Right before my very eyes was the stuff of horror movies. A nine foot long human colon which had contained over 40 pounds of human waste was lying there in a glass cabinet having been removed from a man in 1892 suffering from Hirschsprung’s disease.
But this particular exhibit is just the tip of the iceberg at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum because it’s jam packed with all manner of anatomical specimens and medical oddities. It’s not for the faint hearted that’s for sure. There is for example the rather gruesome body of the Soap Lady, whose corpse turned into a waxy fat used in soap, or how about the malignant tumor taken from President Grover Cleveland’s mouth or even the joined liver of the Siamese twins Chang and Eng.
Funnily enough, rather than just being a catalogue of macabre exhibits, the museum is actually an important chronicle of our medical past. For a start, it is situated in the very venerable halls of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and was originally created to educate future doctors on human medical anomalies. Thomas Mütter himself was a surgeon of some note and on his retirement, donated his personal collection of pathological materials to the College. The collection today has over 20,000 objects and they are quite a unique journey through anatomical medicine.
Stretching over three floors, the museum’s permanent collection is complemented by additional temporary exhibitions including a detailed account of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The College itself dates back to 1787 and within its library there are some of the oldest and rarest medical books to be found anywhere in the World. It really is a quite extraordinary collection. It is possible to make an appointment to see the library, however the Mütter Museum is open from 10am to 5pm every day.