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FIELD TRIP: Guided Tour and Behind the Scenes Viewing of The Murtogh D. Guinness Automaton Collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Field trip, anyone?

FIELD TRIP: Guided Tour and Behind the Scenes Viewing of The Murtogh D. Guinness Automaton Collection at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey
Date: Sunday, February 20th
Time: 12 PM - 4 PM (Bus pickup and drop-off at Observatory)
Admission: $45
*** MUST RSVP to morbidanatomy [at]
*** PLEASE NOTE: Trip limited to a maximum of 30 attendees; Admission fee Includes round trip transportation via chartered bus, tour cost, a Guinness beer, and museum admission.

Many people have no idea that one of the finest collections of antique automata--moving mechanical toys popular in the 18th Century and 19th Centuries-- in the world resides not in London or Paris but 25 miles away from New York City in Morristown, New Jersey.

This collection--compiled over 50 years by Murtogh D. Guinness (1913-2002), heir to the Guinness beer fortune--consists of 700 historic automata and mechanical musical instruments as well as more than 5,000 programmed media, ranging from player piano rolls to pinned cylinders. Guinness regarded the collection as his life’s work, and he traveled the globe to search of the finest surviving pieces of their kind. Many of the automata in the collection were made in France in the 19th Century and represent a broad array of subjects including snake charmers, magicians, singing birds, musicians, animals, and anthropomorphic monkeys enacting a variety of human situations. Together, these objects constitute one of the largest public holdings of automata in the United States.

On Sunday, February 20th, join Observatory and Morbid Anatomy for a special guided tour of this incredible collection, one of the most significant of its kind in the world. Guinness Collection Conservator Jeremy Ryder will lead us on an hour-long tour of the collection; on this tour, he will guide us through of the permanent exhibit Musical Machines & Living Dolls featuring 150 pieces from the spectacular collection, explain the techniques and history of these incredible objects, demonstrate automata in action, and show us pieces rarely on display to the general public.

After the tour, attendees will be given approximately an hour of free time with which to take in the other exhibitions at the museum such as Frank H. Netter, MD Michelangelo of Medicine--featuring more than 40 works of art by this acclaimed master of medical illustrations--and the museum's excellent permanent collection which includes costumes and textiles, fine art, decorative art, dolls and toys, natural science, geology and paleontology, and anthropology; more about the museum can be found at

At the day's end, our chartered bus will pick up us and we will enjoy a toast to Mr. Guinness and his fantastic collection with a Guinness beer (naturally!) on our drive back to New York City.

Trip Details: The $45 event cost of this event includes round trip transportation on a special chartered bus from Observatory to the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey and back again, as well as museum admission, tour cost, and one Guinness beer per person. The bus will pick up and drop off in front of Observatory (543 Union Street at Nevins Street). Pick up is 12:00 noon sharp and drop off approximately 4:00 PM. Attendees will have approximately 1 hour of free time to view the rest of the museum collection.

More info here.

Image: Clown Illusionist Automaton; Made by Jean or Henry Phalibois, Paris, France, c. 1890-1900 "], from The Murtogh D. Guinness Automaton Collection

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

Buried Alive at Coney Island: "Night and Morning," 1907

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Playing off the titillating terror of being buried alive--a theme exploited also by Edgar Allen Poe among many others--Coney Island's Luna Park premiered a new attraction in 1907 which allowed the visitor to experience their own premature burial and added a trip through Hades and Paradise to boot.

From a contemporary New York Times report on April 21, 1907:

NEW WONDERS THIS SEASON AT CONEY ISLAND - Beatific Heavenly Visions and Gruesome Scenes in Hell to be Luna Park's Latest Novelty ...

"The real big feature of the revised Luna Park," Mr. Thompson explained, "is going to be what I have named Night and Morning: or, A Journey Through Heaven and Hell." The idea in itself if, of course, not new, but the manner in which it has been worked up in entirely original and is expected to make it a 'thriller.' It shows you the complete journey to Hades and Paradise, and is full of surprises....

"The first room into which the people enter is like a big coffin with a glass top and the lid off. You look up through the roof and see the graveyard flowers and the weeping willows and other such atmospheric things. When everything is ready the coffin is lowered into the ground. It shivers and shakes, and when it tips up on end you hear a voice above give a warning to be careful. Then the lid is closed and you hear the thud of the dirt.

"The man who is conducting the party now announces that they must have a spirit to guide them. A subject is put into a small coffin and in an instant he is transformed into a skeleton. Then a real skeleton appears and delivers a solemn lecture in which he tells the people that they must 'leave all hope on the outside'--a gentle perversion of the old 'abandon hope all ye who enter here.' ...

Now there is a great clanking of chains and the side of the coffin comes out and visitors pass down into the mysterious caverns. First they see a twentieth century idea of Hell, with monopolists frying in pans and janitors fastened to hot radiators.... After the modern Hell the people come to the Chamber of Skeletons. Though these skeletons haven't a stitch of clothes on them, they smoke cigarettes most unconcernedly all the time just like live men.... Next you come to the panorama of Hell, where you see a vision of all the condemned spirits being washed down by the River of Death. Now comes the big change and you find yourself in a large ordinary room, with cathedral-like windows through which you can look outside and see the graveyard which looms up with a weird effect. Like great mist you can see the spirits rising from the graves and ascending to Heaven...

The great transformation now takes place. The whole grave yard floats off into space with the single exception of an immense cross, where the form of a young girl is seen clinging to the Rock of Ages. Fountains foam with all their prismatic colors, and the air is filled with troops of circling angels. The room itself vanishes and you find yourself in a bower of flowers under a blue sky. At the climax and angel comes down with a halo which she places on the head of the girl who is still clinging to the cross Then all that vanishes and you are within four blank walls once more."

Excerpted fom the April 21, 1907 issue of The New York Times; You can read the entire article here.

For more on the amazing and bizarre attractions of turn of the century Coney Island, check out my new project The Great Coney Island Spectacularium.

Image: Antoine Wiertz, The Premature Burial, 1854. Also the name of an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Image found via a blog called Rouge's Foam.

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

Modern/Contemporary Art and the Curiosity Cabinet, Conference, Seton Hall University, New Jersey, February 5th

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm

For the curious (sic) among you: On Saturday, February 5th I will be presenting a short lecture as part of the very intriguing looking "Modern/Contemporary Art and the Curiosity Cabinet" conference hosted by Seton Hall University. Lawrence Weschler--author of one of my all time favorite books, Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder--will be giving the keynote address on “A Natural History of Wonder;” my piece will examine the revival of private cabinets of curiosity as explored in my Private Cabinets photo series, from which the above images are drawn. I will also talk a bit about my own Private Cabinet experiment, The Morbid Anatomy Library.

This event is free and open to the public. Full line up and schedule follows; hope to see you there!

Modern/Contemporary Art and the Curiosity Cabinet

10-10:30: Coffee

10:30: Welcome (Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Seton Hall University)

10:45-11:45: Lawrence Weschler, Keynote address: “A Natural History of Wonder.”

11:45-12:15: Kirsten A. Hoving, Middlebury College, “Thinking Inside the Box: Joseph Cornell’s Cabinets of Cosmic Curiosity.”

12:15-1:15: Lunch

1:15-1:45: Melissa Ragain, University of Virginia, “Wonder as a Way of Seeing: Gyorgy Kepes and the Center for Advanced Visual Studies

1:45-2:15: Matthew Palczynski, Philadelphia Museum of Art, “Organizing the Curious Damien Hirst”

2:15-2:45: Patricia Allmer, Manchester Metropolitan University (UK), and Jonathan Carson & Rosie Miller (artist collaborators), University of Salford (UK), “Playing in the Wunderkammer”

2:45-3: Break

3-3:30: Joanna Ebenstein, Morbid Anatomy Library, “To Every Man his Cabinet or The Morbid Anatomy Library and Cabinet and the Revival of Cabinets of Curiosity.”

3:30-4: Roundtable with artists, led by Jeanne Brasile, Seton Hall University

4-5:30: Reception

You can find out more here and get directions by clicking here. This symposium is being produced in conjunction with a new exhibition called Working in Wonder at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University; You can find out more about that by clicking here.

All of the photos you see here are drawn from my Private Cabinets series; you can see the full collection by clicking here; the first two images are from the collection of Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe-Gowan; the bottom image is from the collection Evan Michelson of Obscura Antiques (and also more recently the television show "Oddites.")

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

Elan was recently asked: Your workers or your private jet..guess what they chose?

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

A quick note: This month has seen me suffer a lot through the loss of my favorite feline Squeaky. This was predated with our failed efforts at using veterinary medicine to save him. I will be writing about this and my plans in detail. In addition, new deadlines and an extremely tight schedule are making posting quite tough!

Elan: This name means eagerness and it turns out, the Irish pharmaceutical company chose to turn it into irony...

Companies like Elan are a staunch reminder that nothing has changed. Business, is as usual - an old boy's club. All everyone did was hold their breath for a little while and now, we are back to business. It doesn't matter that Boston Scientific just needs to pay $196mn. for the Guidant mess. Yeah, don't hold your breath with the lawsuit the Justice Department has filed.

It also doesn't matter that J&J's quality problems haven't found a bottom yet.

And yet, Elan comes out swinging as the worst. As it turns out, not only did they fire a bunch of their R&D folks, but flew on their private jet to let investors know how they are "saving money" and "on track" for 2011 growth..!

The result?

One irked investor claimed that while this was troublesome, Elan was a great company with a great molecule. Bravo!

Of course I could go on and on about the need for ethics and shareholder activism, but I thought I would just stop here, and rush back to dinner giving you some pause for thought..

"Do you really think pharmaceutical and medical device companies are going in the right direction?"

No, this is not about innovation that the President preaches, as if all that is holding innovation back is people's desire to jump out and start sketching on the white board...

Can companies survive, let alone thrive with such poor ethics and morals?

Until next month...

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

Thermostable endoglucanases in the liquefaction of hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Thermostable enzymes have several benefits in lignocellulose processing. In particular, they potentially allow the use of increased substrate concentrations (because the substrate viscosity decreases as the temperature increases), resulting in improved product yields and reduced capital and processing costs. A short pre-hydrolysis step at an elevated temperature using thermostable enzymes aimed at rapid liquefaction of the feedstock is seen as an attractive way to overcome the technical problems (such as poor mixing and mass transfer properties) connected with high initial solid loadings in the lignocellulose to ethanol process.
The capability of novel thermostable enzymes to reduce the viscosity of high-solid biomass suspensions using a real-time viscometric measurement method was investigated. Heterologously expressed enzymes from various thermophilic organisms were compared for their ability to liquefy the lignocellulosic substrate, hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw. Once the best enzymes were identified, the optimal temperatures for these enzymes to decrease substrate viscosity were compared. The combined hydrolytic properties of the thermostable preparations were tested in hydrolysis experiments. The studied mixtures were primarily designed to have good liquefaction potential, and therefore contained an enhanced proportion of the key liquefying enzyme, EGII/Cel5A.
Endoglucanases were shown to have a superior ability to rapidly reduce the viscosity of the 15% (w/w; dry matter) hydrothermally pretreated wheat straw. Based on temperature profiling studies, Thermoascus aurantiacus EGII/Cel5A was the most promising enzyme for biomass liquefaction. Even though they were not optimized for saccharification, many of the thermostable enzyme mixtures had superior hydrolytic properties compared with the commercial reference enzymes at 55 degreesC.

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

The downfall of science and the rise of intellectual tyranny

Posted: February 6, 2011 at 6:14 pm

The very reputation of so-called "science" has been irreparably damaged by the invocation of the term "science" by GMO lackeys, pesticide pushers, mercury advocates and fluoride poisoners who all claim to have science on their side. It seems that every toxin, contamination and chemical disaster that now infects our planet has been evangelized in the name of "science."

Where "science" used to be highly regarded in the 1950's, today the term is largely exploited by pharmaceutical companies, biotech giants and chemical companies to push their own for-profit agendas. Actual science has little to do with the schemes now being pushed under the veil of science.

To make matters even worse for the sciences, many so-called "science bloggers" have been revealed to have financial ties to the very same companies whose profits are shored up by their activities (

Rather than defending any sort of scientific truth, science bloggers have become the internet whores of Big Pharma, Monsanto, pesticide manufacturers, chemical companies and toxic mercury factories. There's hardly a dangerous chemical in widespread use today that the science bloggers haven't venomously defended as safe and effective. Many are just blatantly paid off by corporate entities to run around the internet pushing GMOs, chemicals and vaccines. Read more...

Immunice for Immune Support

Recommendation and review posted by G. Smith

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