Bones about It

Dec 22, 2010

Charles Martin, Oklahoma Gazette, 12-22-2010 » Page 40


Bones about It!


With all creatures great and small, the new Museum of Osteology is America’s only skeleton museum.

Museum of Osteology

10301 S. Sunnylane



Families hungry for a fun, brainy afternoon outing now have a new option with the opening of the Museum of Osteology in southeastern Oklahoma City. Featuring an impressive educational return on a measly $5 admission fee, the 7,000-square-foot site bursts with an exotic menagerie of skeletons from all manner of creatures, including a hovering humpback whale and a who’s who of the extended human family tree.

More than 300 skeletons reside in impressive displays offering an informative tour through the vast structural differences in the animal kingdom. From tiny bats to towering giraffes, the lovingly assembled collection opened Oct. 1 as a labor of love for museum founder and curator Jay Villemarette, who has collected and sold bones since 1986 as part of Skulls Unlimited.

We can tell which exhibits are the most popular by which have the most fingerprints.

—Jay Villemarette

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, but I married young and had kids young, so I didn’t have the opportunity,” he said. “This is my way to be a teacher and to give back. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with skulls and skeletons, and decided to take it one step further.”

Displays on two floors already are filled with an impressive cross section of what Mother Nature has to offer, but Villemarette said that the place will always be a work in progress, as hundreds of other skeletons are planned for inclusion.

Some of the skeletons come from his personal collection, while others, like the whale, were provided by the U.S. government for display purposes, since private ownership of marine mammal remains is illegal.

A few of the larger land mammals stand on the museum floor, like a hulking rhinoceros, with no velvet ropes holding back visitors.

“Touching is going to happen, but I believe the people that visit our museum will be respectful and won’t tear up stuff,” Villemarette said. “Most people think the rhino horn is made of wood, but that is the real horn and we want people to have the opportunity to touch a rhino horn, because that is something you can’t do in most museums. We are also planning on featuring a longhorn and putting the skull on a swivel so you can turn the horns upside down.”

To him, the form and function of bones make the exhibits fascinating. One can find a centipede-like anaconda and a long-spined otter, or even sort out the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between humans and their close cousins, such as gorillas, orangutans and other primates.

“We can always tell which exhibits are the most popular when we clean the glass and we see which exhibits have the most fingerprints,” Villemarette said. “By far, they are most intrigued by the forensic pathology, the humans and the primates. They also like the raccoon eating the Milk Duds.” Another interesting addition is a display featuring the museum’s tiniest volunteers, beetles working diligently to ready new bones for exhibition.

“The beetles are what clean the majority of our skeletons,” Villemarette said. “Under normal circumstances, it will take about three to five days for the beetles to clean a specimen, something the size as a bear skull, but it will take longer for the beetles in the display because we had to keep the colony small. Otherwise, it’d smell really bad.”

He admitted that the low admission price means the Museum of Osteology, open Mondays through Saturdays, will not make back his initial investment in his lifetime, but the nonprofit organization wasn’t meant to be a moneymaking venture. To help offset costs, a gift shop sells skulls to patrons, from mink skulls at under $30 to a human skull for more than $2,000. Villemarette said more exotic skulls like lions sometimes become available, but not often, since the shop will not sell any skeletons from poached animals.

“Depending on the species, many of our skeletons come from zoos, government agencies, from the wild. No animals are destroyed for their skeletons, though,” he said. “Most of our human remains come from body donation programs. Believe it or not, there are more rules that govern animals than humans.”