Now, for the final installment in the series What I Did On My Weird Vacation, let’s take a trip to the Mütter Museum.
And what is that, you wonder, mostly because I suggested you should?
Let’s check in with our good friend Wikipedia, who knows pretty much everything:
The Mütter Museum is a medical museum located in the Center City area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It contains a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. The museum is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The original purpose of the collection, donated by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858, was medical research and education. For a fee one may personally view the museum.
Which we totally did.
And worth every penny.
Now, I’m not going to include any photos of the items inside the Museum’s collection, because they seem quite fiercely protective of them.
At one point, in fact, a rather imposing looking woman leaned over the balcony and informed everyone that if anyone was taking pictures (I wasn’t), that dire consequences would follow, up to and including being featured as part of a special exhibition entitled “Tourists Who Wouldn’t Listen.”
I decided to listen.
I took this picture from the OUTSIDE. They don’t seem to care too much about that.
However, if you google images on the Museum, for example by clicking here, you’ll get quite an eyeful on the subject – possibly more than you ever really wanted.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Despite the rather – uh – unusual nature of the collection, however, its intent is and has always been quite serious and educational, and the museum delivers that message very clearly with its somber, library-ish ambience.
In fact, there are even a few books here and there, if you can overlook the fact that they’re mostly bound in human skin.
Some of the Museum’s prize exhibits include a postmortem cast of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng, as well as their preserved conjoined livers.
There is also a nine-foot-long human colon, a stunning collection of skulls displaying various anomalies, and an absolutely fascinating exhibition on the assassination of President Lincoln, including actual bits of John Wilkes Booth.
What more could you ask?
Oh yeah – there’s also evidently yet another portal to the Twilight Zone (though not lard-related this time, thankfully).
Here’s Ryan, who probably got that suit at the gentleman’s boutique he also co-owns. No, really. Anyone else feeling vaguely inadequate?
Remember how I mentioned that I had been vaguely hoping to run into Ryan Matthew Cohn of the Discovery Channel series Oddities, but couldn’t, because the shop where he works in New York was currently moving?
You know you do.
I’m sure you couldn’t sleep at night for thinking about it, right?
I can’t say exactly why I wanted to meet him, really, except maybe to be in the direct presence of his über-coolness for a minute, and to say something along the lines of “Hey, I think your artwork is beautiful.”
Well, as usual the Universe was evidently googling ME (I seriously may have to get a restraining order), and I guess it overheard that little request.
So ten points to anyone who guesses what happened next.
Yep, you nailed it.
It very kindly delivered him.
There I was, deep in an examination of the effects that Victorian corsetry has on the skeletal system (and I’m ashamed to admit that I thought the corseted ribcage was a little bit prettier, God forgive me), when I heard a voice I recognized behind me.
I turned around, and there was Ryan.
Fortunately for him, he was with somebody else, so I was restrained by the bounds of decency from prostrating myself in proper I’m-not-worthy obeisance, and quizzing him on the various aspects of his fabulousness.
Said aspects include his spectacular one-of-a-kind Beauchene or “exploded” skull preparations (which are, to coin a phrase, simply mind-blowing – click here for a neato post on the subject).
Also I discovered that he makes really nice jewelry, and that his tweets include sentences like “Quite a lot can be done with a squirrel skeleton, did you have anything specific in mind?” which I’m now convinced is the ONLY legitimate use of Twitter.
“Hey, I think your artwork is beautiful,” I probably said as a result of all this, among some other things too odd to bear repeating.
But then that’s what he gets for hanging out in places like that.
He gets people like me.
I swear I didn’t say anything else too strange, though, aside from maybe asking him if he knew where Grover Cleveland’s preserved tumor was (I do NOT recommend this as a pick-up line, by the way, unless you have years of special training), or where I might find the fetal cephalothoracopagus twins, because I couldn’t very well purchase the really cool glass paperweight that featured them without actually seeing the specimen first.
I do have my standards, you know.
Ryan did not know where the tumor was, but he did know where the twins were, so I owe him a debt of gratitude for that.
I’m not telling you, though.
Get your own celebrity.
After this peculiar little episode (and seriously, what are the ODDS??? It wasn’t even the same CITY!!!), we moved on to the gift shop, which features a healthily sick sense of humor, and un-missable items such as a Soap Lady on a Rope (in sandalwood scent), anatomically correct cutting boards, the aforementioned paperweight, and a truly extensive collection of plush giant microbes representing a wide variety of painful and fatal ailments which you can cheerfully take home and give to your children.
Or to your boyfriend, in my case, who was the happy recipient of a staph infection (left), and a flesh-eating virus (not at ALL right).
There. THAT should take care of the snoring.
Jealous? You can get most of these items online, although you may have some ‘splaining to do to your loved ones when the package arrives in the mail.
Try the stuffed syphilis. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
All kidding aside, though, I find since visiting the Museum that I am completely unable to get it out of my head, heaven help me.
I have the strangest urge to go there at night and sit cross-legged in the dark, just listening quietly to the infinite range of human possibility – although I’m quite sure the imposing balcony lady would NOT approve of that either, whether I took pictures or not.
Because that’s what the collection is, really – and despite all its dark and morbid fascination, and the many horrifying ways that the human body can elect to go wrong, there is still a strange and disquieting beauty in all of it too – and in our ability to survive and prosper as a species in spite of (or perhaps because of) these sporadic evolutionary experiments.
Speaking of experiments, all of this takes me back a few years, when I decided to teach myself to do forensic reconstruction just for the sake of amusement (I dunno, maybe the Internet was down or something. Who knows?).
I did a couple of detailed anatomical models, one of which is featured below – it’s just a plastic skull, but it was cast from an actual individual, so if anybody recognizes him, drop me a line.
He’s not half-bad looking, right? Pun of course intended.
In conclusion, having seen the wonderfulness that is the Mütter Museum, with its wealth of medical knowledge and umlauts, I now officially state that I would like my own skull added to their collection upon my expiration (please refrigerate after opening), and that I wish to have it labeled thusly:
Jennifer L. Flint
Synesthetic psychic eccentric
Believed she could read auras clairvoyantly
Considered herself a conduit for cosmic coincidence
Cause of death: Decided to quit while she was a head
And so I shall. Good night!