At Skeletons: Animals Unveiled!, human exhibits showcase everything from evolution to ancient bone carvings to medical conditions — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Sure, those with an eye for the macabre will be intrigued by Orlando's new Skeletons: Animals Unveiled! attraction. If Halloweentown had a zoo, this would surely be the place. But it’s far more than an enclave of oddity.
Nestled into a cozy spot beneath the soaring – and arguably skeletal – beacon of the Orlando Eye, Skeletons is not just an astounding, gawk-worthy collection of more than 400 specimens, animal and human.
Rather, it’s also a tribute to the engineering inside us all, an attraction that melds a dizzying roster of -ologies (osteology, cetology, ornithology, primatology, anthropology, entomology and cryptozoology), with a liberal helping of artistic merit.
How do they get the skeletons so clean and pristine? No method matches Mother Nature's. And you can watch. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Skeletons here are configured in startling natural poses that breathe life and motion into creatures great and small: a human rider straddles a galloping horse, a raccoon plunders the spoils of a campsite, monkeys dangle from their miraculous prehensile tails, while others appear poised to spring off their branches at any moment.
What’s more, the museum is a family business, the culmination of a self-proclaimed “skull junkie’s” lifelong passion for what braces us for all of life’s impacts and challenges.
As a seven-year-old growing up in Oklahoma, Owner/Founder Jay Villemarette, Sr., found a dog skull in the woods. Instead of the more expected parental plea to leave it where it lay, Villemarette’s dad, recognizing the spark of interest, encouraged him to keep it.
A few years later, he found a cat skull to add to his collection.
Even man's best friend gets a place of honor. This sturdy skeleton belongs to the Great Pyrenese. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“The differences [and similarities] in the skulls fascinated me,” says Villemarette. “And my parents encouraged me to continue collecting skulls that I found. I even entered my collection in the sixth grade science fair and won a champion ribbon!”
He’s since come a long way, building his Skulls Unlimited business steadily and opening the virtually universally lauded Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City in 2010.
After investigating a new city in which to expand his capability to entertain, educate and inspire, all roads, he notes, eventually seemed to point to Orlando.
The collection is already huge, but "always growing," Villemarette says from beneath the epic killer whale skeleton suspended from the venue’s ceiling.
Visitors will marvel at its vastness; ample, wending exhibits belie the museum’s exterior.
The skull of the killer whale is surprisingly flat, though the fearsome teeth might be a giveaway — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“My wish list is really quite short since we have been so fortunate to acquire so many of nature’s treasures. A giant panda would be a real prize to have, along with a dugong and some of the world’s deep-ocean whales,” says Villemarette.
Animal-lovers need not balk. Most all of the venue’s specimens are sourced from natural deaths at zoos, aquariums and rehab facilities.
“No animals are killed for our museums,” the owner says.
Skeletons: Animals Unveiled! welcomes school groups at every grade level with open ulnas and humeri, as well. And while plans for Halloween aren’t firm just yet, Villemarette says there are definitely some holiday-related events in the works.
"Ever stood near a 12-foot bull elephant, or touched the tooth of a hippo?" asks Villemarette. On this African safari, you can. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
“We feel we are an attraction for all ages,” he says. “Children love to explore and look at the insides of animals they may have seen at the zoo, where adults can read and learn about animals they may have never even heard of.”
He hopes the museum can do even more than entertain and educate, but – having morphed a hobby into a successful business and two museums – inspire folks to follow their passions, no matter what they may be.
“Listen to that inner voice that says, ‘You can do this,’” Villemarette says. “And parents, if you see a spark in your child, support them to follow their dreams and hobbies.”
Owner/Founder Jay Villemarette, Sr., holds a crocodile skull. Specimens pictured here are for sale in the museum shop. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson