Discovering Philadelphia’s Medical History: A Comprehensive Guide To The Mutter Museum

Guide To The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia’s Medical History Museum

# Guide To The Mutter Museum, Philadelphia’s Medical History Museum

In the heart of Philadelphia lies a museum that stands out amongst the rest. The Mutter Museum, known for its peculiar and macabre collection, is not your typical museum experience. Founded in 1859 by Thomas Dent Mutter, a pioneering plastic surgeon, the museum houses a vast assortment of medical oddities, scientific relics, and human remains. With a collection of over 20,000 objects, only a small fraction of them are on public display.

Stepping into the Mutter Museum is like taking a trip back in time with its Victorian ambiance. The museum aims to normalize the concepts of death, illness, and disfigurement, showcasing the power and significance of these objects. It delves into the human condition, offering a disturbing yet informative experience.

## What To See at the Mutter Museum

Here are some highlights and must-see exhibits during your visit to the Mutter Museum:

### Soap Lady

One of the first exhibits you’ll encounter is the Soap Lady. This well-preserved mummy from the 19th century is shrouded in mystery. Her true identity remains unknown, and there are speculations that her body may have been stolen from its grave. Due to a chemical reaction to a damp environment, her body underwent a rare phenomenon known as “saponification,” turning her remains into a waxy substance. The Soap Lady’s preserved body is an eerie sight, with her mouth frozen in a permanent scream.

### Einstein’s Brain

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For those interested in the genius mind of Albert Einstein, the Mutter Museum offers a closer look at his brain. Following Einstein’s death, pathologist Dr. Thomas Stoltz Harvey performed an autopsy on his body. Dr. Harvey believed that examining Einstein’s brain could provide insights into his intellectual abilities. The museum displays several brain slides that were sectioned and preserved for microscopic analysis. Although the exhibit doesn’t offer definitive answers, it allows visitors to study the brain up close.

### Hyrtl Skull Collection

One of the museum’s standout collections is the Hyrtl Skull Collection, assembled by Josef Hyrtl, an anatomy professor and phrenologist. This collection features 139 skulls from different European locations, organized geographically. Hyrtl meticulously inscribed notes about the lives of the individuals to whom the skulls once belonged, offering a unique glimpse into their stories and backgrounds.

### Fetuses

Descending to the lower floor, you’ll come across a collection of non-viable fetuses, many displaying spina bifida. These preserved fetuses vary in their state of preservation, some dried and splayed out while others float in jars filled with murky liquid. Some of these fetuses showcase severe malformations to their brains and vital organs, reflecting the limitations of medical knowledge during the time they were preserved.

### Conjoined Twins

An exhibit featuring a plaster cast of the torsos of Chang and Eng Bunker, famous conjoined twins from the 19th century, is also a notable attraction. The twins were born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811 and gained international fame for their unique condition. They performed in circuses and sideshows, joined only through their livers. Today, advances in medical knowledge would likely enable the separation of conjoined twins with similar conditions.

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### Amputations

Throughout the museum, you’ll encounter various exhibits showcasing the aftermath of amputations. From jars filled with toes to preserved feet, these displays collectively demonstrate the diverse effects of amputation and the significant impact it has on individuals’ lives.

### Skeletons

Skeletons are a prominent feature of the museum, providing a more impersonal yet intriguing view of the human body. Among them is the Mutter American Giant, standing at a towering height of 7’6″. Suffering from pituitary gigantism, he’s recognized as the second tallest skeleton on display worldwide. Beside him stands Mary Ashbury, a woman with dwarfism measuring at only 3’6″. This contrast highlights the wide range of human physicality.

### Harry Eastlack & Carol Orzel

The Mutter Museum also pays tribute to Harry Eastlack and Carol Orzel, individuals who battled fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), an incredibly rare genetic disorder. FOP causes soft tissues to turn into bone, gradually immobilizing the affected individuals. Harry’s skeleton became part of the museum’s exhibit after his passing at the age of 39. Carol, an advocate for FOP research and support, also has some of her jewelry displayed alongside her skeleton, as per her request.

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## Conclusion

The Mutter Museum offers a unique and thought-provoking exploration of medical history. With its extensive collection of medical oddities, human remains, and scientific artifacts, it provides visitors with a deeper understanding of the human condition and the advancements in medical science. It may not be for everyone due to its unsettling nature, but for those with a curiosity for the bizarre, the Mutter Museum is a must-visit destination in Philadelphia.


**Q:** Can I take photographs inside the Mutter Museum?
**A:** No, photography is strictly prohibited within the museum premises. This rule is in place out of respect for the human remains on display.

**Q:** Are there guided tours available at the Mutter Museum?
**A:** Yes, guided tours are available for visitors who want a more in-depth experience and information about the exhibits. Check the museum’s website for updated tour schedules.

**Q:** Is the Mutter Museum suitable for children?
**A:** The Mutter Museum’s exhibits contain graphic content and human remains, making it unsuitable for young children. Parental discretion is advised.

**Final Thought**

The Mutter Museum stands as a testament to the intricacies and wonders of the human body and medical science. Its collection of medical oddities and historical artifacts provides a unique and educational experience. As you explore the museum, prepare to be both fascinated and unsettled by the displayed wonders of medical history.

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