Monday, December 07, 2009

I'm on a boat

One of the first things Dr. Bill Bass asked during his lecture aboard the Volunteer Princess was whether anyone in the audience had seen "The Blind Side." He hasn't but knew the movie has a scene that mentions dead bodies in Neyland Stadium. In the film Kathy Bates' character frightens Michael Oher by misrepresenting the UT forensic anthropology program. She tells him that there are body parts buried under Shields-Watkins Field. In reality, the bones of 7,000 individuals are stored in cardboard boxes in the anthropology department offices in the recesses of the stadium's structure. The body donors were reduced to skeletons across the river at the Body Farm before taking up residence in the stadium. Other than that one scene, the movie is amazingly fantastic.

The purpose of the book signing cruise was to help raise funds for the Dr. William M. Bass Building Fund. I attended as a guest of the Bone Zones team that organizes Jefferson Bass events.

The tag line for the presentation was "when your days end, our day begins." Dr. Bass told us about the history of the Body Farm, the life cycle of the blow-fly and the four stages of decomposition: fresh, bloat, decay and dry. A familiar face popped up on screen during the slide show. I saw pictures of the same man decomposing when I took the FBI Citizens Academy class on forensics. I whispered to the lady next to me to keep an eye on the screen during the bloat stage. At that point the dead man looked a lot like John Goodman.

I have interviewed Dr. Bass several times and heard many of his forensic anecdotes. A new one on me was the story of a victim in Morgan County. On the way back to Knoxville with the body in the back of the vehicle, Dr. Bass and his team stopped off at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. When they returned to the parking lot, their car was surrounded by a cloud of flies.

Dr. Bass' good friend, Dr. Al Hazari of the chemistry department, is mentioned on page two-hundred-and-something of "Death's Acre." The Bone Zones crew had the great idea to get him to autograph that page. As he signed a stack of books, he talked about the Forensic Chemistry Summer Camp for Middle Schoolers that he runs every June. So many of the parents were interested that he added a spring class for Adults on Thursday nights in April.

Speaking of the Bone Zones crew, I was amused by their use of artificial joints that had been recovered from corpses. The artificial hips were paperweights and the top part of an artificial knee made for a great business card holder.

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