Here's Why You Can't Keep Your Loved One's Skull

hayatikayhan/iStock via Getty Images
hayatikayhan/iStock via Getty Images

Even if showcasing your grandfather’s skull on your living room mantle is the type of offbeat tribute he absolutely would have loved, your chances of making it happen are basically zilch. Mortician Caitlin Doughty explains exactly why in her new book Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death, excerpted by The Atlantic.

Having written permission from dear old Gramps stating that you are allowed to—and, in fact, should—display his skull after his death simply isn’t enough, for two reasons. First of all, most funeral homes lack the equipment required to decapitate a corpse and thoroughly de-flesh the skull. Doughty admits that she doesn’t even know what that process would entail, though her best guess for a proper cleaning involves dermestid beetles, which museums and forensic labs often use to “delicately eat the dead flesh off a skeleton without destroying the bones.” Unfortunately, the average funeral home doesn’t keep flesh-eating beetles on retainer.

The second hindrance to your macabre mantle statement piece is a legal matter. In order to maintain respect for the dead, abuse-of-corpse laws prevent funeral homes from handing over corpses or bones, but the terms differ widely from state to state. Kentucky’s law, for example, prohibits using a corpse in any way that would “outrage ordinary family sensibilities,” but leaves it entirely open to interpretation how an “ordinary family” would behave.

Sometimes, of course, it’s relatively obvious. Doughty recounts the case of Julia Pastrana, who suffered from hypertrichosis, a condition that caused hair growth all over her face and body. Her husband had her corpse taxidermied and displayed it in freak shows during the 19th century as a money-making scheme—a clear example of corpse abuse. Since the laws are so ambiguous, however, funeral professionals err on the side of caution.

Funeral homes also must submit a burial-and-transit permit for each body so the state has a record of where that body went, and the usual options are burial, cremation, or donation to science. “There is no ‘cut off the head, de-flesh it, preserve the skull, and then cremate the rest of the body’ option,” Doughty says. “Nothing even close.”

If you’re thinking the laws sound vague enough that it’s worth a shot, law professor and human-remains law expert Tanya Marsh might convince you otherwise. As she told Doughty, “I will argue with you all day long that it isn’t legal in any state in the United States to reduce a human head to a skull.”

The laws about buying or selling human remains also vary by state, and are “vague, confusing, and enforced at random,” according to Doughty. Many privately sold bones come from India and China, and, though eBay has banned the sale of human remains, there are other ways of procuring a stranger's skull online “if you are willing to engage in some suspect internet commerce,” Doughty says.

[h/t The Atlantic]

Here's What a Man Found After Opening a 25-Year-Old Can of Spider-Man Pasta

Anthony Devlin/Getty Images
Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

From Underoos to Ecto Coolers, tie-in consumer products have always been perennial hits with kids. While you may have fond memories of them, not all have aged well, as Twitter user Dinosaur Dracula recently found out. This is because Dinosaur Dracula decided to open a 25-year-old can of Spider-Man pasta.

Describing the Chef Boyardee product as “wildly corroded,” Dinosaur Dracula promised to reveal the contents if his initial tweet got 1995 likes (a number chosen in honor of the year the product was released). His goal was met, and so the can was unsealed.

As you can see, the result looks like it was idling near Mount Vesuvius. The pasta, mini-meatballs, and sauce have petrified, with only one small area even vaguely identifiable as a Spidey shape.

Canned goods can technically last for years, but that depends on several factors. Cans that rust or corrode can compromise the airtight seal, leading to spoiling. Store cans in a cool, dry place and perhaps they can avoid the fate of Spider-Man pasta.

If you’d prefer to remember the product in better days, here’s a vintage commercial that advertises the pasta’s “secret sauce,” which was presumably botulism.

[h/t Gizmodo]

While Visitors Are in Quarantine, Museums Are Sharing Their Creepiest Objects on Twitter

A long-dead Roman woman’s hair bun, jet pins and all.
A long-dead Roman woman’s hair bun, jet pins and all.

Though they may not be open to visitors during the COVID-19 crisis, museums around the world are finding ways to keep busy. Earlier this month, the UK's Yorkshire Museum challenged museums on Twitter to share the creepiest objects in their collections.

The Yorkshire Museum kicked off the #curatorbattle on April 17 by tweeting a picture of a hair bun recovered from a Roman tomb dating back to the 3rd or 4th century. Since then, dozens of institutions have participated.

The Egham Museum in the UK contributed an antique doll with a balding, cracked head that's simply labeled "MC 294." From the British Toy Museum of Penshurst Place came a red-eyed stuffed bear that pretends to drink when you feed it coins. The winner, at least based on Twitter's response, may be "The Mermaid" of the National Museums of Scotland's Natural Sciences department. The unsettling monstrosity was one of many monkey-fish taxidermy hybrids made popular by P.T. Barnum.

This isn't the first time museums have used social media to show off some of their more unusual items. In October of last year, the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota, held a contest to determine which of the antique dolls in its collection was the creepiest. This latest challenge is not only a chance for museums to spotlight some underrated objects, but also to connect with the public when people are stuck at home.

If you think you can stomach it, you can view even more freaky museum objects under the hashtag #curatorbattle. For a more pleasant virtual museum experience, here are some world-class institutions you can tour online.