Mutter Museum

Road Trip Guide: Mutter Museum

May 26, 2014 

MACABRE MUSEUM

An overall view shows a portion of the two floors of the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. The museum was started by Thomas Dent Mutter, a professor of surgery in the city, in 1856.

RUSTY KENNEDY — AP file photos

  • A short drive away ...

    •  The Liberty Bell Center, www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm (two miles east of Mutter Museum), features documents and exhibits exploring the legend, and the truth, about the quintessential American icon.

    •  Independence Hall (two miles east) is open every day, giving visitors a chance to visit the place where America, as an independent nation, was born.

    •  Philadelphia Zoo, www.philadelphiazoo.org (two miles northwest), features “exploration trail experience” of Zoo360, more than 1,300 rare and endangered animals on site.

    •  Independence Seaport Museum, www.phillyseaport.org (four miles east), puts you in touch with Philadelphia’s rich seagoing history.

Not every museum is about beautiful things. Sometimes the beauty is in realizing just what makes life tick.

Few places showcase that the way the Mutter Museum, www.muttermuseum.org, in Philadelphia does.

The Mutter is a medical museum. It features a vast collection of medical instruments, a variety of models, and perhaps its most famous exhibits, impeccably preserved anatomical specimens.

Some are valuable purely for their scientific offerings, such as the conjoined liver of 19th century medical marvels Chang and Eng Bunker, “Siamese twins” who lived to be 63. Others have historical significance, including the piece of presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra or a jaw tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland.

Featured on television and celebrated in books, the museum welcomes more than 130,000 visitors annually. Its mission is to help the public better understand the human body and the history of medicine, which is not surprising because it is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, one of the oldest professional medical organizations in the United States.

“Throughout its 227-year history, the college has provided a place for both medical professionals and the general public to learn about medicine as both a science and as an art,” according to its website.

Current exhibitions include the feature “Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia,” which includes pieces on loan from Hancock House, www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/historic/hancockhouse/hancockhouse-index.htm, in New Jersey, the Grand Army of the Republic Museum and Library ( www.garmuslib.org) in Philadelphia and the Third Infantry Regiment re-enactors. It explores not only what it was like to be injured in battle, but how doctors and volunteers, many of them women, worked to care for the hurt and dying.

The permanent collection also includes 139 skulls acquired from Dr. Joseph Hyrtl, of Vienna, more than 140 years ago, pieces of Albert Einstein’s brain tissue preserved in glass slides, and the body of a Philadelphia woman called “The Soap Lady.”

A city of museum opportunities ...

•  Philadelphia Museum of Art, www.philamuseum.org, where you can get your Rocky on running up the front steps.

•  The Rodin Museum, www.rodinmuseum.org, to get in touch with your inner Thinker.

•  The Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle, www.mercermuseum.org, is a glimpse into the pre-industrial past in nearby Bucks County.

•  Eastern State Penitentiary, www.easternstate.org, may or may not be haunted, but it is certainly a great place to be amazed by history and architecture. The soaring arched ceilings have been compared to Gothic churches, even though it was home to criminals, including Al Capone, during its years as a state prison.

— Lori Falce

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