Today’s Anomalous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
Peter the Great’s early-eighteenth-century Kunstkammer, the first museum in Russia, included living exhibitions. Peter, a giant himself at 6’7″, had a marked fondness for all anomalies, and in his museum he installed Foma, a boy whose hands and feet had only two digits apiece, and a beloved giant named Bourgeois, whom Peter tried unsuccessfully to breed by procuring a giantess from Sweden to be his wife. Both Foma and Bourgeois displayed both themselves and the objects in the museum to visitors. Although Peter’s monsters were not given curatorial authority, the Czar, who had a tender streak, apparently treasured these men as he did his horse, his dog, and his wife, Catherine. The skeleton of Bourgeois may still be seen in the Kunstkammer of Peter, although the skull on the skeleton clearly comes from another person.
The Beloved Lobster Boy Foma
Although Peter adored Catherine, their relationship was not without conflict. In a moment of fury, he decapitated the head of his own young mistress as well as the head of his wife’s lover and left them properly pickled in alcohol beside Catherine’s bed. According to some accounts, and to Catherine’s credit, she never said a word. The heads, beautifully preserved in the tradition of Dutch anatomists observed by Peter on his travels to the Netherlands, were entered into his collection only to be discarded by Peter’s grandniece, Catherine the Great, fifty years later in a fit of housecleaning. Catherine the Great preferred paintings and sculpture to natural history and decapitated heads, however eternally fresh and however historical.
Damn Catherine the Great, ruining everything with her unreasonable bias against historical severed heads!
And for those of us who doubt we’ll ever be able to make the trip to St. Petersburg to see the Kunstkammer in person, there’s a fantastic online tour that you can take. Despite Catherine, there are still a few pickled things in jars to be gawked over!
Ghastly! – Free Gasoline Edition