Thursday, 17 November 2011

The Ghost Parade

The first thing you notice are the dinosaurs. No, first comes the light which floods the dinosaurs, cascading from a tall neo-Gothic roof faceted with clear glass like a nineteenth-century diamond. Cool autumn daylight makes the dinosaurs seem curiously less ferocious, and I bravely muster another step forward to examine them closely. Before I even start to read the plate, my attention is swept towards a monumental ivory structure almost the height of a house, an upside-down sharp pointed boomerang propped against a column for support. I notice little pointed ridges...teeth. The structure is an enormous jaw of a whale.

This is my fourth time at the Oxford Natural History Museum, and I am transfixed.

Above me, skeletons are flying through stillness. Whales, dolphins, countless reptiles have shed their silvery skins, their bones fixed, motionless beneath the diamond dome. A giant glass-eyed tortoise glances upwards from its tank in bewilderment. I retrace my steps, and arrive by what could only be described as a kaleidoscopic forest of butterflies. The opalescent wings of one are juxtaposed with the pair of another, an electrifying blue, as though it had collected an entire cosmic sky on its microscopic shoulders.

Another case beckons, titled: Asteroidea/Ophiuroidea. You can guess what lies there - I yearn to remember the Latin name. In fact, I yearn to remember everything: that a swift spends all of its lifetime in flight, eating, feeding and sleeping in the air, the name of the dinosaur whose remains were dug up by St Edmund Hall College, how the Dodo bird became extinct, what inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland... Not everything is hidden beneath glass; hundreds of stuffed animals are everywhere, and it is quite a while until I reluctantly stop stroking a fox's featherlike auburn fur and descend into the second half of the building: the Pitt Rivers.

It is darker still - to preserve the treasures safely enveloped in the arms of their protector - this giant cabinet de curiosit├ęs. It seems to be an assemblage of every possible and impossible artefact from every ancient culture in existence. The shrunken heads, or tsantsas, (look familiar? Prisoner of Azkaban production team must have thought the same) are always a popular exhibit, evoking timorous gasps or gaping stares of repulsed fascination (perhaps my reaction above fits somewhere between the two). 

Upstairs, the collection continues, merging ages past with the immediate present. The body modification and beauty gallery is a haunting reminder of just how much perception of beauty alters from culture to culture - from scarification to binding feet to fit Chinese slippers scarcely bigger than the palm of my hand, to whole-body tattoos and lengthening of skulls. Somehow, against this array, a pair of false eyelashes appears innocent and insignificant.

Another flight of stairs, and I am greeted with intricate keys of all shapes and sizes. I lean across and examine them all individually, as if to leave impressions in my already-dazzled mind. D'nnnnng. The gong is sounded. It is time. I am brought to my senses. The museum is closing and I am herded out, looking back longingly at all the things I hadn't had time to photograph with my eyes.

I walk out of the Pitt Rivers as the doors slide soundlessly behind me, and behold the skeletons once more. Only this time, they are bathed in shadow: the lights at the museum have been turned out. I pace past row upon row of skeletal deer, under whales floating above me, a ghost parade of bones glimmering in the faint golden light, like spectres. Everywhere there are secrets, secrets, secrets - I hope there will be enough to last me a lifetime of visits to this curious place.

Cream silk blouse, vintage 
Jumper, vintage, Papa's
Dress, vintage
Scarf, vintage
Tights, Jack Wills
Boots, Clarks


  1. Oh oh oh I knew where you were as soon as I saw the first photo!

    Isn't it the best museum ever?!

    My boyfriend took me there to see the shrunken heads on one of our very early dates - romantic huh?!

  2. Wow; it looks amazing! I want to go!!!

  3. Ooh, creepy displays :-) Love museums, such random stuff!

  4. Dina thank you for your comment! of course you can add me to your blogroll :) by the way, the museum looks AMAZING!!! xxx

  5. Oh my gosh, you have such a cool blog! I love these photos and the illustrations much to look at!

    And yes, feel free to add me to your blog roll! I need to get around to making one of those...maybe over Winter Break I'll have the time. But I greatly appreciate it. :)

    xoxo Charity

  6. Wow, amazing post ! Your blog is very nice and inspiring !

    Thanks for the lovely comment. It would be so nice of you to put me on your blogroll.
    Please check your following because it does some tricks lately and I don`y have you as my follower.
    I`m following, sure !


  7. Thankyou for your comment, of course I don't mind if you'd like to add me to your blogroll! I'd love it :) I love the natural history museum in London (who doesn't) and have been meaning to visit Oxford's and you've just confirmed that I definitely need to go! I love your outfit and you write beautifully by the way, looking forward to reading more posts from you!

  8. Thank you for taking your time to comment on mine! I'd love if you'd add me to your blogroll and i'll add you to mine!

  9. Thank you so much for the comment on my blog! Yours is so fantastic... I love these pictures-- and you are so beautiful! I hope you're having a fantastic day!

  10. Really cool photos! =)

  11. THese pictures are INCREDIBLE!!!! What an amazing place.

  12. I was wondering where that was: I really want to go there now.

    What a beautiful post: photos, words. YOu've inspired me to do a post that I've been meaning to - if I can find the photos - of a show I saw in London, by a taxidermist/artist, with my friend Reid - also a taxidermist/artist.

    Before I get up to Oxford,tho, you've reminded me that the Natural History museum is just around the corner: I must make it my business go to there soon. Let me know if you want to come along.

  13. So, so, so amazing. x hivenn p.s enter my $200 shopbop giveaway?

  14. Oh wow, these photos are amazing! I love the dinosaurs - they're so amazingly huge it's hard to imagine they ever existed! I still haven't visited the Oxford Natural History Museum yet but I really want to! Lovely blog :) x

  15. Some things almost look a bit spooky! But it seems like an amazing museum!
    I will definitely go there when I'm in the UK!

    Xx Jorien

  16. God's creations are amazing!!! Love love love your photos- you look so cute!
    Come follow my blog darling! xx

  17. God's creations are amazing!!! Love love love your photos- you look so cute!
    Come follow my blog darling! xx

  18. Oh! What a beautiful serie of photographs! I want to go to!

  19. This is stunning. I must visit the Oxford Natural History Museum - it looks and sounds like perfection. Your description was wonderfully atmospheric, and your outfit is truly lovely.

  20. This is amazing, I love it! Right up my street.

    Thanks so much for your comment btw, and of course feel free to go ahead and add me to your blogroll! x

  21. Of course you can add my blog to your blogroll darling !!


  22. You describe things so wonderfully! I'm absolutely transfixed by all the keys displayed - makes you wonder what they once opened, no?

    x Michelle |

  23. Lovely images, especially the butterflies, I need to go here! I would take so many pics!

  24. Wow this museum looks insanely cool in a kind of creepy way, I love museum and these pictures are just amazing! Your have an awesome blog by the way and I am a new follower! Hope you will like my blog and follow back!
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  25. I went to the Natural History museum in London it's totes amazing but also kind of terrified me! Love your outfit by the way xx

  26. The butterflies remind me of my own collection, which I'm hoping to restore and re-pin - after seeing your gorgeous photos, I think I'll go for blue paper too! You can see my collection here, if you're interested:

    Wonderful snaps - so glad I found your blog! Following now!

    Cat xxx

  27. OMGGG!!

    These pictures are amazinggg!!

    Love love love! Wish i could go visit this museum RIGHT NOW!

    <3 Vega

  28. What a good photo to start, girl! The roof of this museum has great details and design… I can tell that whoever designed it really matched the entire theme with that of the museum. I’m actually fond of such collections, too! I’d ask mom to stop by next time, hehe. Thanks!

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