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The Mutter Museum

When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to visit the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. It is a museum like no other!

Part of the curriculum of the Cooperstown Graduate Program includes three week-long field trips, where we met museum professionals, got behind-the-scenes tours, and viewed some wonderful exhibitions and historic houses. My class went to Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto.

On our Philadelphia trip, most of the class went to the Museum of Fine Arts on our “free afternoon.” But I just HAD to check out the Mutter Museum.

I walked several blocks to get there, and what I saw was nothing short of amazing!

Jars of preserved organs. A wall of skulls. Medical odditites of all shapes and sizes. It is a cornucopia of both the creepy and the fascinating!

The Mutter Museum is actually part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which was founded in 1787. The Museum was established in 1849 by Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter as a teaching tool. It is a “medical museum,” used to help educate future doctors.

Their collection contains over 20,000 objects, including 900 fluid preserved specimens, 10,000 medical instruments, 400 anatomical models, 1500 medical illustrations, and 200 pieces of memorabilia from famous physicians and scientists.

There are specimens of several different diseases, skeletal disorders, abnormal fetal development, and a host of other medical curiosities.

The Museum features a fantastic exhibit called “When the President is the Patient,” which documents the illnesses – both public and private – of our chief executive officers. Visitors learn about Andrew Jackson’s dueling wounds, and you can even see the actual tumor that was removed from Grover Cleveland’s jaw in a secret operation in 1893!

Those who grew up with the fear of polio will recall unpleasant memories when they view an iron lung, part of an exhibit on the development of the polio vaccine. The Mutter also includes a gangrened hand, and the skeleton of a woman whose ribcage was compressed by a tight corset.

There is a fascinating exhibit about the development of forensic science called “A Natural History of Crime.” And who could forget the conjoined twins exhibit? The autopsy of the “original Siamese twins” Chang and Eng was performed at the museum in 1874.

The museum is set up in what I like to call an “old school” format, meaning there is a jumble of things to see and you don’t know where to look first. Usually I consider that a negative thing, but at the Mutter, it is all part of its charm.


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