris Center’s natural history collection, as they offer a rare opportunity to look closely at the bodies of animals who would otherwise scurry away. That said, some of the mounts are more…approachable than others. (photo © Ben Conant)

After John Kulish retired, Marian Baker, just back from American Friends Service work in Kenya, joined the staff in 1982 to grow our high school education program. Back in those days, we had quite a few ancient [taxidermied] mounts we’d been given, mostly of waterbirds. We kept them stacked on top of each other in a walk-in closet, which came to be known as “the morgue.” Finding it “by accident” was among the more memorable experiences for early Wol’s Nest summer campers (and others).

Marian had learned taxidermy while in college, and in Kenya she helped make the mount of a large elephant on display at the Museum of Natural History in Nairobi. Soon after coming to work for us, she began to add mammals to our mount collection. Her road-killed river otter is still a favorite among our teacher-naturalists. (It’s our belief that mounted wildlife should be readily used in the classroom for educational purposes, but not put on display like a trophy.)

Recycling Roadkill

An assortment of taxidermied mammals from the Harris Center's teaching collection. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

An assortment of taxidermied mammals from the Harris Center’s collection, including Marian Baker’s otter mount. Click on the image for a larger view. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Every late winter, I would ask Marian to come to my Field Mammalogy class at the Harris Center to show Antioch University New England students how to make “museum mounts” out of unfortunate critters who had met their demise, mostly as highway fatalities.

Why should this be just for grad students, we wondered? So in the mid-1980s Marian led a series of “Recycling Roadkills” workshops — geared toward naturalists and schoolteachers, but open to all and well attended. The workshop listing in our event calendars for the years 1984, 1985, and 1986 included the following instructions: BYO roadkill, foam or cotton stuffing for your animal, sharp knife, and scissors.

Much to our surprise, among the 1985 spring issues of the New Yorker magazine, we found a one-line article quoting those very words about our workshop (!) and followed by something like, “If we are a little late, don’t wait for us!”

—Meade Cadot