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Alas, Poor Howard! A Fellow Of Infinite Thrift!

, , | Healthy | March 13, 2021

On a break between classes, I decide to browse through a thrift store up the street. It’s shortly before Halloween, so there’s the usual assortment of worse-for-the-wear stuffed witches and sequined black cats… and then, between a bag of fake cobwebs and a dented plastic jack-o’-lantern, I find a human skull. A real one.

It’s been prepped for anatomy classes, with the jaw hinged and all the cranial sutures labeled, so my guess is that someone just assumed it was another Halloween decoration without bothering to look any closer. I immediately grab it; I’m a medical student with a deep sense of the macabre, and I’d love nothing more than to have a human skull to put in my office someday. Now, the question is whether it’s legal for me to have it and whether bringing a skull home would bother my boyfriend.

Five minutes of frantic Googling informs me that it’s perfectly legal for a private citizen to own human body parts in my state, but it’s illegal to sell them without a license. Given that the skull is in with the Halloween decorations and already showing a few cracks from rough handling, I decide that’s a risk I’ll run, and I text my boyfriend.

Me: “I found a human skull in a thrift store. It’s $4. I’m pretty sure they thought it was a Halloween prop.”

Boyfriend: “Did you just stumble into a murder mystery? I don’t want to have to rescue you from mysterious kidnappers.”

Me: “No, it looks like an anatomy class skull, so it probably wasn’t a murder victim. Would it bother you if I bought it?”

Boyfriend: “As long as it’s not murder evidence, go for it. That used to be really important to someone; it seems wrong for it to be sitting on a shelf for $4.”

Having gotten the okay from my boyfriend, I grab a cheap towel to cushion the skull and finish looking through the store. There’s a huge stack of outdated dentistry books from the 1960s and a few gummy, faded classroom models of teeth and jaws one shelf over, so my guess is that the skull used to belong to a retired dentist and was donated and put up for sale without anyone noticing it was real. As soon as I get back to campus, I take it to one of my professors. He confirms that, yep, it’s real, and tells me that based on the facial structure and the way it’s been prepped, it’s probably a male from the 1940s. My professor also points out a couple of signs of disease-related bone damage and asks if he can borrow the skull during the class unit on tuberculosis.

My boyfriend and I have named the skull Howard. He lives on our mantlepiece and visits the class with me once a semester. I do not regret buying him.

This story is part of our Best Of March 2021 roundup!

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