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House of Horrors

Exploring the world of weapons-grade goat milk and alcoholic rodents

Author Sara Button Illustration Peter Oumanski

globetrotting2PITTSBURGH – Freckles, a taxidermied goat, stands on a small patch of Astroturf at Pittsburgh’s Center for PostNatural History, greeting visitors as they browse the oddball specimens at this storefront institution in the city’s Garfield neighborhood.

“Postnatural,” according to the folks who run this freakshow, refers to “living organisms that have been altered through processes such as selective breeding or genetic engineering.” Freckles, who died in 2012 at the age of 10, was genetically tinkered with so that she would produce a super-tough spider-silk protein in her milk, to be used in things like body armor. The pioneering goat’s previous home, says Lauren Allen, the center’s co-curator, was a disused weapons bunker.

As worrying as all that might sound, Allen insists the center is merely a place for cataloging living, preserved and documented postnatural specimens, and is not passing any judgments. “We don’t say ‘This is good’ or ‘This is bad,’” she says, standing a few feet away from a stuffed “alcoholic rat,” which stares out from its case with a suitably forlorn expression, and a fluffy Silkie hen that has a couple of extra toes and is purported to have black meat underneath an abundance of saleable feathers.

But not all of the animals here are so exotically grotesque. The museum also contains an aquarium filled with pretty little GloFish, their skin as bright as the Vegas Strip. When asked where the center acquired these particular specimens, Allen replies, “Petco.”

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