The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is hosting an unusual, unique and fascinating special traveling exhibit that explores the roles that poisons play in nature, human history and health (not to mention, murder). “The Power of Poison” runs from now through July 24.
With sections entitled subjects like “Poison in Nature” and “Myths and Legends”, this intriguing, interactive exhibit takes visitors on a trip across different lands and times to learn how poisons have served as a lethal weapon, a defense mechanism and even lifesaving healer in some cases. Visitors will enter the exhibit through a recreation of Colombia’s Choco Forest where they will be able to view some live animals like the golden poison frog which secretes enough poison to kill 10 men and Giant Silkworm caterpillars which can pierce the skin and cause uncontrollable bleeding. In addition, there is information about butterflies and birds which secrete poisons.
A special Ohio-themed section displays various poisonous plants that are native to the state. Be sure to stop by the touch-activated Enchanted Book where you can learn all about various toxic plants (that magically appear on the pages) and their effects. At a mini theater, you can catch a presentation (every 30 minutes) where you get information about how chemical tests were first used to detect arsenic poisoning.
At an interactive display, visitors can play detective (or should I say, forensic toxicologist) where they can find clues at three different scenarios and then attempt to solve the mystery of what caused a dog, an owl and a crew on a ship to become poisoned.
One of the more fascinating sections looks at poisons in literature and fairy tales. Visitors can view Snow White lying in her glass coffin after eating the poisoned apple, the three witches from “MacBeth” stirring potions in their caldron (“Boil. boil, toil and trouble”) and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from “Alice in Wonderland.” By the way, the phrase “mad as a hatter” was based on a real disease that hat makers got from mercury poisoning while processing animal fur for felting.
Other literary mini displays explore the use of poisons in the works about Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter and from famed murder-mystery author Agatha Christie who used poison as her weapon of choice in 28 of her novels.
Visitors can also learn about historical figures like Chinese Emperor Qin who consumed vast quantities of mercury believing it would make him immortal and Cleopatra and her poisonous asp that she supposedly used to commit suicide. Visitors can also see a collection of charms and amulets (and even dishware and glassware) used by people for protection and to ward off the chances of being poisoned.
Ending on a positive note, “The Power off Poison” also explores how toxins from plants, trees and animals are being used to create medicines to heal people and treat diseases. The poisonous bark of the yew tree is being used to create the cancer-fighting drug Taxol. The venom from a Gila monitor can lower blood sugar and is now used in drugs to treat Type 2 Diabetes and the anti-clotting agent in the saliva of vampire bats can possibly protect against strokes.
Hours for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Wednesday and noon – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to “The Power of Poison” exhibit is included with general admission to the Museum which is $14 for adults, $10 for seniors and $10 for youth (3-18). Admission for Museum members is free. There is a fee for parking in the Museum lot.
For more information about “The Power of Poison” or about the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, call 216-231-4600 or get online at www.cmnh.org. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is located at 1 Wade Oval Dr. in Cleveland, Ohio.