One of the most memorable artifacts that Museum visitors notice upon exploring the Pink Palace Mansion is the Shrunken Head. It sits on display in plain sight in the middle of the rotunda, and it is very hard not to stare at it and wonder: is that thing real?
The story begins with Abe Scharff, whom some may know as the owner of Kraus Cleaners here in Memphis. Abe was a world traveler who liked to collect exotic items from all over the world during his travels. He was also very generous; starting in 1940, he lent several of these items to the Pink Palace for display, including the shrunken head. The number and variety of objects varied throughout the years but the shrunken head remained.
After Mr. Scharff’s death in 1969, his wife and son, Jack, picked up a few of Abe’s items but left most of them on display at the Museum. From 1969 on, the Museum tried to gain permanent ownership of these items, but Mr. Scharff’s will was tied up in court and, therefore, nothing could be done. Finally, in 1977, Jack Scharff decided he wanted to have all the loaned items returned to him, but, as luck would have it, he agreed to loan the Pink Palace the shrunken head again in 1979. It remained on loan until just last year, when Jack finally agreed to donate it. The head will now remain on permanent display at the Pink Palace Museum, its final home.
The question still remains, though. Is this a real shrunken head? After all, people have tried to pass off imitations in the past. Abe visited South American tribal regions in modern-day Ecuador and Peru where head shrinking was a common practice. It is therefore incredibly possible that the head we have on display is the real deal.
For those Museum visitors with a morbid curiosity, we have posted the process that “headhunters” go through to get a finished shrunken head. Even if you don’t want to know all the grisly details, you should still go check out this fascinating item for yourself. Though the practice itself is dark, the culture and history behind the artifact is no less profound.