On May 14th of last year, the props department for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained emailed the Mutter Museum asking for advice on how best to cut open a human skull. Apparently, Leo DiCaprio’s character, the slaveholding villain Calvin Candie, would be slicing the cranium of a deceased slave to perform a little casual phrenology (the unscientific study of skull bumps often used to demonstrate black inferiority). So Mutter curator Anna Dhody, trained as a forensic anthropologist, fetched an old human skull, a mid-19th century “Tenon” saw, and shot an instructional video. “I thought it was just going to be seen by the prop people to help them get an appropriate saw,” Dhody said. “Apparently it was shown to the actor.” The “Django” people were determined to learn how to hold the saw correctly, but Dhody says it was more important that the handle was wooden; sterile, metal handles only began appearing after Reconstruction. Added Mutter Director of Communications (and Thomas Jefferson impersonator) J Bazzel, the museum’s also been contacted by a certain TV show set in Atlantic City in the 1920s to put together a “kind of Boardwalk freakshow-type environment.” The museum, which does not rent out props, mind you, declined.
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