Madden (English/Univ. of Alabama) investigates the subculture of taxidermy, a subject he admits is repellant to many readers.
The author attempts to answer the question, “Why do we stuff animals?” Among the many characters in his account are grieving pet owners, local hunters, big-game hunters and museums, including the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History. Madden begins with Carl Akeley, “the father of American taxidermy.” Akeley invented many still-employed techniques and moved taxidermy out of private collections and into public displays when he mounted P.T. Barnum’s elephant Jumbo. Madden explores why people choose to attend places like Dan Rinehart’s Taxidermy School, and he considers the relation between taxidermy and the killing that is called “collecting.” He tells us about those who supply taxidermists and their products and methods, and he visits the competitive championships where the results are displayed. He traces the history, from the Renaissance-era Cabinets de Curiosites down to Barnum, and introduces us to freaks like the “Feejee Mermaid” and other manmade monsters like Jackalopes. Madden can be a bit tongue in cheek, too, like when he wonders “what would happen if the tables were turned?” and the animals put the humans on display. “We kill animals for all kinds of bullshit reasons,” he writes. However, a “taxidermized animal is a remembered animal, a memorialized animal, and something memorialized is something loved.”
Readable, sometimes chilling tour of an intriguing subculture. See also Melissa Milgrom’s Still Life (2010).