Choose Your Poison at Natural History Museum


Live deadly frogs and caterpillars on display; the witches of MacBeth chanting around the cauldron while the Mad Hatter enjoys teatime; and children investigating what could have killed a dog in his own yard.

This was the scene at The American Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, previewing the unveiling of on exhibit on natural poisons that opens Saturday when visitors young and old discover just how powerful a pull toxins have in all aspects of life.

“[Poison] deals with culture, it deals with history, it deals with literature,” said curator Michael Novacek before opening the doors of “The Power of Poison” to a horde of reporters.

The exhibit of the popular museum reveals how closely poison is linked to such aspects of life as murder, magic, mayhem, and even medicine, but most importantly, survival with colorful and informative displays, live presentations, and ample opportunities for visitors to interact with their surroundings.

The visitor is immediately transported to the depths of the Chocó forest in Colombia. With its fog, low hanging trees, ominous animal sounds, and limited light, this section of the exhibit displays the close link between poison and nature, even housing such poisonous animals as golden poison frogs and zebra longwing caterpillars. Yuck.

Exiting the forest, visitors encounter the three witches of MacBeth bubbling, toiling and tourbling, and the stories of Hercules and Medea projecting onto Greek urns and vases, for the next section tackles poison in myths, legends and literature, and sheds some fact or fiction to the stories. Was the Mad Hatter really mad, and can one really poison someone with an apple? Without revealing any spoilers, the answers are surprisingly yes.

Here visitors will also have the opportunity to interact with the Enchanted Book. An open book of perhaps six times the size of a normal book. Guests – especially young ones – will light up at the sights and sounds the Enchanted Book offers as they flip through the pages. But that’s only the beginning to the interactive fun, for housed in the next room is the live presentations of how poisonings works. Lively and entertaining, the show employs a healthy mix of education and humor – the performer at one point even scared the crowd into thinking she had imbibed a handful of arsenic.

“Rather than putting it in text on a panel, we have live presenters to bring it to life,” said curator of Mark Siddall on the decision to include the special presentation. “It’s not a how to book,” he added slyly.
After learning how poisonings work, visitors are then given the opportunity to play detective and investigate the cause of three accidental deaths. Using an iPad to touch various areas in a scene, guests gather clues and suspects until they’ve solved the mystery.

Visitors learn how closely linked poison is to everyday medicinal purposes in the “Poison for Good” section before exiting the exhibit and entering the conveniently placed “Power of Poison” gift shop.

The exhibit is slated to make its public debut Saturday and run through early August

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