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The Mütter Museum Doesn't Want Your Body

April 4, 2016

Excited at the chance to pour out my adoration for one of Philadelphia’s most unique treasures, I began my research as any person in 2016 would. To the internet good friends!

Perusing the website and looking for an engaging way to begin my venerational pitch, I came across some wording I found humorous, but also a perfect illustrative way to begin describing this unusual place. Toward the bottom of the FAQ page these words jumped out at me…

“I would like to donate my body to the Museum. How do I do this?"

"Unfortunately, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and The Mütter Museum are unable to accept full body donations at this time. Occasionally, for very exceptional conditions, we are able to accept specific parts of the body…”

A museum dedicated to the advancement of medical science may not sound particularly appealing to many people, but this is absolutely a “don’t judge a book by its cover” moment.

Located in the heart of the city, the Mütter Museum is part of one of our nation’s oldest institution, and credited as the birth place of American medicine, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787. Stick with me here, it’s getting good!

Unlike typical museums the Mütter presents a bizarre, sometimes disturbing, informative collection of medical oddities and anomalies preserved for the study and advancement of medical science.

 Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, physician, professor, and Fellow of the College, was dedicated to improving medical education. So dedicated in fact that, in 1858 he bequeathed his entire teaching collection, along with a sizeable endowment, to fund the museum.  The donation was given with the stipulation that the College hire a curator, maintain and expand the collection, fund annual lectures and erect a fireproof building to house the collection.

Dr. Mütter believed through these historical records of medical procedures and surgeries we are able to better understand and appreciate the complexity of the human body and progression of our species over time.

The collection ranges from specimens and medical objects dating all the way back to 7th century BCE to the present day, with a majority of the pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries. Visiting the museum will allow you the opportunity to get up close and personal with Chevalier Jackson’s Collection of 2,374 inhaled objects the otolaryngologist personally extracted from people’s throats. Contemplate Joseph Hyrtl’s Human Skull Collection to determine whether or not anatomical features and intelligence have any correlation. Patrons can even gawk over sections of world renowned genius Albert Einstein’s brain! Seriously guys, there are only two places in the entire world you can see this, and Philly has made the list.

Just in case none of that got ya going, in honor of the “Father of Modern Anatomy” Andreas Vesalius’ 500th birthday, the museum is current exhibiting an edition of his groundbreaking series of books published in 1543 and bound in human skin. On that thought maybe go before lunch.

Philed by Erin DiSerafino

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The Water Works behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Erin DiSerafino.