A Museum of Macabre: Mutter Museum (PA)


Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Not every museum is all about fine art, antiquities, and skeletal dinosaurs. The experience of going to a museum can potentially introduce you to a number of other fascinating things as well, up to and including some of humanity’s weirder, more macabre discoveries. The Mutter Museum of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is just such a place.

What Is the Mutter Museum?

The Mutter Museum is a medical museum that houses an impressive collection of medical oddities, antique medical tools, various anatomical specimens, and wax models. The collection was originally donated by Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter way back in 1858, originally for the purpose of medical education and ongoing research.

Today, the museum is home to more than 20,000 different specimens, tools, and other items. However, only a small portion of them are on display at any one time (usually about 13%). Many of the specimens are skeletal in nature, but there are wet specimens and a variety of supplementary wax models to be seen as well. Like most museums, the Mutter Museum hosts periodic themed exhibitions in addition to the permanent ones.

Historically Significant Items

In addition to the more educational exhibits and items on display at the Mutter, visitors will also be interested to know that they’ll have access to some truly fascinating items of historical significance. Examples include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • A malignant tumor that was once a part of President Grover Cleveland. It was removed from his hard palate.

  • Slides of the brain of Albert Einstein. Currently, the Mutter Museum is the only place the public can view these.

  • Part of the thorax of John Wilkes Booth, the man famous for assassinating President Abraham Lincoln.

  • A pair of conjoined livers. The very same livers that once belonged to world famous Siamese twins Eng and Chang Bunker.

  • Part of the brain of Charles Guiteau, the man responsible for assassinating President James Garfield.

Other Sights to Be Seen at the Mutter

The above examples aren’t all there is to be discovered and experienced firsthand at the Mutter Museum. If you’re planning a visit yourself, you can also look forward to these fascinating attractions:

Adopt a Skull

Adopt a Skull isn’t just one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. It’s also just as quirky and fascinating as it sounds. The exhibit itself features a total of 139 different skulls, a collection formed by anatomist Joseph Hyrtl way back in the 19th century.

However, these are no ordinary skulls. Each comes attached to a uniquely unusual story, usually related to how the skull’s original owner passed on. For instance, one skull was part of a Finnish sailor at one point – a sailor who died of multiple gunshot wounds. Another once belonged to a world-renowned tightrope walker who died of a broken neck after a fall.

The Adopt a Skull title refers to the way patrons are encouraged to donate funds for the upkeep of the skulls themselves. For $200, you can personally fund the cleaning and care of one skull, as well as see a plaque with your name next to it in the exhibit.

Pickled Human Skin

If you’ve ever wanted to know what it would be like to find yourself looking at a jar of pickled human skin, you’ll have the opportunity to finally find out at the Mutter Museum. According to the museum’s director, Dr. Robert Hicks, the skin itself smells slightly of Romano cheese, just in case you were wondering.

Book Bound in Human Skin

Yes, there are such things as books bound in actual human skin and the Mutter Museum has one on display! As far as what the book is about, it’s an 18th century tome on conception, pregnancy, and everything that occurs in the female body during both. As far as where the skin came from, a 19th century physician got it from a woman’s thigh and used it to bind the book after boiling it in a hospital chamber pot.

Slice of a Human Face

The Mutter Museum also has a cross-section of a real human face on display. The slice itself was prepared by Dr. Matthew Cryer in the 1900s. It was meant to aid in the study of various sinus and oral conditions, including dental cavities.

If you’re planning a visit to Philadelphia in the near future, definitely don’t miss the Mutter Museum. After all, how many chances does one person get to see such fantastically macabre (and profoundly educational) sights like these?