Philadelphia has a pretty awesome mayor named Nutter. Nutty.
You know what’s really nütty? The Mütter Museum.
Not for the weak-stomached, this is honestly one of the most fascinating museums I have been to. A collection of oddities like no other, the museum which is part of the Philadelphia College of Physicians began with a large donation of specimens by none other than Dr Mütter himself. What used to be a great learning ground for would-be doctors, this 19th century fascination could today be viewed merely as a carnival freak show if it weren’t for the very thoughtful curation.
And a freak show it definitely starts out as. You walk in and you’re immediately drawn to jar upon jar of diseased feet and hands and tongues and tumors in jars. Then you see enlarged intestines the size of a boa constrictor. More conjoined twins than you think are possible (most in fetus-form). The actual post-mortem plaster cast of Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins, AND the liver that joined them together. You see pocked syphilitic skulls. You see John Wilkes Booth’s foot. It just goes on and on and on. Of particular interest to me:
- Human leather. You got it. And this wasn’t actually an oddity of the era. A 19th century fad, some people had the skins of their deceased loved ones tanned and then used the leather (most often) to bind books. There was a book displayed, bound in human leather, that was actually an anatomy book! There was an elegant human leather wallet. At the end of the case was a long long strip of the leather, and when you looked closely, you could see it was a whole human leg. Inscribed upon it was the name of the deceased, dates, etc.
- Soap woman. An odd phenomenon. Natural human mummification that takes place in particularly humid climates. There is a process by which we are broken down into a soap-related substance. When this mummification takes places, it’s only partial. It’s extremely rare that it’s complete. And here was one full naturally-created mummy. A woman. Who when x-rayed was found to be around 40, had a congenital childhood disease, had a broken jaw (took place shortly before or after death), and had two four-holed buttons at her wrists.
- Hundreds of skulls, categorized by country, gender, age, and cause of death. Amazing! The more I looked at them, the more differences I started seeing. When you look at bones, you think, heck, they’re just bones, white, pretty much the same. But these skulls. The eye sockets are shaped and angled differently. Eyebrow ridges are different sizes and angles. The “faces” even have expressions. They started resembling Commedia del’Arte masks. Seriously
The gift shop. No kidding. This has got to be to coolest museum gift shop ever. You can buy stuffed plush anatomically-correct hearts. There are soaps and candles in the shapes of skulls and hearts. There is even a soap, clear glycerin, with tiny little conjoined-twin-fetuses inside it. Ewww! I bought a key chain shaped like a nose, and when you squeeze it, snot bubbles out of it! I also got a magnet set that looks like a paper doll dress-up game – except it’s of all the organs, and they’re very real-looking. Amazing stuff. Fine jewelry – little gold (real) hearts. Fine hand-made (real teeth-mark) patterned ceramics. Go visit.