Cordell is in the skeleton business; his Skokie, Ill., company, Anatomical Chart, is the world's largest supplier of bones, skulls and plastic models. The supply of real human bones has been limited since 1985 when India, a major supplier, barred their export for moral and religious reasons (A few still come, mostly from France). So Cordell deals mainly in plastic simulacra made in China and Germany. His catalog also carries everything from a 44-pound vinyl heart, complete with blood vessels ($4,195), to a $9 kidney key ring, perfect for the urologist who has everything. "Gross sells," says Cordell, speaking of his gross sales.
Cordell, 48, the son of a screw-and-bolt manufacturer and a homemaker, got started in the anatomy business by working part-time while a student at Northern Illinois University for Peter Bachin, a renowned illustrator of anatomical charts and the company's founder. When Bachin died in 1970, his widow sold it to Cordell for $17,500.
Cordell expanded into skeletons, buying six real ones at a medical supply house's going-out-of-business sale. Now the company ships about 20,000 a year, approximately 12 percent of its annual $20 million in sales.
So who buys skeletons? Doctors, hospitals and medical schools top the list, followed by lawyers, who use them in courtroom demonstrations when "it just wouldn't be convenient to bring in a cadaver," as Cordell puts it. His skeletons have also appeared as props on Doogie Howser, M.D., Chicago Hope and, of course, ER. "Their stuff is almost too pretty to use in the operating room scenes," says Rick Kerns, ER's prop master.
Of course, Halloween is the busiest time, with a 40 percent jump in business, mainly from haunted houses in malls and amusement parks. And the 50-member staff gets right in the spirit, wearing spooky costumes and decorating the company lawn with—what else?—skeletons.