Kidney stones the size of rocks, a black, gangrene foot on display and an unborn child with spina bifida preserved in a jar. It might not sound like the most pleasant way to spend your Sunday, but the museum that houses these items and others from medical cases is raved about in Philadelphia.
The Mütter Museum is home to a 20,000-piece collection of body parts, medical instruments and wax models dating back to the 19th century. Housed in The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, America’s oldest medical organization (over 200 years), this collection all started with a donation by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858 and has grown even since.
You’ll feel time slip back as you walk into the two story “cabinet museum” decorated in dark wood and red carpets. No white floors or blinding lights, this is nothing like the medical facilities you’re probably used to today. The first thing I see is a wall of over 100 white human skulls staring back at me from behind a glass cabinet. My body shudders.
I turn left where an exhibition is on display called “Grimms’ Anatomy: Magic and Medicine 1818-2012”. It displays medical oddities that could explain certain fairy tales the Brothers Grimm are known for, like a girl whose hair would mat into one long tail being similar to the story of Rapunzel.
After seeing this special exhibition, it was time to dig into the real collection. Those human skulls that first greeted me are a collection from around the world. You’ll find skulls from Egypt, Romania and more. Even creepier than the wall of skulls though is what’s on display directly across from it – human-skin leather. Some physicians in the 19th century would actually use the skin of their patients for wallets, book covers and more as a way of remembering them.
Downstairs, things get even more strange.
The first thing that grabs my eye is a long thick brown sort of tube. As I read the display card, I learn that this monstrous-worm like model is of a colon. A Philadelphia man who suffered from Megan Colon or Hirschsprung’s Disease, actually carried this in his body. They found that he had 40 lbs of feces in there that wouldn’t come out due to severe constipation.
Downstairs you’ll also find several skeletons, including one from a giant, severe cases of gangrene, President Grover Cleveland’s actual tumor in a jar and different cuts of the skull preserved in blocks. The most disturbing pieces though, have to be the babies preserved in jars on display. Each child has a different deficiency that happened before birth, such as conjoined twins.
I mention a few times how creepy some of the items on display here were and just the whole feel of the museum, but the purpose of this place is for research and to learn more about biology. It’s one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve ever seen. I liked looking at the odd medical cases, but it was really cool to see things that are in my body on display, and I don’t mean models. I actually saw a human heart, entire skeletons and brains from an array of species, including humans.
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter donated to this collection in the 1800s to “improve” and “reform” medical education. Almost 200 years later and the collection is still doing that for medical students, doctors and the general public.
Fast facts: The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia is located at 19 South 22nd Street in Philadelphia. It’s open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. General admission is $15. Visit their website for more information.