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It's a lesson at any age

Is the MOSI exhibit appropriate for kids? Judging from the reaction, fascination is not limited to adults.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published August 21, 2005


[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Naomi Jackson, 9, reacts to seeing a brain and spinal cord at the exhibit Saturday. She visited with a group that included seven siblings and cousins, ages 4 months to 17 years.

MOSI's president not afraid to take chances

TAMPA - Nine-year-old Naomi Jackson's eyes bulged. She pressed her nose to a glass box that contained a preserved human body, sliced from head to foot into thin cross sections.

"Ooh Aysia, look," she gasped to her 4-year-old cousin. "Look at his hand."

"What are your hands called?" asked Aysia's mother, Brandy Hughes.

"Phalanges," Aysia responded. "And your feet are called phalanges too."

The girls hovered around the display called "Transverse Human Sections," showing the body as if seen through an MRI. The human form's inner secrets, sliced and diced, are on display at the Museum of Science and Industry.

"Bodies, the Exhibition" on Saturday turned into a unique classroom for the girls, who visited with a group that included two adults and seven siblings and cousins, ages 4 months to 17 years.

Brandy Hughes, Aysia's mother, pointed out the black color to each cross section of lung.

"We're not going to smoke when we get older, are we?" said Hughes, 29, of Temple Terrace. "We don't want to get black lungs."

* * *

Before it opened, some questioned whether it was appropriate for children. The display features potentially disturbing images of cadavers, posed in a running position and kicking a soccer ball.

Would children be scared? Would they run away crying?

As the kids weighed in Saturday, exclamations of "cool" outnumbered "gross."

And it was apparently a record-breaking crowd, estimated at over 6,500, besting MOSI's previous high of about 4,000 paid attendance in a single day during the Titanic exhibit, also arranged by Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta, the promoter of "Bodies."

Earlier this week, the state board that regulates bodies used for medical research and education voted not to approve the exhibit. MOSI responded by moving the show's opening from Saturday to Thursday morning. Ultimately, the state board decided not to interfere.

* * *

MOSI is not recommending that the display be restricted to certain ages. But it does require that an adult purchase a ticket with passes for children ages 2 to 12.

And the entrance to one display comes with a precaution: the section on fetal development, which also includes unborn babies with deformities.

In the darkened, separated room, people lowered their voices to a reverent hush. They could see babies at each stage of development, beginning with a month-old embryo.

"What is spinal bifida?" asked Naomi, 9, peering around her cousins.

Her aunt, Hughes, explained the deformity.

A few minutes earlier, Hughes had been standing in a dark corner nursing her infant, Jeremiah, Naomi's young cousin. She recognized the chance for another lesson, using the displays.

"Remember when you were in the hospital, and Mommy had Jeremiah?" asked Hughes, speaking softly to her 4-year-old daughter, Aysia. "That's what came out of Mommy's body."

"When I was a baby, I was in Mommy's belly," Aysia replied.

The children exited the display quietly.

"When you see the babies, it kind of hits you," said 15-year-old Jonathan Houston of Seffner. "The fact that it was someone living."

* * *

Yet the fetal development display ranked at the top of an informal poll of what children liked best, conducted by Candace Street, MOSI's director of marketing. Street plans on bringing her oldest daughter, a 4-year-old named India.

Not everyone found everything appropriate for young children.

Rachel George, 22, mother of a 5-year-old from Winter Haven, wished the male cadavers were not so anatomically correct.

And of course, children had lots of questions: Where the bodies came from; if they were real; how people knew how the body worked. In places, some children maked squeamish faces.

"Is it scary?" Robert Edwards, 43, asked his 4-year-old son.

Nicolas Edwards nodded yes.

"Is it yucky?" the father inquired.

Nicolas nodded again.

"The spooky room" was what Nicolas called the dark room, where shiny blood vessels are illuminated like Twizzlers licorice.

"Truth is always a good thing," Edwards said, explaining why he brought his son to the exhibit while visiting Tampa from Tallahassee.

But MOSI president Wit Ostrenko expected some emotional reactions. As he directed traffic, he saw two women sitting and crying.

"It's just that kind of an exhibit. You become very thoughtful about yourself, your family, human kind."

Letitia Stein can be reached at 661-2443 or lstein@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 21, 2005, 00:49:05]


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