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Life on the Body Farm

April 20, 2017

When Mary Scarborough wrote the lyrics to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in 1923, she probably didn’t have a research facility in mind. She wouldn’t find cows, chickens or pigs at “The Body Farm” – just scores of rotting human bodies, covered in maggots.

The Body Farm (officially known as the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Facility) was the brainchild of Dr. William Bass, a Forensic Anthropologist from Kansas who helps law enforcement agencies estimate how long a person has been dead. Determining the time of death is crucial in confirming alibis and establishing timelines for violent crimes.

After 11 years of watching human decomposition, Bass realized how little was known about what happens to the human body after death. So, he approached the University of Tennessee Medical Center and asked for a small plot of land where he could control what happens to a body, post-mortem.

Bass’s Body Farm drew the attention of readers in 1994 when popular crime novelist Patricia Cornwell featured it in her book of the same name. In her book, Cornwell describes a research facility that stages human corpses in various states of decay, in a variety of locations like a wooded area, the trunk of a car, under water or under a pile of leaves – all to determine how human bodies decay under varying circumstances. read more

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Last Chance Undies

May 11, 2016

When I was a kid growing up in southern California, I’d try to escape the blistering summer heat by playing in the sprinklers on the front lawn or floating submerged in a public swimming pool until my fingers turned to prunes. I counted those hours under water as part of my daily hygienic practices. My mother didn’t.

At that age I didn’t know that the reason they chlorinated the water so heavily was because my classmates were peeing or Hershey squirting in the water. It looked clean to me. The way I looked at it, as long as I spent every day under water, I could go the entire summer without having to bathe. Since that time, I’ve learned a lot about good hygiene practices, but have committed to only a few. It’s not that I have anything against being clean – I just have better things to do with my time than shower, wash my hair, brush my teeth and clean underneath my fingernails.

I wasn’t interested in girls while in grammar school, so I wasn’t particularly concerned about how I smelled. To be honest, I was completely oblivious to it. On occasion, I was known to turn my T-shirts inside out to get a few more days wear out of them before they were candidates for the laundry hamper. Walk into any 6th grade classroom and you’ll get hit with the same smell: a pungent mixture of body odor, crayons and peanut butter sandwiches with a little bit of urine thrown in. It’s called the smell of kids. read more

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Let’s Get This Potty Started

January 11, 2016

I was in my early 20s, when I decided to take a break from the tedious life I had created for myself and spend a summer in Munich, Germany. Ever since I saw Leni Riefenstahl’s epic documentary of the 1938 Olympic Games, I wanted to experience for myself what it would be like to pole vault in Bavaria.

With barely $500 to live on, I realized that I’d need some way to support my trip, so I hit the straβe looking for work. After several days, the only thing I could come up with was an administrative job in the United States Army Post Exchange Headquarters. It wasn’t the greatest job I’ve ever had and certainly didn’t satisfy my desire to be immersed in German track and field, but it paid for my round airfare, and still left a little spare time to explore southern Germany on the weekends.

One day, during the height of our busiest season, my American co-workers and I began to notice how much time the German nationals were taking for “restroom breaks,” leaving us with the lion share of the work. Since it’s pretty hard to argue with someone over their hygienic practices, I wrote an imaginary memo from the Commander of the Post Exchange System to get deadbeats thinking before taking their 10th restroom break of the day. I forged the Commander’s signature, posted the memo on official letterhead and distributed it throughout the Exchange Headquarters. It read something like this: read more

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