The Old Museum

The shrunken head is no longer on display.

He is buried under sensitivities and recognitions.

Locked away by regulations.

They cannot return him to himself in the Amazon.

So, he lies in the attic looking toward eternity

in a locked, dusty cabinet––

where even touring groups of writers are forbidden to ask.

In 1950, he stood proudly in a glass case

on a pedestal

just inside the South Seas room.

Marked only “Bolivian Shrunken Head”.

The boy saw first black coal.

Then, shocked, and on his toes, he made out lips sewed shut

hair too long for the pruned face.

Horror to mystery to scientific curiosity.

What was he like and how did this happen?

Who would shrink him and why?

Geography, anthropology

in a rectangular room.

Gargoyle carved war clubs

and a big racket like spiked loop

to snare and spear him.

And shrink his head to hang on your hut.

Later, he would guard the top

of the wide marble stairs of a quiet

grey, concrete

mid-western Museum.

Not air conditioned,

but free for any kid

to walk in without


to pay $9.

Rectangular rooms

with glowing minerals,

stuffed birds and bison

and mastodon skeletons.

See for yourself.

And the canteens and knives

and aviator’s helmets

that our fathers and grandfathers

carried in their wars against

the Confederates and Kaisers

and Nazis.

They told us their stories

about losing a hand

in the Battle of the Bulge

or falling out of the skies over France.

And how, really,

the great General Leonard Wood

won The First War,

not ‘Black Jack’ Pershing.

Monumental, glass

with a magnate’s name,


and a coffee shop;

a view of the river

and lines waiting to view

carefully planned

traveling exhibits.

The new museum speaks

through story cards,

directional signs and docents

to those with $9

for a children’s book.



-Geoffrey L. Gillis, P.L.L.C.

The author first saw the light of day at 6:00 AM on a Sunday morning under the dome of the old St. Mary’s hospital, three blocks from the then new Old Museum.  Later Sundays, after church, lunch was at the Holly House restaurant; the foundations of which lie unexcavated under the Westminister Presbyterian Church parking lot across from the Old Museum.  It had a toy box.  After Sunday lunch, the boy expanded his Knowledge of the Universe by swimming under the whale skeleton in the Old Museum.  For free.

He graduated from the late, honorable South High School where the late Hon. Gerald R. Ford was his graduation speaker; and went on to win 3rd Prize in the 1979 Dyer-Ives Poetry Contest.  He lives on College Avenue about three blocks from the Old Museum to which he and his children used to walk.  He’s still there; but the Old Museum is gone.  He hopes the fellow whose head was shrunk got to enjoy a drink and laugh with his friends.