The Mutter Museum makes a lot of secret Philadelphia lists for a good reason. Its wall of skulls, its deformed skeletons, and its jars of pickled body parts are definitely not for the squeamish, but are fascinating to anyone with a love the macabre, an interest in human anatomy, or the history of medicine. Exhibits include: a death cast and the liver of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker, slides of Einstein’s brain, the “soap lady,” drawers full of foreign items removed from patients’ stomachs (how’s that for a collecting obsession?), the skeleton of a Victorian lady permanently disfigured from wearing a corset, and the “American Giant” (the tallest human skeleton on exhibit in North America).
The museum is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Preeminent Philadelphia doctor and Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush proposed a society similar to Royal College of Physicians in London. Begun in 1787 “to advance the Science of Medicine, and thereby lessen human misery, by investigating the diseases and remedies which are peculiar to our country,” it is the oldest private medical society in the US.
In addition to the museum, the 1909 building also houses one of the oldest medical libraries in the US. The reading room was recently refurbished. Although not always open to the public, it holds an extensive collection of historic books, including works by Vesalius, Harvey, and Elizabeth Blackwell (the first female doctor in the US),
along with books on medical botany – and historic artifacts like the notes from the autopsy of England’s Charles II.
In addition to the permanent displays, the museum runs temporary exhibits (2018’s Victorian Hair Art exhibit is the ultimate expression of the Victorian fascination with death). The Mutter also has the best gift shop in Philadelphia – with plush Ebola viruses and other types of cells, along with must-haves like conjoined twin gingerbread cookie cutters.
Tobey says: Gross!
Tip: No photos are allowed in the main exhibition hall (the skull photo above is from a postcard).
Field Trips: The museum offers great field trips on a variety of subjects. We had a class on the history of germs, followed by a guided tour of the museum.