Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green
Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner

Pompeii

As I mentioned in my Oregon trip recap post Marisa and I basically stumbled upon the Pompeii exhibit at OMSI (which is still happening, so check it out if you're in the area).

I just wanted to take a few moments and share how deeply affected it left me, which is unusual because I'm not super prone to crying, yet alone crying about people I don't know who died over 1900 years ago.

That's the cleverest thing about this exhibit, which was entirely by design i'm sure. It made the people of Pompeii into real life people not just figures from a history book.

At the start of the exhibit you stand in front of the “gates” of Pompeii, where a staff member explains what you're about to see and mentions that the “4D movie” might not be for those faint of heart (it was a very mild experience, but more on that in a moment). Then a little film plays, some dramatic music sounds, and slowly the doors open.

In you walk and you find yourself in the atrium of a typical Roman house from Pompeii, filled with ancient artifacts. Like this bust that still has some 1900 year old red paint on it:

Portrait Bust of a Young Woman

All of the sculptures had such fine detail you would have sworn they had just been made. It was crazy.

And as you walk through the exhibit they funnel you through the different parts of the town. Marisa was quite interested in the cooking utensils (of which I took no pictures). Once again, the frying pans and colanders looked like they were just bought the other day (from a high end kitchen store!).

There was even an alcove devoted to the brothels of Pompeii (the Romans did enjoy their sex). It was interesting, and didn't glamorize the life the people working there. Though there was a creepy guy who was hanging out in that section watching the brothel movie over and over again. It was odd.

Then these's the 4D movie: i.e. a regular movie about the day Vesuvius erupted only the whole room fills with smoke (water vapor in this case) and the floor shakes to simulate the resultant earthquakes.

All of this is designed to make you think about the people of Pompeii and how they were very much like you and me. They went to the market, they cooked, they had sex, they argued, they ate disgusting fermented fish sauce called garum (the Romans LOVED garum. It strikes me as completely gross), they had indoor plumbing, and heated floors. Not so different from modern folk.

And that's how they really get you in the gut with this:

Pompeii cast

A room with several of the famous Pompeii casts. Casts of what? Well, of the cavities left by the people who were smothered, and killed, by the volcanic ash. These were some of the about 2000 people who didn't get out in time, or who weren't allowed to leave.

There was a slave who archeologists think was left behind to guard his master's house. A mother holding up her child, trying to save it from the ash… and failing. A dog who was tied up in front of the house and left to die. And a man who they think had gathered up all his money and tried to escape, but he ended up dead on the street with his money next to him (the thinking being he had a fatal stumble as he was running away. Perhaps has he turned he head when a building was crumbling next to him).

It was a shocking, and very moving experience. I knew what was coming as we moved through the exhibit, and had read lots about Pompeii so I thought I knew what to expect. But I didn't. These were people, who had lives. And they all died, their last moments filled with terror and confusion. The only thing they knew was they should run as fast as they could; it wasn't fast enough.

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