Gift from the dead in Denver |

Gift from the dead in Denver

Don Rogers

The most amazing exhibit is not a body but a net. Blood vessels down to the capillary, floating in fluid, alone form a human head with full glowing red detail of mouth, nose, eyes, ears. Art, actually, only real and once belonging to a real breathing, bleeding human.The full bodies, the stars of the show, attract the crowds to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Skinned, sliced, flay-ed, posed and Plastin-ated. Preserved to give observers as long of looks as they want of bodies under the skin.There’s a bit of the surreal here, too. Watch the live bodies inspecting the dead ones. The wonder and the dread. Queasiness at the start giving way to pure curiosity in visits lasting an hour, or maybe two or more. And always, a sense of life, since these exhibits once walked and no doubt visited a museum or two themselves. This can change you. You might feel ghosts as you imagine the people who gave their bodies to educate us and how they lived, much like us. What inspired them to donate themselves? What if that were Grandpa Frank sliced into MRI-thin wafers? Or your sister, skinned and her abdomen cut away to show her 5-month-old fetus who died with Mom before its time, head down toward the journey it would never make? The lessons in the exhibit concern mortality as well as life, philosophy as well as anatomy. You don’t get that looking at dinosaur fossils. This is us, the viewers and the viewed. It might creep you out.The inventer of preserving bodies and organs by imbedding every cell with plastic, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, is as interesting as his exhibits. Born in Poland, imprisoned for trying to escape East Germany, sickly as a child, precocious throughout life. Some out-of-the-box ideas about preservation while a young doctor led from experiments in 1977 to his first Plastinated full body and eventually to museum shows beginning in Japan in 1996. This show, Body Worlds 2, will run to July 23 at the Denver museum.You might want to buy your tickets online ahead of time at to make the wait a little shorter. The lines remain long, at least on weekends as they were Saturday, when I went with my family. About 18 million people have viewed Body Worlds exhibits in Asia, Europe, Canada and the United States, according to The Web site is worth visiting before going to the museum.Von Hagens vigorously denies preserving any but donated bodies. Similar exhibits have admitted using unclaimed bodies from China. A German online news service reported – falsely, according to subsequent court rulings – that Body Worlds included executed Chinese prisoners. Promising to sue news organizations that spread these allegations, von Hagens says the rumors still continue across the Internet and get reported as facts in the mainstream media.”I have never Plastinated the bodies of executed persons, for based on my ethical convictions, I disapprove of using such bodies for anatomical purposes,” he says in press statement dated April 3 on the Body Worlds Web site.So, for intrigue, scratch visions of body snatchers. The story remains fascinating enough even without that horror movie aspect, anyway.Most of the eyes are blue, actually. Just one or two faces, or what you see of them, look even vaguely Asian. The eyes, though, they are real, too. Catch them right and they seem to follow you as you inspect bone and gristle and nerve and muscle and organ, all theirs.About 6,000 people have agreed to donate their bodies to von Hagens for Plastination and a second life as exhibits. Comments from some of them, posted on the Web site, show deep appreciation for the work and reverence for life and teaching the still-living about their bodies.If you feel the eyes, understand they belong not to judges, but guides. They don’t aim to haunt. Only to teach. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14600, or Check out his blog at, Colorado

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