When working in rivers, the opportunities to stumble upon eerie, creepy sights are endless.
Searching for freshwater mussels is kind of unnerving in-and-of-itself, as you submerge yourself in murky water up to your neck to grub around the sometimes icky, gooey streambed for clams, but the holy grail is a severed doll head.
Malacology mythology of the sacred baby doll head
There is a modern-day folktale surrounding the discovery of a severed doll head in a stream. Never mind it’s a subtle reminder of the loving, compassionate days of a child’s favorite toy that is now lost with haunting stories of abandonment. If you happen to discover the lonely, bodiless, soul-piercing stare of a baby doll sans its body, don’t fret – good fortune might grace your presence.
One of the first lessons taught in malacology is the sacredness of baby doll heads.
Jeremy Tiemann once rescued an intact doll from Lake Michigan, and then, a few hours later, was in the stands to see his favorite baseball team clinch a playoff spot for the first time in nearly 30 years. Perhaps because the head wasn’t severed, said baseball team lost in dramatic fashion in Game 7 of the series.
Regardless, because of this lore, the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society has a traveling sculpture of baby doll heads for auction.
Kevin Cummings, curator of INHS Malacology, successfully won the auction one year and our lab was gifted several needed storage cabinets that allowed us to expand as a premier institution in malacology.
While working as a technician in North Carolina many years ago, Alison Stodola was searching for the federally endangered Dwarf Wedgemussel when she and her supervisor stumbled upon a plastic bottle filled with a white granular substance, which was wedged in the stream bank.
They then found another one, and then another one, until they realized there were hundreds of the bottles in the creek.
Curiosity got the best of them and they poured one out (as you do), only to find a piece of paper with a crude written message: wishing death and misery upon their neighbor.
Each bottle had similar morbid messages and was filled with a scented salt… and they decided it was time to search for Dwarf Wedgemussels in another place!
There is no telling the superstitious spooky value of many discoveries like this gargoyle made by biologists in the field… but when it comes to malacologists, there is no greater fortune than finding that of a babydoll’s head.