As a child, there was nothing better to me than a museum. I grew up in San Diego and loved immersing myself in the depths of our Natural History, Science, and Art Museums. Giant dinosaurs, fossilized trilobites, mummies and hidden history. Museums are the world of wonder made accessible to all people.
As a lover of horror, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles was going to be opening an exhibit called: THE NATURAL HISTORY OF HORROR. The exhibit featured the science behind some of our horror royalty such as The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, The Mummy and Dracula. Each of these mesmerizing and larger than life characters surprisingly have roots firmly grasped in real parts of history.
Milicent Patrick, who was a renaissance woman, designed the costume for The Creature. Looking to real reptiles and extinct amphibians, she created one of the most iconic creature creations of all time. The exhibit gives you a look at some of those reptiles, a reproduction of the suit and head that were graciously donated by the lovely Micheline Pitt and the lore behind monsters of the deep.
One of the first books I remember really scaring me was Frankenstein. Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley, is over 200 years old. This legend of horror, in both page and screen, has been mesmerizing audiences for generations. The science behind Frankenstein stems from the work of Luigi Galvani, a 19th century scientist who experimented with animal electricity.
The Mummy has also had an amazing run on stage and screen, inspired by the 1922 opening of Tutankhamen’s Tomb which had been untouched for over 3,000 years. The Mummy is a call back to the great days of exploration and intrigue with the culture and mystery of Egypt. Boris Karloff emerging from his tomb walked off of the screen and into our fears!
If there is a King of Monsters, it would certainly be Dracula. Bram Stoker published his novel in 1897 and from his idea, a million versions of this character, and what it means to be a vampire, were born. But did you know that the plague, rabies and all other forms of disease were blamed on Vampires? Graves have been found bearing the artifacts of a vampire slaying, and old world Vampire Kits were commonplace.
Each exhibit features not only memorabilia donated from Universal Pictures and the NBCUniversal Archives and Collections, but also the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles’ collection on amazing donated props. I asked Jeff Pirtle, the Director of Archives and Collections at NBCUniversal, what was one of his favorite things that had been found while working in Archives and Collections. He said the original mold for the Wolfman mask and Gregory Pecks jacket from To Kill a Mockingbird. Can you imagine what historic cinematic treasures are still waiting to be found there?
Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, the President and Director of The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, said in her opening remarks, “We also study History and specifically, the History of Los Angeles. So we are uniquely able to tell the story about the History, Culture and Science behind the Monsters, and how these horror films were inspired by the natural and physical world. We’re excited to showcase objects from the horror movie image collection, along with scientific objects and specimens that inspired these iconic monsters. The Natural History Museum was founded in 1910 as The Museum of History, Science and Art. We began collecting and exhibiting artifacts from the Motion Picture Industry in the 1930’s.”
This is a wonderful exhibit for the month of October, but even beyond that it’s a lovely exhibit for any time of the year. For the lovers of film, you’ll be able to really take your love a step deeper knowing the science behind the stories. For those with young eyes, you can introduce a whole new generation to the history of these horror legends.
Running from October 10 – April 19, 2020, the museum will also be offering Fright Nights, an in-depth look at the science behind the movies with “Unrequited Love with The Creature from the Black Lagoon” on Friday, February 14, 2020, “Monster Fears with Frankenstein” on Thursday, March 26, 2020, and “All Wrapped Up with Mummy” on Friday, April 10, 2020. For more information on THE NATURAL HISTORY OF HORROR, or to purchase tickets, visit nhm.org/natural-history-horror.