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William Libbey
William Libbey

11 Images from the American Museum of Natural History's Archives

William Libbey
William Libbey

There are plenty of awesome things that aren't on display at New York City's American Museum of Natural History. But now, anyone with the internet can get a peek at the museum's archives with its new online image database. The site features more than 7000 images from the institution's history—many of them never before seen by the public—including archival photographs, rare book illustrations, drawings, notes, letters, art, and Museum memorabilia.

There are an estimated one million images in the museum's collection, according to Tom Baione, Harold Boeschenstein Director in the Department of Library Services at AMNH. What's currently available on the site "came about organically," he says, "because we had requests for certain materials, maybe for a book project or an exhibit."

Eventually, the hope is that the museum will be able to get funding to digitize certain collections, but in the meantime, the museum's staff is digitizing negatives and other materials by size. "We could cherry pick all the good images but we figure eventually we want to have everything," Baione says. "In most cases, we have the original negative in our collection. They are stored on shelves in boxes by size, so we’re just going shelf by shelf."

To digitize the collections, negatives and lantern slides were scanned, and rare books were photographed. It's a delicate process. "The lantern slides are all printed on glass, so they’re inherently more scratchable, and many of our negatives are on glass too," Baione says. "They are handling big sheets of glass and they’re laying them down on another piece of glass so your hands are soft, and maybe your lap is soft, but all these materials around you are hard—so if you lose your grip, that image is gone." Rare books pose their own challenges: "The books don’t always want to open the way we want them to, so we have to do some tricks with the camera to get a good shot of the book without breaking the binding."

Baione talked us through a few of his favorite photos from the collection, which you can see below. "There are two words we use around here a lot: conservation and preservation," he says. "Conservation is fixing something. Preservation is making sure you don’t have to fix it. So by digitizing these images, we are preserving them because once we have a very good high resolution image we don’t have to go back to the original negative again."

1. Moving section of giant sequoia into Hall of North American Forests, 1912.

Julius Kirschner 

Bringing a section of a huge sequoia tree into the museum involved cutting it into two or three pieces, according to Baione. "I can tell by the floor where that was, and that’s kind of neat," he says. "You look at the guys who are actually doing the moving and they’re in some decidedly different kind of clothes. If you look at the guy who is holding some kind of leather, his work clothes look filthy."

2. Painting of the suggested Canada Lynx and Snowshoe Hare Group habitat, Hall of North American Mammals, 1935.

This painting of the Canada lynx and hare diorama looks quite different from the finished product. "In the diorama itself, the rabbit is taking shelter under a bush and the lynx is totally on top of him, but the rabbit has no idea," Baione says. "It did change and it’s interesting to see the thought process behind how things changed as they were being created."

3. Carl Lumholtz at granary, giant "olla", Cave Valley, Chihuahua, Mexico, 1891.

William Libbey

That big jar, Baione says, is the granary: "These cave dwelling communities would store grain to keep it dry and free from pests like rats or squirrels."

4. Girl holding bull frog, Natural Science Center, 1958.

Robert Elwood Logan

The museum still has a Natural Science Center like the one this girl visited in 1958. "They have demonstrations and live animals," Baione says. "There’s something called a discovery room where kids can go, and provided they’re here with a parent, they have specimens that kids can touch and they have reproductions of artifacts that can also interact with. There’s still lots of fun stuff for kids."

5. Hand colored lantern slide of Roy Chapman Andrews and George Olsen at nest of "the even dozen dinosaur eggs,” Third Asiatic Expedition, Mongolia, 1925.

James B. Shackelford

Lantern slides, Baione explains, are photographic prints made on glass. An artist would handcolor the slide, which would then be projected. This particular slide comes from the expedition where museum explorer Ray Chapman Andrews and his crew discovered fossilized dinosaur eggs. "Knowing Andrews, it was probably a little while afterwards—after they could clean up the mess and pose a little bit," Baione says. "It’s a little bit of a studio shot. But a good one. It was a huge deal because it was the first time something like that was discovered."

6. Installing models for the Forest Floor exhibit, 1958.

Alex J. Rota

Visitors to the museum will recognize this particular display. "The forest floor is where a lot of decomposition goes on, so in terms of ecology and nature, it is an important place," Baione says. "It’s neat to see the guy who created it in the diorama, pushing it around, getting in the right position. And it’s still here!"

7. Plant, botanical illustration by Arthur A. Jansson, with colors noted, for use in Plains Group, Akeley Hall of African Mammals, c. 1930.

The museum's dioramas are designed to demonstrate what environment an animal would have lived in, down to the plants and backgrounds (which all show real places). "In the Arts and Memorabilia section, you’ll see lots of sketches that were made in the field when they were planning some African mammal dioramas," Baione says. "They would go and make sketches of the place, but they would also collect specimens of the plant and immediately sketch them so that they could reproduce them in the dioramas themselves." While the rocks and tree bark is occasionally real, most of the plants were reproduced with paper. "They don’t want to put things in the diorama that could be attractive to insects that would go in and try to eat it," Baione says. "A lot of the vegetable matter is reproduced from paper."

8. Carlton Beil inspecting school service truck, 1950.

Alex J. Rota

Long before Internet databases, the museum still found a way to get its collections to knowledge-hungry kids: By lending out its lantern slide collections to schools, placing them in suitcases and delivering them in museum-authorized trucks like the one above. "The teacher would get a box of lantern slides with a script and then could go through one by one and discuss with the script what was going on in each of the pictures," Baione says. "They would show everything from expeditions to the far east or to Africa or South America or the Arctic. The museum had a thriving enterprise of making up these sets and delivering them to the schools. There was also a collection of miniature dioramas the size of a suitcase. These could be lent out to schools. Some had actual stuffed animals in them and others had a collection of pine cones or different types of fibers or stones so that kids could begin to be able to identify those things."

9. Green frog dissection and skeleton from Rösel von Rosenhof's Historia naturalis ranarum nostratium, 1758.

Denis Finnin

"It’s so cool that someone was able to carve that image into a piece of copper and then print it," Baione says. "That’s remarkable."

10. Alaska brown bear, specimen measurement chart for use in Alaska Brown Bear Group, Hall of North American Mammals, 1939.

Though the museum doesn't do taxidermy anymore (any that's done takes place outside of the museum), there was a point when most of it was done in-house—and to create the most accurate mounts possible, taxidermists collected reference of living animals and recorded specimens' measurements. This particular item comes from a filing cabinet of a man in the museum's exhibition and appropriate department. "These were his working files," Baione says. "They included anatomical sketches of the actual animals in the field, things from newspapers and magazines, images of the animals moving. Drawings that look like something you’d see at the wall of a butcher’s shop with all the dimensions."

Why did a taxidermist need all of this detail? Because creating an accurate, lifelike animal requires so much more than just stuffing skin. "They take a detailed measurement of the animal once it’s been collected, and then the skin comes off and then a sculpture is made in wax or clay—often with the animals actual bones inside," Baione says. "Then musculature of the animal, as sketched by the artist, is sculpted. A mold is made of that, and a lightweight cast is made of the animal’s musculature. Eyes and teeth are added and then the skin is reapplied to that cast. They’ll make a construction to make the tail stick up, there might be some cardboard stuck in ears, then install the eyes, teeth and paint the hooves. They’ll put in artificial or genuine nails. All of these tools together help the taxidermist come in and recreate that animal."

11. Hand colored lantern slide view of American Museum of Natural History, original building, New York City, 1883.

Compared to what the museum looks like now, the original 1883 structure seems pretty small. But "it’s actually a pretty big building in the grand scheme of buildings," Baione says. "If you put the museum next to your house it would seem like a shed. If you look at that building, you have to realize that you’re looking at the basement level, the first floor, second floor, third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor and the attic. So it’s really like a 7 story building. It’s skinny and part of the reason for that is it was actually a pretty sizable building at the time, and because they knew that other buildings would eventually surround it. So that was the plan."

On Monday, April 28, the museum is celebrating the launch of the site with a Slide Slam. Get your tickets here!

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Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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10 Surprising Ways Senses Shape Perception
The American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History

Every bit of information we know about the world we gathered with one of our five senses. But even with perfect pitch or 20/20 vision, our perceptions don’t always reflect an accurate picture of our surroundings. Our brain is constantly filling in gaps and taking shortcuts, which can result in some pretty wild illusions.

That’s the subject of “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience,” a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Mental Floss recently took a tour of the sensory funhouse to learn more about how the brain and the senses interact.

1. LIGHTING REVEALS HIDDEN IMAGES.

Woman and child looking at pictures on a wall

Under normal lighting, the walls of the first room of “Our Senses” look like abstract art. But when the lights change color, hidden illustrations are revealed. The three lights—blue, red, and green—used in the room activate the three cone cells in our eyes, and each color highlights a different set of animal illustrations, giving the viewers the impression of switching between three separate rooms while standing still.

2. CERTAIN SOUNDS TAKE PRIORITY ...

We can “hear” many different sounds at once, but we can only listen to a couple at a time. The AMNH exhibit demonstrates this with an audio collage of competing recordings. Our ears automatically pick out noises we’re conditioned to react to, like an ambulance siren or a baby’s cry. Other sounds, like individual voices and musical instruments, require more effort to detect.

3. ... AS DO CERTAIN IMAGES.

When looking at a painting, most people’s eyes are drawn to the same spots. The first things we look for in an image are human faces. So after staring at an artwork for five seconds, you may be able to say how many people are in it and what they look like, but would likely come up short when asked to list the inanimate object in the scene.

4. PAST IMAGES AFFECT PRESENT PERCEPTION.

Our senses often are more suggestible than we would like. Check out the video above. After seeing the first sequence of animal drawings, do you see a rat or a man’s face in the last image? The answer is likely a rat. Now watch the next round—after being shown pictures of faces, you might see a man’s face instead even though the final image hasn’t changed.

5. COLOR INFLUENCES TASTE ...

Every cooking show you’ve watched is right—presentation really is important. One look at something can dictate your expectations for how it should taste. Researchers have found that we perceive red food and drinks to taste sweeter and green food and drinks to taste less sweet regardless of chemical composition. Even the color of the cup we drink from can influence our perception of taste.

6. ... AND SO DOES SOUND

Sight isn’t the only sense that plays a part in how we taste. According to one study, listening to crunching noises while snacking on chips makes them taste fresher. Remember that trick before tossing out a bag of stale junk food.

7. BEING HYPER-FOCUSED HAS DRAWBACKS.

Have you ever been so focused on something that the world around you seemed to disappear? If you can’t recall the feeling, watch the video above. The instructions say to keep track of every time a ball is passed. If you’re totally absorbed, you may not notice anything peculiar, but watch it a second time without paying attention to anything in particular and you’ll see a person in a gorilla suit walk into the middle of the screen. The phenomenon that allows us to tune out big details like this is called selective attention. If you devote all your mental energy to one task, your brain puts up blinders that block out irrelevant information without you realizing it.

8. THINGS GET WEIRD WHEN SENSES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.

Girl standing in optical illusion room.

The most mind-bending room in the "Our Senses" exhibit is practically empty. The illusion comes from the black grid pattern painted onto the white wall in such a way that straight planes appear to curve. The shapes tell our eyes we’re walking on uneven ground while our inner ear tells us the floor is stable. It’s like getting seasick in reverse: This conflicting sensory information can make us feel dizzy and even nauseous.

9. WE SEE SHADOWS THAT AREN’T THERE.

If our brains didn’t know how to adjust for lighting, we’d see every shadow as part of the object it falls on. But we can recognize that the half of a street that’s covered in shade isn’t actually darker in color than the half that sits in the sun. It’s a pretty useful adaptation—except when it’s hijacked for optical illusions. Look at the image above: The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of gray. Because the pillar appears to cast a shadow over square B, our brain assumes it’s really lighter in color than what we’re shown.

10. WE SEE FACES EVERYWHERE.

The human brain is really good at recognizing human faces—so good it can make us see things that aren’t there. This is apparent in the Einstein hollow head illusion. When looking at the mold of Albert Einstein’s face straight on, the features appear to pop out rather than sink in. Our brain knows we’re looking at something similar to a human face, and it knows what human faces are shaped like, so it automatically corrects the image that it’s given.

All images courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History unless otherwise noted.

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