Cholera and chicken fat at Cambridge Museum of Technology as Museums at Night 2009 epidemic spreads

By Ben Miller | 08 May 2009
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A picture of an ill-looking girl

Cambridge Museum of Technology "didn't mean to be so relevant" when they planned their disease-mooting Museums at Night 2009 bash

Cambridge Museum of Technology's cholera-focused "entertaining, informative and rather scary" account of the history of disease could scarcely have arrived at a more pertinent pandemic point, a state of affairs not lost on planners at the 1894 building.

"We didn't intend to be so up-to-date and relevant," says Events Organiser Mark Palmer, recalling the planning for their performance-based trail on "alien diseases coming in from far-flung regions."

A picture of a drawing of a Grim Reaper figure flying over diseased people

The Museum's former life as the city's Old Pumping Station saw it involved in the battle against bug-spreading. "When cholera struck Britain it was reputed to have arrived from India," explains Palmer.

"It took some time to pin the disease down to its association with polluted water, and the building that houses our museum was built as a result of the anti-cholera acts of parliament."

Horses and carts hauled Cambridge's rubbish into the Station, which Palmer calls "a remarkable piece of Victorian Green Engineering," before tipping them into burners which produced the steam to pump waste out to a nearby sewage farm.

Various characters around the museum – from pious fools who cite disease as the consequence of living in sin to the superstitious, desperate and medically-informed – will express their opinions on potential causes and cures ("mostly involving chicken fat," according to Palmer), and a make-up artist will leave young visitors "looking as though they are on Death's door." Sounds better than a dose of Swine Flu.

Night Fever runs on May 16 2009, 7pm - 11pm. Admission £3 / £1.50 (under-7s free.) Call 01223 368600.

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