Tuesday, February 9, 2010

* An Open Letter to Derek E. G. Briggs, Director, The Peabody Museum at Yale

Grace-New Haven Hospital, now Yale-New Haven Hospital

The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University


Derek E.G. Briggs Director,
Peabody Museum of Natural History
Frederick William Beinecke Professor of Geology and Geophysics
Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology

Dear Professor Briggs:

Yale has a skeleton in its closet. Actually, it may have nine.

Fifty-five years before Alyssa Schvartz was denied the right to use her own reproductive body fluids as a piece of art in a Yale exhibit, The Peabody Museum used the reproductive body fluids of nine women as part of its own artistic "exhibit".

I support Schvartz's right to grotesque art. I ask for a belated explanation of Peabody's.

I saw it with my own eyes several times as a child. Once at the hand of my mother. It consisted of many glass jars--one for each of the nine months of a pregnancy I believe -- filled with formaldehyde.

It was spooky and fascinating.

In each jar--from tiny tube to football sized
glass enclosure --was the reproductive result of conception: from zygote to embryo to fetus.

I remember asking my mother what happened to the babies and she said in words a child could understand--"They died."

Simple, stoic words for my mother who had lost two children to miscarriages before I was born two months prematurely.

Now that I reflect on it 50-plus years later, one of those jars could have contained my unborn genetic sibling. I was born in Yale-New Haven Hospital (then called Grace-New Haven Hospital)and I believe my mother's miscarriages were treated there.

I call for an explanation of the "conception, birth and death" of that exhibit.

What has become of it? Was it trashed , or is it now simply nine skeletons in a Yale closet somewhere?

If it was disposed of, was there a religious interment for the nine organisms?

Was such a service conducted according to the religious affiliation of the sponsoring organisms (AKA "mothers-to-be")?

Did Grace-New Haven provide the "subjects" for the exhibit?

Was permission granted by the sponsoring organism (mother-to be)? Or were the "parts" supplied, as many organ donations are supplied today, on a black market, without the donors' consent.

It is ironic that three blocks from the Peabody Museum exhibit to which I refer, a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week vigil was mounted in front of the Planned Parenthood office while Griswold v. State of Connecticut was making its way through the courts.

The vigil consisted of devout Catholics kneeling on the sidewalk in front of Planned Parenthood reciting the Rosary as protest of artificial means of preventing conception from occuring, AKA contraception.

Did they not know of the Peabody exhibit? And what did it represent anyway: Spontaneous abortion? "Death in the womb" as Sophocles calls it? Or what my grandmother referred to as a "D and C"?

I would like to know if the Peabody Museum gave the mothers-to-be of the organisms in the nine jars the right to grant or deny permission for the exhibit---or was this a back-alley black market artistic hack job by my birthplace, Grace-New Haven Hospital and The Peabody?

I respectfully request answers.

Paul D.Keane
M. Div.'80

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