BODIES…The Exhibition is a small museum in South Street Seaport, New York City. Let me tell you something about a family trip to BODIES…The Exhibition NYC: You gotta really know your kids, and what they can handle, before blithely meandering in to see the exhibit.
We went to see BODIES…The Exhibition in South Street Seaport upon deciding that the lines for the Liberty Island ferry were egregiously long. For the uninitiated, Bodies…The Exhibition features real human bodies have been preserved and, well, opened up for viewing.
There’s no giant jars of formaldehyde; the human bodies are in open air, with layers peeled off or up in various sections depending on the part being shown. BODIES…The Exhibit is not for the faint of heart (yeah, I know that’s a pun, sorry) or people who are upset when considering the intricacies and interconnectivity of the human body’s functions.
The exhibit starts with a video introduction featuring Dr. Oz. He describes the process called “polymer preservation” by which the human bodies were preserved. The plastination process is complex, of course, but involves a chemical fix, all water/liquid being removed from the cadavers, and then the bodies being put in liquid silicone and a vacuum chamber. When polymer preservation is complete, the specimen is dry and permanently preserved.
The first room features skeletons and some descriptions of how skeletons are connected to other parts of the human body (through ligaments and that sort of thing). The photos here should help parents understand the level of detail their kids would see, should they plan a family trip to this museum. Note: the use of photography or videos is prohibited in BODIES…The Exhibition. These photos are from the company website.
The sections of BODIES…The Exhibition NYC all have actual preserved human bodies with the particular systems’ functions highlighted and described. The muscular system and nervous system displays were after the room with the skeletons in it. I liked the room that detailed the human nervous system the most, and came close to buying a plush neuron keychain in the gift store later.
The section of BODIES…The Exhibition that featured the human respiratory system was interesting. We all know that cigarettes are poison, of course, but seeing the dissected, nasty lung of a former smoker really brought the facts front and center. There’s a big clear bin, around 4 feet tall, in which visitors can discard their packs of cigarettes right by the display of the effects of smoking. The bin was over half full of packs of cigarettes when we were there. If all those people — disgusted from the view of what smoking does to our lungs — truly quit smoking, the respiratory system section is worth the price of admission alone.
As visitors progress through each room, different parts of the human body system are highlighted. The bodies on display are frozen into positions of human activity, such as playing baseball. I’m not mincing words here — anyone who gets queasy at the thought of what’s going on inside our bodies may want to skip this exhibit.
On the other hand, those with a keen interest in the incredible machine that is the human body will be fascinated.
When we walked through BODIES…The Exhibition NYC, we saw people peering at sections of the human bodies for minutes a time, faces just centimeters away (no touching). We also saw people studiously ignore the actual bodies on display, instead focusing on the written descriptions of what each display detailed.
The sections of BODIES…The Exhibition NYC that show the digestive and urinary systems were as clinical in their approach as the others, but one of my daughters gawked, and many other kids may get the giggles at the sight of the urinary system. Remember that this is a no-holds-barred exhibit and the human bodies on display are male.
The section about the reproductive system and fetal development was upsetting to several visitors: While the fetuses on display are the result of miscarriages, there’s something inherently distressing to many people about seeing later-stage fetuses preserved forever for the museum.
We came across this exhibit serendipitously, wandering around South Street Seaport after abandoning plans to see the Statue of Liberty. Had I done a little research before taking my kids to the exhibit, I probably would have skipped it instead. Why? Two reasons.
- My older daughter had a terrible time at the exhibit, and actually broke into tears about halfway through it. I walked her out, and we talked about her reaction. She was very upset at the idea that the bodies on display were once living, breathing humans and now were cut open for people to stare at (she heard a couple of older teenagers making fun of a display human’s male anatomy, this was so disrespectful that she was shocked). She was very upset, also, at the in-your-face aspect of the exhibit. It’s one thing, apparently, to see pictures of human anatomy in middle school health class. Quite another to to see it detailed and on display. My older daughter told me she thought she might have fainted had I not escorted her out. I would recommend that parents seriously consider not just the ages of their children, but their sensitivities as well, before taking a family trip to BODIES…The Exhibition NYC.
- There is some question as to the provenance of the human bodies. Supposedly, each cadaver was originally a person who had no close relatives to claim the bodies, so they were donated to the Premier Exhibitions Incorporated by the Chinese government. There is a disclaimer that reads, in part, “This exhibit displays human remains of Chinese citizens or residents which are originally received by the Chinese Bureau of Police. The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier [Exhibitions Incorporated] cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons.” Now, I don’t know enough about Chinese politics to definitively say that the cadavers were once Chinese prisoners that were executed. But the question is there: Human rights activists (such as the Human Right in China advocacy group) object to BODIES…The Exhibition because of this unknown.
That being said, the day wasn’t a complete loss at all. When I reentered the museum and found my younger daughter, I found her to be one of the visitors who are fascinated by the intricacies and machine-like interconnectivity of our bodies. She isn’t a natural scientist, usually, but she was almost enthralled by seeing how interdependent so many parts of our bodies are. She learned a great deal. As a matter of fact, she excitedly told me that she no longer wants to be an artist, or a singer, or a surfer, or whatever her most recent career goal du jour was. A week later, and she still wants to be a nurse or doctor when she grows up.
BODIES…The Exhibition NYC has its detractors, and it’s not for young children, or the squeamish or sensitive. Like many people, I’d be keen to know exactly where the Chinese government got the donated human remains, and under what circumstances. A family that knows this information should plan accordingly. However, there is no doubt that it’s an interesting museum. And who knows? Perhaps a New York family trip to BODIES…The Exhibition will lead to more children being interested in the medical profession, too. Can’t see anything wrong with that.
BODIES…The Exhibition NYC is at South Street Seaport, Pier 17 on Fulton Street, NY, NY. (888) 926-3437