NEW YORK — At first there was the Headless Horseman. Now, there's an equally startling image: the skinless horseman.
But this time, he's real.
On Wednesday, the cadaver of an actual person, sitting on the body of a dead horse – both with their skin stripped away to reveal intricate anatomical structures – arrived in Times Square.
Body Worlds, a traveling exhibition of real, preserved, human bodies, put the 12-foot-tall "Rearing Horse with Rider" on a one-day display to promote its larger presentation of skinless bodies in the Discovery Times Square exhibit space. This structure will join the more than 200 specimens at the now-permanent Worlds: Pulse exhibition.
Some spectators were frightened by the flayed man and horse. Others were fascinated.
"I never thought it was a real body," says Joe Schiavone, 55, visiting New York City from Malta. "For a human being to decide to be on show like this, it takes courage. You truly have to be strong enough."
German anatomist and Body Worlds founder, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, created this display, as well as others, by using "plastination" process. In that body-preserving procedure, skin and fat are removed before bodies are dissected, placed in a set position, injected with silicone and hardened.
The horseman was a journalist and von Hagens's close friend. He volunteered to have his body put on display, according to exhibit literature. His name, as well as the names of other Body Worlds specimens, are kept confidential.
While some critics say shocking body exhibits such as this are exploitative, von Hagens and his wife, Body Worlds curator Dr. Angelina Whalley, hope observers will consider it an educational experience.
This particular display shows the muscles and organs of a rearing horse and its rider. The man holds his brain in one hand, and the horse's brain in the other hand.
Spectator Meko Lawson, 45, was at the unveiling with her husband and 13-year-old son, Maiz. She says she would bring her son to see the full Body Worlds: Pulse exhibit, which has unique displays such as a skinless man positioned as a split-legged gymnast who balances a stack of his organs in one hand.
"It's done in such a way that it's not gory, but it's a cool lesson for him," Lawson says. "How often can you see the inner workings of the human body?"
Her husband, Martin, 45, says this exhibit isn't of interest to him. He wouldn't bring Maiz to see the other bodies on display — and he "wouldn't want to be in an exhibit" like that when he dies.
Though the horseman is likely to make some bystanders' skin crawl, von Hagens and Whalley say the specimens demonstrate the inner beauty of a human body. Displays such as the blackened lungs of a smoker hopefully encourage exhibit visitors to live healthy lives, they say.
"People are very amazed and so taken by the view," Whalley says. "You see yourself inside these exhibits and you think, 'It's all about me. It's all about my life.'"