Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Museum for the Morbid

I'm in the process of writing a post on the next major disease - Alzheimer's - but in the meantime I thought I'd introduce you to a fascinating museum in Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum. That's Mutter with those little dots over the "u" (umlaut I believe it's called!).

I hadn't heard of the Mutter Museum until my Dear Husband gave me a marvelous book about it for Christmas one year.

The museum is a part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and was founded in 1858 as a repository for medical oddities to help educate the budding physicians at the college and enlighten them about human anatomy and anomalies.

As described on the College's website, the museum was founded by Thomas Dent Mütter, retired Professor of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College. He donated his own collection of specimens to The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The collection comprises over 20,000 objects, including fluid-preserved anatomical and pathological specimens; skeletal and dried specimens, medical instruments, memorabilia of famous scientists and physicians; medical illustrations, photographs, prints, and portraits.

The objects displayed include:

The plaster cast of the torso of world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang & Eng, and their conjoined livers (yes, their ACTUAL livers);
Joseph Hyrtl's collection of skulls;
Preserved body of the "Soap Lady";
Collection of 2,000 objects extracted from people's throats;
Cancerous growth removed from President Grover Cleveland;
and the tallest skeleton on display in North America (7' 6").

You may think I might not have appreciated my husband for having chosen a book about this museum as a gift for me. You would be wrong. Being the hypochondriac and medical junkie I have always been, I loved it. It was my favorite Christmas present out of the past decade!

As a child I used to find medical books in my parents' bookcases since they were both medical writers. I reveled in paging through these tomes, which came with photographs of people with bizarre diseases and deformities. The pictures considerately had black bars across the eyes on the faces of the unfortunate sufferers so no one would guess their identities. The Mutter Museum photography book was right up my alley.

The book includes photographs of many of the most grotesque exhibits from the museum, including the liver of Chang and Eng, mentioned above. There is a woman with a horn sticking out of her head. (Yes, people really do develop these things). And there are even photos by the famous photographer William Wegman, known for his trademark photographs of Weimaraners.

I have not yet visited the Mutter Museum but intend to do so at some point, sooner rather than later!


david santos said...

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Mauigirl said...

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