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2 2 4 It was a cold gray afternoon in February 2005 when the phone rang in my office. A reporter from the local paper was looking for someone to comment on the discovery of four fetuses found buried in a backyard in nearby Springfield. I hadn’t heard anything about it. He explained that the police had arrested a man on unrelated charges, and one of the man’s employees told police that the man had ordered him to bury some fetuses. The cops started digging at the site, the neighbors got curious, and someone called the newspaper. When the police unearthed four jars of formaldehyde containing human fetuses, everyone suspected the worst. Had the man been involved in clandestine activities, maybe illegal abortions? The man protested , saying he’d done nothing wrong. The fetal specimens had belonged to his father, he explained, who had been a physician at a Springfield hospital . When the father died, the son inherited them. At a loss for what to do with them—he couldn’t quite put them on the mantel, like the bottled pet in a New Yorker cartoon from the 1990s—he ordered the worker to bury them. I assured the reporter that there was probably a straightforward, unsinister explanation. Doctors had been in the habit of saving fetal specimens from the second decade of the twentieth century through the 1950s, I explained, and it would have been common for them to have a few on the shelf. There would have been many such specimens around, especially the larger ones Eight The Demise of the Mount Holyoke Collection UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 224 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 224 6/8/2009 1:49:24 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:24 PM 2 2 5 D e m i s e o f t h e M o u n t H o l y o k e C o l l e c t i o n (which weren’t interesting to the embryologists). Doctors, hospitals, and educational institutions would all have had their own collections. In fact, I told him, there were remnants of such a collection in storage at Mount Holyoke College. His story ran the next day, quoting me and including a reference to the specimens at Mount Holyoke (Flynn 2005; L.M. Morgan 2006b). A few weeks later, a handwritten letter appeared in my mailbox, addressed to me care of the long-defunct “Department of Zoology.” A Mount Holyoke alumna and retired obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Ruby G. Jackson, had seen the newspaper article and wanted me to know that she had carried fetal specimens to Mount Holyoke when she was a student. Jackson recalled transporting specimens from the Springfield hospital where she worked while she was enrolled in professor Christiana (“Chrissy”) Smith’s embryology class around 1941–42, during the war. Jackson explained that she had been an office assistant to a surgeon. She obtained “a single specimen of a young (human) embryo given me by one of the hospital lab staff,” which she gave to Figure 12. Gahan Wilson, New Yorker, October 26, 1998. UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 225 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 225 6/8/2009 1:49:24 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:24 PM c h a p t e r 8 2 2 6 her instructor. One of the surgeon’s associates, “Dr. E——,” she writes, “then began to save specimens for me, which I conveyed to Miss Smith in formalin bottles.” This was considered perfectly appropriate, she tells me. “I recall driving up with the jars and bottles beside me in the car, with no thought of being questioned—nor was I ever stopped for anything. I’m quite sure I’d have given a direct answer—‘for lab purposes’—and not been doubted.” No one ever asked her to acquire specimens, she says, “the ‘collection’ just developed” (R.G. Jackson 2005). It was a strange coincidence. Jackson’s specimens had been provided by Dr. E——, who had worked at the same Springfield hospital as the arrested man’s father, at roughly the same time. It was at least theoretically possible that their respective specimens had come from the same surgeon. Obviously, the culture of collecting fetal specimens was well entrenched there in the 1940s. The only difference was where the specimens ended up: Dr. Jackson’s were incorporated into a scientific collection, while the others became the subject of a police investigation. But the reporter’s questions...


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