The concept of object permanence follows you from cradle to grave. As infants, humans learn that an object removed from view still exists, and as adults they fight to affirm their own permanence. They strive to delay aging and death, try to hide mortality behind makeup, seek to establish a lasting legacy, or outright deny that that life ends when the object known as their body permanently stops working.
In fact, human brains seem hardwired to insist that lost limbs still exist even when an amputee can see that they don’t. Oxford University neuroscientist Tamar Makin estimated that “80 percent of amputees experience phantom pain,” which may result from the brain continuing to represent an appendage long after it’s gone. So it makes total sense that when Canadian Mark Holmgren lost an arm in a nasty accident, the thought of throwing it away was so painful that he insisted on having it preserved.
The grim keeper
As the CBC recounts, at the age of 17, Mark Holmgren grievously injured his right arm and shoulder in a motorbike accident. Nerve damage left the limb permanently limp, so he had it amputated. However, he couldn’t bear to part with his arm entirely. “If I was going to get rid of it, I wanted to do something cool with it,” he remarked in an interview. He drew inspiration from Halloween decorations and resolved to have a taxidermist preserve the skeletal remains.
Five taxidermy requests resulted in five rejections, but the sixth time was a charm. Danielle Swift, director of the Alberta-based company Legends Taxidermy and Skull Cleaning, agreed to grant Holmgren’s wish. Though she often rejected requests to stuff dead pets, a human arm somehow didn’t cross the line. Swift explained, “I get the feeling of not wanting to lose a part of yourself.” Flesh-eating beetles feasted on the dead arm, and the bones were bleached and pieced back together, guaranteeing that even in death Holmgen’s arm would hold onto object permanence.
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