Image: Mad Hatter's tea party from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland alluding to the real-life symptoms of mercury poisoning suffered by workers exposed to the substance in the hat-making industry in the 18th and 19th centuries.
MYTHS and MYSTERY People throughout history have created myths; they’ve told stories about the mysterious powers of poison, but in the natural world, poisons are simply part of the daily struggle to survive. The astonishing variety of evolutionary adaptations among toxic plants and animals is at the heart of this intriguing exhibition, which also examines humans’ attempts to understand poison’s potency, how the science of detecting poison has developed, and how researchers today use venom's and other natural toxins to develop new medical treatments.
FOLKLORE Scenes from familiar stories, include the Mad Hatter’s odd behavior, as the exhibition explains, was likely inspired by real-life symptoms of mercury poisoning suffered by workers exposed to the substance in the hat-making industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not surprising, poisonous plants and other toxins can be found in the core of countless fairy tales and legends from around the world, and some of the most unlikely often contain kernels of truth. It’s a particularly child-friendly exhibition. Remember the famous scene in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which features a trio of witches, you’ll find them in the display as well.
INTERACTIVE ACTIVITY This is one of the most engaging sites; it’s the interactive section where eyewitness accounts and clues can be used to solve poisoning mysteries. The Detecting Poisons Theater requests your presence where live presenters engage the audience with stories of poisoning and forensic detection. Visitors will encounter some of history’s most puzzling poisoning cases, use clues to solve poisoning mysteries, and take part in the theater presentation to help unravel a real-world case of poisoning. The Villains and Victims section considers some of history’s most notorious poisoners and poisoning that still puzzle us today.
This is a fascinating exhibition; plan to spend the day. For additional information call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at amnh.org. The museum is located between 79th and 81st Street, Central Park west. For the educator’s Guide: amnh.org/poison/educators.