Medical and pathological exhibitions draw reactions from visitors, ranging from cool, sad or disturbed to disgusted at the taste of the display. However, with exhibitions like Body Worlds breaking all visitor records and popular TV serials like CSI popularizing forensic science, we seem to have come to terms with the facts of what lies beneath the skin.
The Mütter Museum of Human Pathology in Philadelphia, PA, often called the Mutter Museum, was established after physician and member Thomas Dent Mütter donated his collection of medical specimens and artefacts to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858. The Museum’s aim is to the present day to “provide a place for both medical professionals and the general public to learn about medicine as both a science and as an art.”
Specimens like these conjoined twins, shown at the International Academy of Pathology (IAP) in Montreal in 2006, can be found at the Mütter Museum as well.
In response to negative reactions after posting the picture above, photographer Ed Uthman rightly pointed out: “Keep in mind that one of the reasons that surgeons today have successfully separated conjoined twins is that they carefully studied specimens of this type.”
The museum has quite a few famous specimens such as:
Colon Man and…
The former was afflicted with what we now know to be Hirschsprung’s disease. His colon was 8 ft and 4 in long and weighed 40 lb! Unfortunately, doctors then – without x-rays and MRIs – could not diagnose what was wrong with him and so Colon Man died, aged 29.
The woman with the horn was a washerwoman who lived in Paris in the early 19th century. Her condition, if odd, was not life-threatening as simply extra tissue – the same material that hair and fingernails are made of – gathered in one place and came out in this attention-seeking fashion. We’re sure it didn’t do much for her social life but apparently, she didn’t go out much anyway.
Indeed, for medical students, it is the pathological samples on display that are the most fascinating, for example, the late stages of a disease like a tumor. Luckily such things are quite rare to see in real life, or even in a doctor’s lifetime, so those interested have to visit specialized museums like the Mütter for an in-depth look.
According to the guidelines of the 18th century when the Academy of Physicians was founded, Christians could not donate their bodies in the name of science. Thus, the doctors of the time had to find unwilling “volunteers” among those who had no choice: murderers, robbers, thieves, deserters, prostitutes, gypsies and others. Ironically, those once living on the fringes of society got preserved for eternity.
On display are also old medical records of procedures like the lobotomy below. We just hope that this is an old one as it looks positively painful, especially to the eyes.
The museum is open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm and over the holiday season, will be closed only on New Year’s Day. So if all the Christmas spirit gets too much, you can just dash over to the Mütter for a sobering look at life.
Apart from more useful information about the different collections and the museum history, on the Mütter Museum’s website, you’ll find a link to the latest episode of “No Bones About It”, with the museum’s director and various experts in history, medicine, pathology and other fields through the museum.