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A Dead, Decomposing Whale Once Toured the United Kingdom

a-dead-decomposing-whale-once-toured-the-united-kingdom18/10 22:30 - A Dead, Decomposing Whale Once Toured the United Kingdom
In December of 1883, a wayward humpback whale was spotted in the estuary near Dundee, Scotland. Townfolk were so excited, they decided to catch the whale. They only succeeded in killing it. But a dead whale is still exciting, and people came from miles around to see it. Surgeon and naturalist John Struthers wanted to dissect the whale and study its anatomy, but there was money to be made.Struthers measured the whale, but he wasn’t permitted to cart it back to his lab. The fate of the 45-foot, 29-ton cetacean was decided at auction, where a local oil merchant named John Woods—“Greasy Johnny”—paid £226 (about $34,000 today). It came to be known as the Tay Whale, for the body of water it had strayed into. Twenty horses hauled the carcass half a mile to Woods’s scrap yard, Williams writes. It took 26 hours.Almost immediately, Woods went into the souvenir business. He commissioned commemorative photographs of the whale, Williams writes, “whereby the dull surroundings of the yard were replaced by a scenic view of the Silvery Tay, with rail bridge and a sunset on imaginary hills.” And he began charging for views. On a single Sunday afternoon, 12,000 visitors paid to gawk. In a town of 200,000, some 50,000 turned out to see the whale. “Enthusiastic visitors even jumped on the whale’s back and did somersaults on it!” Sedakat says.Woods was eager to wring every possible penny from the whale, even as it decomposed over time. He allowed Struthers to dissect it piece by piece, which lightened the load until Woods could take the carcass on the road. And every day it smelled worse. Read about the extended afterlife of the Tay Whale at Atlas Obscura....


 
 

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