The Donkey Display

It’s a very creative donkey display, don’t you think?

Hard to believe they have been dead since before you were born.

That’s the hallmark of quality taxidermy you know—they look younger than you.

It’s depressing.

Actually, I once had a job working for a taxidermist.

And by job, I mean eight hours spread over two days in a basement full of freezers while wearing a gas mask and listening to Fleetwood Mac.

And by taxidermist, I mean an artist who specialized in bodily restoration.

That’s what he called it: bodily restoration.

It sounds like something on a spa menu but the reality is closer to a plate of sloppy joes…

Working for a taxidermist probably strikes most people as gross, but I didn’t mind. Embarrassing? Sure, but I was young and the money was good and I figured I had seen plenty of dead stuff in my day. What was one more raccoon?

And besides, the taxidermist was a very nice man—not like these weirdo taxidermists you see on TV who live in their parents’ basement and get off on collecting body parts—quite the contrary, he was quiet and gentle with soft voice and an immaculate work space. Lots of coasters. Cleanest mustache you ever saw. Sometimes he would talk to the animals as he worked and say things like “are you sure you want to twist your neck to look to the right? The squirrel in the tree is on the left. See here….that’s better, isn’t it?” and of course, everyone agreed the left would be a much nicer place to gaze upon for all eternity.

On the downside, he smelled strange and listened to way too much Stevie Nicks. This one time, he told me he could only install glass eyeballs while listening to Sara because it “inspires an inner serenity” which was major creepy, yet, oddly complimentary, no?

I liked to think when Stevie Nicks sat down to compose the piece, she thought, I want to write a song that entrances a man into state so serene he is fit to install glass eyeballs into the head of a bird carcass.

You know, apparently Sara was actually written about Mick Fleetwood’s first wife, but I’m pretty sure Stevie is going to change her story when she hears my theory.

Anyway, this job, with the taxidermist, would be the first of two jobs where I was hired entirely based on the appearance of my hands. The moment the taxidermist saw them he flipped them over, held them to the light and declared they were “the hands of jeweler!”

He was getting up in years and his hands were not as steady as they used to be. Stuffing and sawing were not a problem, but he needed someone with steady hands to glue individual hairs and feathers around the facial features of the deceased. See, (and feel free to skip ahead if you just ate), if you have ever seen a dead animal, you know the areas around the eye sockets and mouth are the first to decompose, and since making a dead animal look alive again relies heavily on the appearance of realistic hair, my job would be of critical importance. He made a big deal about valuing my time and my talent, which was a first for me in the workplace. It’s hard to say how much I appreciated it at the time. Hallmark just doesn’t make cards for these things.

This post has already gotten more gruesome than I intended, so I’ll spare you the details of my eight hours of bodily restoration boot camp, sufficed to say, I quit shortly after a phone call with a client in Missouri who wanted me to color match the innards of a fox to see if they would be appropriate to use in his fishing gear. It didn’t matter how much I needed the money, a girl has standards.

Blah blah blah, where was I going with this? Oh yes, the taxidermied donkeys. So last weekend, Kiki and I went to the Field Museum, which is sort of like Chicago’s natural history museum—an essential library of taxidermy species, plus a basement of archived creatures that the public never gets see. The taxidermist I worked for was always very proud to say he had several birds on display at the Field, but I won’t show you pictures of them because I cannot remember which ones belong to him. I think there was an African partridge or two. Or something. Oh, I’m a bad employee…

Photo Caption Wanted

Anyway, while we were at the Field, I saw these donkeys on display. The taxidermist was highly critical of how subjects are positioned and thought they should mimic their natural environment. I’m guessing the people at the Field Museum are of similar ilk, so I wonder, honestly; what the hell is going on here?

These donkeys—are they kissing? Are they greeting? And that one in the middle looks shocked. It sort of looks like a scene from Three’s Company with Jack and Janet smooching on the couch and Krissy just walked in from the Regal Beagle.

Or maybe it’s something else.

I can’t decide. But it’s a very creative donkey display, don’t you think?


  1. says

    LOL. Your description of working for the taxidermist made me giggle. My oldest son works for a taxidermist, well, after almost 5 years, he really IS a taxidermist. It’s a strange job, that’s for sure!

  2. says

    The donkeys are glorious indeed! Have you read Stiff by Mary Roach…quite a good read x

  3. says

    I think the guy/gal who did the display has a creative side and was tired of doing the same old same old…they are adorable and it captures their playful nature. Love it!

  4. says

    i think the middle donkey looks more like mr. roper than janet…but that’s just me. 😉

  5. says

    I just came home after a 13- hour shift full of *swearword*, *swearword* and *swearword*. This post took every ounce of grumpiness I had in me straight out and made me feel a hell of a lot better! I picture this taxidermist to be a bit like Morgan Freeman meets Gepetto. And I’m not creeped out at all, even though looking at dead animals usually makes me cry without fail, and thinking of dead animals is not much better.
    Strange donkeys, those guys- seen their stripy legs? You’re right, the display is really quite something, somebody has put a lot of love into it.
    You never cease to amaze me, Peaches, I’d expect an 80 year old to be less bursting with interesting story than you seem to be. Thanks so much for another one!

  6. says

    Okay, the “Three’s Company” bit just killed me. I {heart} donkeys.

  7. jennifer says

    i am so glad that my sister introduced me to your blog. you make me laugh… i told my sister last week “we could be friends with her” (and we are kinda picky)

  8. says

    Oh, my gravy. It is so Three’s Company that now I can’t think anything else when I look at the pic. And I can’t believe you were at the Field and didn’t stop by…we’re only an hour and a half away!


  9. Rubylew says

    Loved this post. I love these animals but they scare the bejesus out of my kids.

  10. Judith W 100 says

    um, “sort of like” Chicago’s natural history museum?

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