25 Medical Oddities On Display At The Mütter Museum
The collection of Dr. Thomas Mütter begat this funhouse of morbid curiosity, and currently houses over 20,000 specimens of medical abnormalities.
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Staff at an anonymous medical school found this jar in a closet, which contains a stillborn conjoined twin study specimen from the 19th century. They donated it to the Mütter Museum.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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During a cholera outbreak in 1849, members of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia preserved and examined specimens of intestines from cholera patients, and in 2013 this strain was finally identified.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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These human hands from the 19th century collection of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter show the effects of a condition called gout – an ailment Mütter suffered from himself later in life. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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This embalming kit dates from the turn of the 20th century. Before then most Americans regarded embalming as a pagan custom but during the Civil War when soldiers were dying far away, freelance embalmers performed this pricey service in order to bring the bodies home. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Genital warts strung like a necklace for easier study in the lab by doctors in the 19th century. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Parts of Einstein’s brain ended up with researchers all over the world but for decades after its 1955 removal, pathologist Thomas Harvey kept his Einstein brain sections in two mason jars within a cider box.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Circa 1870, this heirloom medical tool set for post-mortem dissection was passed down through generations of physicians in the Leavitt family of Philadelphia – and donated to the museum in 1975.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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A skillful anatomist cut away the outer bone layers of this child’s skull (with normal tooth development) to show the structure of the adult teeth sometime before 1941. The donor is unknown. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Dried hands are part of The Grimm’s Anatomy exhibit at the Mütter Museum, reiterating the morbidity of the fairy tales that spawned the child-friendly versions we hear today. Harry Fisher/Allentown Morning Call/MCT via Getty Images
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This Esmarch inhaler anesthesia kit contains a glass flask, inhaler, and tongue forceps; these were popular during the 1840s in Great Britain and the United States for military and civilian use – even up to the 1950s.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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This wax model is an important medical teaching tool from the 1800s, and shows the ravages of late-stage syphilis on human flesh. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Museum-goers may balk at this full, human large intestine from 1892, but the dried organ is filled with stuffing, not old waste; it represents congenital aganglionic megacolon – or chronic constipation – which the sufferer (coined “Balloon Man”) died from.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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A jar of dried human skin, donated in 2009, belonged to a 23-year-old Caucasian who saved skin she peeled off her feet; it serves as a visual representation of the mental disorder Dermatillomania, the compulsive need to pick at the skin. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The tools in this set were used for bloodletting, a medical practice used extensively in the United States until the mid 19th century to supposedly prevent or cure diseases.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The Mütter Museum houses a collection of painful-looking eyes modeled in wax (purchased in 1882 from the Paris firm of Maison Tramond) as a teaching tool for medical students to learn how to diagnose eye conditions. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The Mütter Museum acquired these human skulls from Viennese anatomist Joseph Hyrtl in 1874. Hyrtl’s attempt to counter phrenology claims led him to collect 139 of them. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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This carbolic acid steam atomizer, developed by Lord Joseph Lister (1827-1912), produced a cloying, sweet-smelling cloud of atomized germ-killing carbolic acid that soaked the surrounding area – even the surgeon.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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A wax model of a mysteriously appearing human horn (cornu cutaneum) which was successfully removed after six years of growth from Parisian widow Madame Dimanche in the early 19th century.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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Pennsylvania laryngologist Chevalier Jackson (1865–1958), used this cloth doll named “Michelle,” with a child-sized trachea and esophagus to demonstrate his non-surgical techniques for removing foreign objects from the throats of children.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The mother of these 19th century twins had hydramnios, a condition where one fetus crowds out the other; upon the healthy birth of one boy, a tiny, compressed second fetus was revealed in the placenta, which is studied for clues about fetal development.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The Soap Lady is the name given to this mummified woman whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875; unique because a fatty substance called adipocere encases the remains – essentially turning her into soap.Harry Fisher/Allentown Morning Call/MCT via Getty Images
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During the Civil War, many soldiers’ amputated limbs or bodies got buried, but Union surgeons managed to save some for research purposes; here are a partial pelvis and a right hand originally prepared for the Army Medical Museum in Washington, DC.Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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A donated ovarian cyst weighing 74 pounds when it was surgically removed in 1865. Surprisingly it is not the largest cyst recorded – an astounding 182-lb cyst was removed from a Shanghai woman one year prior in 1864. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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The family of Dr. Benjamin Rush donated his heirloom medical chest. Rush was a premier physician practicing at the Pennsylvania Hospital from 1783 until his death in 1813. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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This wet specimen of a colon infected with Dysentery (severe diarrhea with bleeding) – a common ailment in the late 19th and early 20th century – was for lab study. Mütter Museum of Philadelphia
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25 Medical Oddities On Display At The Mütter Museum
Connoisseurs of the medical macabre have likely heard tales of the legendary Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pa. This world-renowned wonderland of weird is filled with anatomical oddities, pathological specimens, human curiosities, and vintage medical instruments.
Inside the creepy yet clinical Mütter Museum, skeletons of all shapes and sizes reside – as well as President Grover Cleveland’s jaw tumor, deformed babies in jars, and preserved organs of all kinds. While its contents may resemble a mad scientist’s funhouse, the museum’s roots actually pay tribute to one of the most humane, respected, and talented surgeons in history.
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter’s unique empathy as a young surgeon garnered many loyal patients. The good doctor was inclined to help even the most hopeless of cases; those with drastic disfigurements that most people considered “monsters”.
During his career, Mütter amassed a large collection of research materials, like medical oddities and anomalies. These are what first populated the museum upon its opening in 1863.
Inside The Mütter Museum
It started with 1,700 objects and the famed doctor’s donation of $30,000. The museum has since grown to over 25,000 specimens.
There are both permanent and special exhibitions, including the Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia.
This exhibit explores war injuries: how to treat them and what it was like experience them. It comes complete with an interactive opportunity to see what it would be like to have an arm amputated.
Of all the exhibits in the Mütter Museum, the Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits might be the most emotionally wrenching. It contains letters, surgical tools, and samples of weaponry designed to rip the human body to shreds.
Another popular exhibit at the Mütter Museum is Grimm’s Anatomy: Magic and Medicine, that delves into the more disturbing side of the iconic fairy tales. For example, the exhibit explores how German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s version of Cinderella draws visceral parallels to the tradition of Chinese foot-binding.
“So many of the Grimms’ fairy tales deal with the corporeal human body, whether dealing with sicknesses or a magical transformation or the various unpleasant things that can happen to the body,” curator Anna Dhody tells The Metro West Daily News. “Quite often, there is no happily ever after.”
The Mütter Museum is aware of its macabre draw but makes sure that its visitors walk away more educated than they came in. The Mütter Museum couldn’t have said it better themselves on their website: “Are You Ready to Be Disturbingly Informed?”
Next, check out these haunting photos of insane asylum patients from the 19th century, and then find out about 13 of PT Barnum’s most famous sideshow oddities.