Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect that the exhibit's run has been changed from Jan. 5 to Jan. 14.
"Bodies Revealed" has been in Hartford before. In 2007 and 2008, the educational exhibit of real human bodies spent a few months at the then Hartford Civic Center. Dr. Roy Glover, who prepared many of the bodies, remembers well.
"I got there and there were thousands of screaming girls everywhere. I thought they were there for me," Glover joked. "But they were there for Hannah Montana. ... She had a concert in the Civic Center that evening."
The exhibit is back in town in a more appropriate place, the Connecticut Science Center, which didn't exist in 2007. There since September, the exhibit continues through the holidays giving those who've missed it so far a few more weeks to catch the fascinating display of whole bodies, and parts of bodies, meticulously prepared and "plastinated" to highlight the different anatomical systems and to graphically show what healthy looks like, and what unhealthy looks like.
"Looking at a real body is like looking in a mirror, examining your own body, trying to be more in touch with it, more of a caretaker of it and respect it to the degree that you don't abuse it," Glover said. "We're not trying to make medical students out of our visitors. But it's important to make them more diligent, conscientious and careful. The body is the most precious gift they've been given."
The exhibit teaches about anatomy in a way that would not be possible without real bodies. "It's like lifting the hood of a car," said Hank Gruner, vice president of programs at the Science Center. "We're lifting the hood of us. You come away with a real understanding of the complexity of the human machine."
But Gruner said some visitors are queasy. "They are real bodies. You have to come to grips with that," he said. "But once you get used to that, there is a certain level of respect. These are real people."
The exhibit is divided into sections reflecting the different anatomical systems: skeletal, muscular, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, reproductive/urinary. Each features full bodies and cross-sections of bodies. The exhibit closes with a gallery of bodies that have been treated, with pacemakers, replaced hips, etc.
An optional gallery near the end focuses on fetuses. "Some people might not want to go in there," Gruner said. "We created two paths, so you don't have to if you don't want to."
The exhibit also seeks to educate people about the consequences of unhealthy lifestyles. Alongside a healthy set of lungs sits a set of smoker's lungs. Alongside a healthy liver sits one ravaged by cirrhosis.
Next to the lung display is a clear plastic box with about a dozen cigarette packs in it. Museum spokeswoman Tracy Shirer says the museum didn't put the packs in there, but that they were dropped into the box by visitors grossed out by the black, shriveled lungs, who decided to kick the habit immediately.
The exhibit also shows what happens to a body when other health emergencies occur. A healthy brain sits in a display case next to the brain of a person who has had a massive stroke. The terrifying black blotch in the center of the unhealthy brain would make any person run out and get his blood pressure and heart rate checked.
Brains atrophied by Alzheimer's, cancerous, thrombosed and congested spleens, lungs with emphysema and intestines with ulcers sit beside healthy specimens. "We call this a 'disassembly line'," Gruner said.
On a recent weekday, among the thousands of school visitors, students from Dolan Middle School in Stamford walked through the exhibit. Each one came out impressed.
"I liked the part about what happens to organs when you get sick," said Max Westerman. "They don't tell you that in school."
Katy Aillery liked the fetal exhibit. "The babies were so small," she said. "And they kept getting bigger and bigger."
Katie McDonald said the bodies being real "creeped me out," but she got used to it and liked the digestive exhibit the best. "It's cool to see where the food goes," she said.
A few years ago, there was debate about where the bodies came from. Premier Exhibitions develops many scientific and historic exhibits, including "Bodies Revealed" and the associated "Bodies: The Exhibition." The "Bodies Revealed" section of Premier's official website does not indicate where the bodies come from, but the "Bodies: The Exhibition" section does. "The full body specimens are persons who lived in China and died from natural causes. After the bodies were unclaimed at death, pursuant to Chinese law, they were ultimately delivered to a medical school for education and research. Where known, information about the identities, medical histories and causes of death is kept strictly confidential."
Glover added that some body donations are voluntary, and those donors specify that they consent to be used in an educational exhibit. Sometimes, the survivors of a dead child or adult will release a body to Premier Exhibitions. "A family may make the decision to donate the body of family member because they don't have the financial resources to plan a funeral," he said.
Glover said to ease donors' fear of being recognized, all facially identifying features are removed in the preparation of the bodies. "We remove most of the skin from the body. Most of us identify ourselves with our skin, what we see on the surface, our facial features," he said. "We reassure people that although muscles and nerves and blood vessels are there, the real identifiers of who a person is are lost."
BODIES REVEALED continues at Connecticut Science Center, 250 Columbus Blvd., until Jan. 14. The exhibit is sponsored by Connecticut Joint Replacement Institute at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $19, $16.50 seniors, $14 ages 4 to 18, free for members and children 3 and younger. Details: www.ctsciencecenter.org.