Mary Roach’s Stiff includes a particularly captivating chapter on the University of Tennessee’s Body Farm. As I read, I recalled a Patricia Cornwell novel (or five) that also mentioned UT’s Body Farm.
I’m fascinated by the notion of a field of study related entirely to the decay of human bodies.
It’s no secret to my friends and family that I do terribly with hurting/dying human beings. War movies, boxing matches, even rough sports are avoided by yours truly. There’s some sort of physiological connection to watching people in pain – I do poorly with it. I get goosebumps, the heebie-jeebies, sometimes I get close to puking. Too much empathy? I don’t know.
But what’s interesting is that the same does not apply when I’m watching (on TV) or reading about dead bodies. I suppose it’s the fact that there’s no real empathy involved, even possible. That’s my thought, anyway. No idea if it’s true. The fact is that I can read about body farms with few issues.
A Google search reveals that, while UT had the first body farm, they no longer hold the monopoly on the study of cadaveric disintegration. There’s now a body farm maintained by Western Carolina University (NC), two in Texas – one maintained by Texas State University and one maintained by Sam Houston University, and a brand-spanking new high-altitude facility maintained by Colorado Mesa University.
UT doesn’t offer tours; I have to take a ton of classes OR become a world-renowned journalist to have a shot at stepping foot in their facility. The North Carolina Facility might be open to a visit, although I feel fairly certain they’re not hosts to curious tourists. I’d have to have a reason for requesting a tour. Sam Houston offers a few related classes but they’re closed courses, intended for law enforcement officers, high school science teachers, and college students in forensic anthropology programs. Chances are low at SHU. Colorado Mesa U doesn’t have any bodies yet, so that’s out. The only possibility to set foot on a real-life body farm is with Texas State University, which offers a ton of classes through their program. Most have closed attendance but a few are open.
I’m thinking I’ll need to be in the midst of writing a book to have a shot. There’s something to consider. Which publishing houses would accept a proposal for a book about body farms and human decay? I mean, Mary Roach kind of covered it, but surely I could add something to the conversation.
And would I actually want to write it?
Have you heard of these body farms? How would you feel about visiting one?
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