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A smell, but for a good reason

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life, Feature.
June 12, 2012
 

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Earlier, I took you to Guthrie’s Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

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Skulls Unlimited has been cleaning bones for more than 2 decades. They’ve become one of the leading dealers, selling mammals, birds, and all types of animals. Just recently, they made their collection public, showing off the best of the best, and Josh Villamerette, one of the workers at the company, took me through their newest addition. It’s Part 2 of our series this summer, Oklahoma Revealed…

Past the scattered boats in a storage yard, and past car parts strewn about the front lawn of the auto collision repair center lie a couple of buildings with sandstone brick and a well manicured front lawn. Still, the building’s design isn’t too different from the office of Kustom Auto Repair just up the road. It’s a nondescript box, a glorified warehouse. What’s inside is unique.

“We’re America’s only skeleton museum. Actually in North America, we’re the only museum solely dedicated to the skeletal process.”

The Museum of Osteology in south Oklahoma City is just one big room, two floors of skeletons tucked behind glass. Let’s be clear, it’s not a sketchy place despite its less than ideal location. I mean, there’s track lighting all through the museum. The exhibits are sparsely decorated, with tiny signs that explain what you’re seeing…

“These are really white, really clean looking bones.”

“That’s right. My father he’s perfected the cleaning process, we’ve been 26 years into making and we kinda do it perfect now.”

“Is there a recipe?”

“Pretty much, but it’s a trade secret.”

To get those bones that clean takes work.

On Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs a couple years ago, host Mike Rowe witnessed how a decaying carcass becomes a museum quality skeleton.

And that explains why the museum is where it is. Down a two lane highway, with nothing except heavy industry surrounding it.

“We’re kinda thrown out here in the middle of nowhere due to the smell that this company produces. And then we outgrew our single building and had to build this one and it only made sense to build our museum out here.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to put up with that stench. Only clean air in the 18 month old museum. The double doors swing open, and hovering over your head are the bones of a 40 foot humpback whale. Just a couple steps forward and you meet a giraffe, and then towards the back, a gorilla. Or there’s the specimens found right here in Oklahoma.

“Here’s an actual raccoon skeleton and most often you kinda see a raccoon and what are they doing in the wild, they’re usually getting into your trash so the skeleton here is actually digging into a Milk Duds container, kinda ripping it open.”

“Up here, you can actually see our state bird, the scissor tail fly fly catcher. He’s hanging up here on the wall with his scissor tail that people kinda recognize him by.”

This is a museum, but for some visiting, it’s also a playground. If you were a ten year old kid, how would you be able to control yourself surrounded by so many things you had only read about?

“Of course we try to tell them to keep their walking shoes on and their inside voices but you can’t really handle that. Luckily, this is a pretty open museum.”

Josh’s dad was once one of those kids fascinated by bones. He first found a dog skull in the woods when he was 7 and made collecting his hobby. Now, 26 years after he turned it into a job, there’s a reality he and Josh and the rest of the staff confronts every day because of their location. How nervous do they get when they hear a tornado warning?

“Ahh, just a little bit. Insurance only covers us so much. But ah, this is a priceless collection, it took a lifetime to collect everything. It’s here while it lasts at least.”

This is part of our series “Oklahoma Revealed” all summer here on KOSU. Where should we visit? Tip me off on twitter: @BenAllenKOSU, through Facebook, or through email: ben@kosu.org.

One Response to “A smell, but for a good reason”

  1. You should go to the Wichita Mountains and eat a Meers Burger (closed on Tuesdays).

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