The Wood County (Ohio) Historical Center and Museum has struggled with how to treat a controversial artifact a long time in its possession: a set of severed human fingers in a jar. Collected from a murder scene in 1881, “The Fingers in the Jar” have become a popular piece of the museum’s collection but for problematic reasons. This article traces the artifact’s life from creation to lurid objectification and proposes a new interpretation that recognizes its profound moral value. Such provocative exhibits can generate critical moral reflection and thus the museum is exploring ways to present these controversial human remains despite ethical concerns. Displaying them in a humanizing, pedagogically sound way fits squarely within the museum’s updated mission to promote social justice. The museum can offer a pathway toward public education on domestic homicide in all its brutality, historically and today.
The Finger Saga: One Museum’s Quest to Turn the Macabre into the Meaningful
Rebecca Mancuso is an associate professor of history at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she teaches courses on Canadian history and US history. A native of Bowling Green, she returned to her hometown after earning her PhD at McGill University in Montreal. She served on the Wood County Historical Society board of trustees for seven years.
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Rebecca Mancuso; The Finger Saga: One Museum’s Quest to Turn the Macabre into the Meaningful. The Public Historian 1 May 2018; 40 (2): 23–42. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2018.40.2.23
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