This could be the strangest holiday shopping attraction ever.
In Quincy Market, just up the stairs from vendors selling Christmas ornaments and holiday cookies, visitors will soon come across an exhibit of human bodies and body parts. You won’t find Santa and his helpers here.
Body Worlds Vital, a collection of more than 200 chemically preserved human body parts and 15 whole cadavers, is opening on the second floor of the market rotunda Friday. Body Worlds exhibits have been viewed by 40 million people worldwide, usually in museums or similar settings, and this is just the second time one has come to a retail location in the United States, according to its sponsors.
“It doesn’t seem quite appropriate for this setting,” said Bob Dandoy, 61, of Pittsburgh, who was visiting Quincy Market on Wednesday. “You’re bringing kids to see Santa, not dead bodies.”
The newest exhibit from Body Worlds
Some retail analysts say placing the human body display in a 271-year-old marketplace in full holiday mode is strange, but not necessarily a bad idea.
Faneuil Hall struggles to attract anyone besides tourists and bar hoppers, and the exhibit might pull in residents from the suburbs who have not visited the market in years, said Mike Tesler, president of Retail Concepts, a Norwell consulting group. And any attraction, regardless of the type, that makes the marketplace a destination again can’t hurt.
“If you threw this into the Mall at Chestnut Hill or Copley Place, you could have some legitimate concerns here,” Tesler said. “But I don’t see how it can do any damage to the current Faneuil Hall.”
Another version of the exhibit, Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion, stopped at the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill three years ago.
Joe Gold of the Gold Group, the Salem company hosting the exhibit, said he initially wanted the exhibit to return to the Museum of Science, where it appeared in 2006. He began looking at other locations when that didn’t work out. He thinks Quincy Market is a perfect fit as an iconic tourist destination in a central location that will be easily accessible to members of the educational and science communities.
And the holiday timing? Not weird at all, Gold said.
“During the holidays, people want to spend time with their family, and this is very much a cross between education and entertainment,” he said. “It also works well because as you get to the end of the year, everyone is thinking about health.”
Human body exhibits have been a source of some controversy. Some fought claims that their bodies were executed Chinese prisoners.
Gunther von Hagens, the scientist behind Body Worlds, has vehemently defended his work over the years. Gold said that all of the Body Worlds cadavers and body parts come from donors.
Body Worlds features cadavers stripped of skin. They are preserved by removing water and fats from organs and tissues, then pumping in plastic in a process described as “forced vacuum impregnation.”
The exhibit promotes health with side-by-side comparisons of a smoker’s lungs and an alcoholic’s liver to unaffected organs.
It also has a display that shows how obesity changes the body.
Some cadavers appear in sports poses, including one wearing a fake beard swinging a bat used in the World Series. Two other bodies — one wearing a Bruins helmet and another in Montreal Canadiens gear — appear to be fighting over a puck.
Body Worlds may not remind anyone of the Enchanted Village or other traditional holiday retail exhibits, but some agree it could be an engaging respite from a long day of shopping.
“It’s definitely cool that it’s so much different,” Nora Weiss, manager of the Wicked Good Cupcakes kiosk at Quincy Market. “It could inspire people in different ways.”