How we went viral: a good story, good luck and good friends

Written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer.

It all started with a story that, five or ten years ago, would have remained within the four walls of the museum and gone no further: our assistant curator found a dead mouse in a Victorian mouse trap.


The trap was behind a glass case in our store; it was not baited and it was not on display. And out of the thousands of tasty objects the mouse could have chosen to call both home and dinner, it zoned in on one of the few objects designed to kill it.

As a humane trap, the mouse is meant to be found and then released. Tragically, our mouse would have died a lonely death. Since we check our collection for pests regularly, and don’t expect our traps to be achieving their original purpose, this mouse was simply unlucky to get trapped in a time-frame between check-ups.

We thought the story was interesting and posted about it on our blog and Tumblr. Fast forward five days and it has become global, viral news.

See our other blog post for more information about the trap and an update on what we’re doing with the mouse.

Interest in our Tumblr spiked, and then rapidly returned to normal levels.

And we’re not exaggerating.

Since the original blog post, we have been interviewed by the BBC and the Canadian public radio broadcaster CBC. After featuring on BuzzFeed the story of our mouse rippled throughout the internet, ending up on The Daily Mail website, ABC, The Huffington PostI F***ing Love Science and more. We trended on Tumblr, where our post has over 3,000 notes, and have been chosen as a feature of their History Spotlight category. We made the front page of Reddit, and our imgur gallery has been viewed 374,552 times. Our blog has had 67,521 views since the original post, more than the past two years put together.

Not bad for our debut on BuzzFeed.

Not bad for our BuzzFeed debut.

We thought everything had died down by Sunday, but then news started trickling in that we were trending on Facebook across the world. And not only that, but that we were trending higher than the SuperBowl, North Korea and…Beyonce:



Suffice to say, we've never had it so good on Facebook.

Suffice to say, we’ve never had it so good on Facebook.

So what was the viral timeline of events? It all started with our original blog post, which was also cross-posted to Tumblr, and from there:

Our mouse made the 'front page of the internet', better known as Reddit.

Our mouse made the ‘front page of the internet’, better known as Reddit.

Needless to say, there does not seem to be one recipe for going viral. What seems essential, however, is recognising when you have a good story, writing it well and having nice pictures.

From there it took getting our story in front of the right person – in this case Buzzfeed’s Hayley Campbell – and then watching the dominoes of ‘clickbait’ websites fall. We also nudged the story along, soliciting a retweet from a ‘power user’ of Twitter and Tumblr, Neil Gaiman, as well as posting updates and providing different angles on the story, such as our image gallery on Reddit.

We were lucky that we had been building our expertise and capacity in social media for some years, meaning we could hit the ground running when it became obvious the story was a hit. Our online network of museum professionals and journalists was essential to its success; without Nick Booth alerting Hayley Campbell to the story, it may not have kicked off in the first place.

However, before we publish blogs from now on, we’ll definitely be asking ourselves: ‘Would we be happy if this went viral?’ In hindsight, we were glad to have explained the ethical and practical issues involved with having a dead mouse in a museum object, as well as why and how it may have happened. Trust is very important to a museum, and if this story had gone viral without us considering the deeper issues we may have suffered immense damage to our reputation. There are many other stories about the important work we do as a Museum which we’d preferred to have gone viral, but nevertheless we hope those who saw the story have learnt a bit more about conservation, the continuing relevance of museum objects and how even the smallest of tragedies can captivate the world.

The mouse is currently being prepared by our Conservator.

The mouse is currently being prepared by our Conservator.

155-year old mouse trap claims its latest victim

After logging onto their computers today, staff here at the MERL were greeted by an unusual email from the Assistant Curator:

‘There appears to be a dead mouse in this mousetrap…’

It began.

‘…which is not described as being there on the database.’


So, this retired rodent had managed to sneak past University of Reading security, exterior doors and Museum staff,  and clambered its way up into our Store. Upon finding itself there it would have found the promised land; a mouse paradise laid before it full of straw, wood and textiles. Then, out of thousands of objects, it chose for its home the very thing designed to kill it some 150 years ago: a mouse trap.

The trap itself was not baited, but this did not stop our mouse from wriggling inside and, finding itself trapped, meet its demise. The trap was manufactured by Colin Pullinger & Sons of Silsey, West Sussex and although we don’t know the exact date this one was made, the trap itself was patented in 1861. It is a multi-catch trap with a see-saw mechanism, and you can see its object record here. It is known as a ‘Perpetual Mouse Trap’ and proudly declares that it ‘will last a lifetime’. How apt.

The trap is described as 'Perpetual' and it certainly is that.

The trap is described as ‘Perpetual’ and it certainly is that.

Pests are, of course, a perpetual menace in any museum. Curators and conservators are always alert for the tell-tale signs of moths, beetles and rodents which feast on the organic materials we hold in store. Hygiene and regular cleaning are a first line of defence, as are glazed cases. Objects are also treated before storage or display to ensure anything lurking within is killed. And while our most vulnerable objects have always been cased – such as clothing and leather – the rest of our stored collection made of sturdier wood and metal was only fully glazed over last year. This mouse may have snuck into the trap before this glazing, or otherwise managed to get in while construction work has been carried out for the Museum’s redevelopment.


We have traps set for pests, but we can never catch everything all of the time. This mouse managed to sign its own death warrant before it could do any more damage, the extent of which was only a nibbled label. We will also have to determine whether this mouse was a scout or part of a larger family. Luckily, because the collection is heavily used it is often only a matter of time before any kind of infestation is noticed and nipped in the bud. This mouse was found when our Assistant Curator was in the Stores selecting objects for use in an interdisciplinary research session on the subject of ‘Animals at Reading’. Our current MERL Fellow, Professor Karen Sayer, is also particularly interested in traps as part of her ongoing research into rats and pest control and regularly views our collection.

The other end of the trap, sans mouse.

The other end of the trap, sans mouse.

For the moment, however, the mouse remains in the trap while we decide what to do with it. One option is a dignified burial, another is to desiccate it or have it prepared to remain as a permanent feature of the mouse trap for our new displays. We’ll let you know what we decide.