Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Big Dipper and Flying Skull

Charissa Ruth is a freelance educator working primarily in museums. 

Here's what she had to say about her tattoos:

I love museums (as do probably most people who work in museums). To me museums are a reminder of just how amazing the world we live in is. 

My family didn't visit too many museums growing up, but we did make it our business to stop into Civil War battlefield sites and old churches whenever possible. My dad is both a church historian and a Civil War buff. 

I was first introduced to the image of a skull with wings in the many cemeteries we visited as part of our old churches field trips. The skull with wings was a popular symbol used on tombstones in colonial America and was known as "Death's Head." For that time, death was a much more regular occurrence and it had not yet become popular or acceptable to use more flowery or sweet images such as flowers, cherubs, and crosses. I like this practical approach; death comes for us all so let's face it head on. 

The Big Dipper constellation also has historical significance. For those familiar with the history and stories surrounding the Underground Railroad, the Big Dipper constellation was a trick for finding the North Star which pointed North and North meant freedom.

The people who traveled that road as well as the "conductors" and people who offered shelter knew the risk involved- fines, violence, repercussions. If families or individuals were found aiding runaway slaves, homes were burned, families ostracized, disowned, possessions seized, jail time was served Everyone involved lived in fear of being discovered. 

And yet, the Underground Railroad covered hundreds of miles and helped untold number of people. Like those persons who hid Jews during World War II, they did a courageous thing. They harbored those that were hunted. They overcame their fears and their doubts to put others before themselves. Others who may never be able to pay them back, others who they may never see again.

So for me, the constellation is a reminder to be brave. When the chips are down, when it really counts, will I also rise to the occasion to do what's right? Will I also be able to look death in the face if need be?

Both tattoos done by Ryan Roi at Triple Diamond Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY. 

Photos courtesy of Jon Mayer

Want to share your own story and tattoo?
Email Beth: bredmondjones (at) sdnhm (dot) org or Paul: info (at) orselli (dot) net.

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