Freaky in Philly… a visit to the Mütter Museum

08 May

The Mütter Museum features medical oddities from the mid 19th-century and its unforgettable (or should that be “unsettling”?) exhibits include thousands of objects related to medical science (or, rather, the lack thereof in the Victorian-era). Besides a range of anatomical and pathological specimens, models and instruments, there is also an archive of medical photographs.

Established by Thomas Dent Mütter in 1856, the Museum was intended to display medical rarities. Today its collections contain some 20,000 human specimens and medical instruments from the 19th century to the present.

Upon entering, visitors are greeted by the Hyrtal Skull Collection: 139 human skulls arranged in a cabinet. Each skull is labeled as to where it came from and what happened to its previous owner. The skulls depict physical variations among ethnic groups of Central and Eastern Europe.

Remember the famous Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker? They were and probably still are featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. The twins died in 1874, after marrying and fathering 21 children between them. Their connected livers, a plaster cast of their torsos, and a chair built to accommodate the twins are on display at the Museum.

The largest human skeleton on display can be seen here — the bones of a 7-foot-6 giant from Kentucky. The Secret Tumor of Grover Cleveland is revealed (quite literally) as are the bladder stones of Chief Justice John Marshall.

The Eye Wall of Shame is a display of wax models of assorted eye injuries, such as a burned eye, an eye with a toothpick protruding from the retina, and other maladies seldom seen. Other wax models (and if you were not told they were wax you would not suspect it) feature a variety of lesions, diseases, hydrocephalic heads, and other rare pathologies.

There is an exhumed body of an obese woman whose fat condensed down into soap, and a few other bodies that are opened up for inside viewing. Quite old, the organs are dried out, but you get the idea. Note, these are not wax models, these are the real thing. Most of the exhibits are, and this fact certainly adds to the . . . excitement? of a visit. There is much much more than what is written here.

Probably the most unsettling exhibits are the remains of an unfortunate fellow whose skeleton began to develop outside his body and the grossly enlarged human colon — 27 feet long and 8 feet in circumference. Then there are the many medical instruments which would seem more at home in a dungeon than a doctor’s office.
Source: Mutter Museum – Are We There Yet?.

19 SOUTH TWENTY-SECOND STREET, PHILADELPHIA, PA 19103-3097 | PHONE 215-563-3737 | FAX 215-575-3499

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Posted by on May 8, 2009 in America


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