The Mutter Museum of Human Pathology

The Mütter Museum of Human Pathology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania houses a bizarre collection of anatomical and pathological specimens and wax models of the human body. Medical and pathological exhibitions here draw reactions from visitors ranging from cool, sad and disturbed to disgusted at the taste of the display. However, with exhibitions like Body Worlds breaking all visitor records and popular TV serials like CSI popularizing forensic science, we seem to have come to terms with the facts of what lies beneath the skin.

Often called the Mutter Museum, the Mütter Museum of Human Pathology in Philadelphia, PA was established after physician Thomas Dent Mütter donated his collection of medical specimens and artifacts to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858. The Museum’s aim to the present day is to “provide a place for both medical professionals and the general public to learn about medicine as both a science and as an art.”

Specimens like these conjoined twins, shown at the International Academy of Pathology (IAP) in Montreal in 2006, can be found at the Mütter Museum as well.

Siamese twinsPhoto: Ed Uthman

In response to negative reactions after posting the picture above, photographer Ed Uthman rightly pointed out, “Keep in mind that one of the reasons that surgeons today have successfully separated conjoined twins is that they carefully studied specimens of this type.”

The Mütter is perhaps best known for its extensive skull collection, but this museum has quite a few famous specimens, such as:

Colon Man and…
Mega colon of Colon ManPhoto: via YouTube

…the woman with the horn.
Woman with hornPhoto: via YouTube

The former was afflicted with what we now know to be Hirschsprung’s disease. His colon was 8 feet and 4 inches long and weighed 40 pounds. Unfortunately, doctors then – without x-rays and MRIs – could not diagnose what was wrong with him, and so Colon Man died, aged 29.

The woman with the horn was a washerwoman who lived in Paris in the early 19th century. Her condition, though odd, was not life-threatening, as extra tissue – the same material that hair and fingernails are made of – simply gathered in one place and came out in this attention-grabbing fashion. We’re sure it didn’t do much for her social life, but apparently she didn’t go out much anyway.

Indeed, for medical students visiting the museum it is most likely the pathological samples on display that are the most fascinating – for example, the late stages of a condition like a tumor. Luckily, such things are quite rare to see in real life, or even in a doctor’s lifetime, so those interested have to visit specialized museums like the Mütter for an in-depth look.

Not pocks or a tumor but the cankers of syphilis
Wax head, cankers of syphilisPhoto: istolethetv

According to the guidelines of the 18th century, when the Academy of Physicians was founded, Christians could not donate their bodies in the name of science. Hence, the doctors of the time had to find unwilling “volunteers” among those who had no choice: murderers, robbers, thieves, deserters, prostitutes, gypsies and others. Ironically, those once living on the fringes of society got preserved for eternity.

Skulls, Mutter MuseumPhoto: dedi

On display there are also old medical records of procedures like the lobotomy below. We just hope that this is an old one, as it looks positively painful, especially to the eyes.

The museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and over the holiday season; it’s closed only on New Year’s Day. So if all the Christmas spirit gets too much, you can just dash over to the Mütter for a sobering look at life.

Museum director Margaret Lyman probably sums up the experience most visitors have in the museum best when she says, “People want to think it’s not real but it is!” The fact is that the museum’s collection and those similar to it around the world have helped students studying medicine gain a better understanding of our bodies and thus advance medical science.

There is more to the Mütter Musem than meets the eye, and those who want to know more should visit this tour as shown on Weird TV:

Apart from more useful information about the different collections and the museum history, on the Mütter Museum’s website, you’ll find a link to the latest episode of “No Bones About It,” with the museum’s director and various experts in history, medicine, pathology and other fields through the museum.

Sources: 1, 2, 3