Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Juno: Womb with a View

If you grew up in Cleveland after World War II, then you knew Juno, the most under-dressed woman in the Western Reserve.  And she existed to entertain (and educate) you as she took you through a tour of wonder that is the human body.

Juno was the resident "Ooooh, Ahhhhh" display at the Cleveland Health Museum, a mandatory field trip destination for the elementary school students in the region.  The museum was housed in the once fabulous Lyman Treadway mansion on Euclid Avenue - an impressive pile of brick and mortar that the museum people abused for years.  By the 1960s it was dingy, dirty and plain old.  But it was the first Health Museum in the U.S and we were instructed to be impressed.  And, if I remember my history correct, Juno had her "Deb" year before WWII when she was described as a marvel of technology. 

How did Juno work?  As an adult looking back, the whole expirience was a bit like going to see Gypsy Rose Lee, but without the graceful movements of most stripteases as Juno had already taken everything off.  The audience (in this case school pupils) would get shuffled into a room, the lights would get switched off, the music came up and that's when Juno got turned on.  In a clear yet seductive tone, Juno's voice-over would get started and her first words to you were "I am Juno..."   As I recall, Juno did not use contractions, speaking in a measured pace, and sound very much like she had hopped Lake Erie from Canada.  And she sounded very white.

As the voice-over spoke, Juno would light up the systems being discussed in first person, no less.  "My skeleton gives my body structure..."  and "My vascular system moves nutrient rich blood to every part of my body."  A woman in the back of the "theater" (which had been the Treadway Family's dining room) flipped switches on a panel as the recorded narrative advanced.  Each flip of the switch, turned on another organ or system in the clear plastic body.  In the days before computers, this was really cool.

Eventually the show got down and "dirty" when Juno's discussion moved to her reproductive parts.  "My reproductive organs provide an egg each month..."  Her womb with a view would light up and she would tell us that "here I will carry by growing infant until giving birth in the ninth month."  This was sure to illicite a stiff warning from the teacher to remain quiet, as if that would stop the seven and eight year boys from anticpiation of what came next: her breasts.

In my youth, as I would assume they are now, boys were obessed with breasts.  The world was different and magazines other than the National Geographic which would show women's breasts were either "naturalist" magazines or "dirty" magazines that your father hid under the mattress. (Well mine did.) None of us understood at that age what purpose they served, but we were sure it had to be something other than the mundane purpose that Juno documented. A couple of the boy students had older sisters and they told tale of walking into their sisters rooms at the wrong moments and catching a glimps of this forbidden land of hills and the valley between, so every third grade boy tittered when Juno discussed her A-Cup bosoms, because third grade boys crack up whenever anyone discusses "boobies" just as sure as girls at that age roll their eyes because boys are just...the..worst!  But boys also crack up when someone farts, which Juno never got to do.

I, of course throughout this whole spectacle, was horrified

Who cared about Juno; I wanted to know: where was the naked man?  Where was the clear plastic naked man?

In my mind, Juno should have have been dressed in a smart wool suit from Peck & Peck.  I wanted to see a naked man. Specifically, I wanted to see Robert Conrad from the Wild Wild West up their naked, and just for me alone.  I didn't know why.  I just thought it should be so.

But of course, back then you couldn't show a naked man, with skin or without, because their was something filthy and taboo about a naked man in society: his penis.  In films, it is the nude woman who was first shown in mainstream films because the male dominated civilization that we live in see's beauty (another cloaked word for "lust") in the naked female form.  But to show a man's penis? That, in the minds of the men who controlled the world, would be a perversion, as no man ever wants to see another man's penis.  Surely showing a naked man would have lead to the fall of civilization as we know it.  And this is why we had Juno instead of Julius. 

So while the girls got the low down from Juno, this let the boys at a physiological deadend since we had no room for a womb, and no desire for a bump out. If you wanted to know about what being a man was about, you were told to ask your father.  What could be so simple and so terrifying? We all know how many boys wanted to get into that awkward situation, so we taught each about sex based on rumor.  All sorts of theories flew about.  We knew women had babies, but how it got there was a mystery.

The mechanics of sex weren't nailed down until fifth grade.  That was when the Mercer School's very own living breathing version of a fetish named the "Loebster" - who was disgusting I should add - announced that in a very smug manner that "Your father...your mother....and then they...and its called #$%@ing...oh"   he said in his own digusted way of delivering news.  You just wanted to smack him.  It was bad enough that he was probably right, but his head, which was way to large for his boney little body would swell to monumental proportions whenever he was the first one with any news about anything.  He was very good at lording things over you, which is how I came to drop him on his head one day in sixth grade - but I'll save that story for later.

Anyway, this news brought a universal denial from just about everyone, because our parents had taught us that what was down there didn't really exist and that no one wanted to see yours anyway

"My parents would never do anything like that," we'd all insist.  But Loebster insisted he was right.  So I asked my friend Sharon Hicks and she said "Shut up."  So I asked her brother, Scott, who was older and in seventh grade, and Scott said it was true.  The Loebster was right.  Ewww GROSS!  I could never look at my parents again - it was just too creepy for words to think that know...gross!

Anyway, by the time naked man came to the museum and joined Juno, I was old enough to outgrow the charade that was the Cleveland Health Museum and its tired old displays.  And at the same time the naked man appeared, Juno got a make over so she would match him.  What emerged was the same old same old, but with thick black lines inside the clear plastic to deliniate muscular regions of the body.  The black lines also hid some of the more overtly explicit parts of the display.  While they were still see through naked, there was less to see through.

But you can't go there anymore.

The museum which had built an addition on the front of the Treadway Mansion in the early 1960s, tore it down and replaced it with another, larger, riot proof building in the early 1970s. This left the Treadway mansion regulated to the back portion of the enlarged building where it huddled like an embrassment to the organization.  The museum soldiered on into the 1990s, abusing the Treadway mansion's elegant design, putting nothing into it, but willingly taking from it at every opportunity..

In the late 1990s, CHM announced that they would tear down the whole thing, and from the rubble would rise a new building, bright shiny and *NEW* because *NEW* is always "more better" than old.

And this is where the Cleveland Health Museum suffered the wraith of the ghosts of the Treadway family who exacted their revenge on the organization for trashing their former, elegant property.  The big shiny new building turned out to be a giant white elephant.  Mired in debt, and unable to boost attendance, the organization folded in the early 2000s and sold the shiny new building to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

And Juno?  She, and the rest of what was by then called "Cleveland Healthspace" ended up at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where she has once again been reconfigured.  Still at work iand in her seventies, Juno now has her arms are up raised in what looks to be a sign of surrender, and she is still, woefully under-dressed.

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