Road trip news, rants, and ruminations by the Editors of RoadsideAmerica.com
May 13, 2010
On a recent trip to Philadelphia I had the opportunity to revisit The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, to see what’s changed since last exploring this mecca of medical oddities and squirm-inducing equipment in 2004.
I’ve always been struck by how many families consider the Mütter to be an acceptable and fun outing for the kiddies. I know that my own childhood psyche would have been seriously disturbed by the sight of wax models of skin diseases and that ever-haunting display of deformed fetuses floating in jars. But I have to admit, the kids I saw seemed to be having a grand old time pointing, squealing and making “I’m gonna puke” faces. Maybe the family that goes “yuck” together stays stuck together.
The Mütter justifies our interest in the extreme and gory by putting it in an educational context, giving us permission to indulge our attraction to the entertainingly gruesome.
So what’s new? Well, the “Soap Lady” has lost her prominent placement in the main gallery and has been shuffled off to a side room. She appears to scream in protest (Actually, she’s always looked like that.). She currently shares the space with an exhibit about Presidential death and a display of shrunken human heads (both real and fake) from the Jivaro Tribe. I would have appreciated more information on the actual process of head-shrinking (a rare occasion where the Mutter staff passed on an opportunity to be deeply disgusting).
The Mütter is a conventional museum in one sense: there’s a gift shop! You can pick up your own copy of their famous calendar, along with T-shirts, books, shot glasses and other reminders of your horrifying visit. As there is a strict “no photography” policy, a wider array of postcards would be appreciated. The giant colon postcard is the only truly weird one I found in stock.
All in all, The Mütter is our nation’s most perfectly realized medical museum, striking a skillful balance between information and titillation. It’s a wonderfully stimulating reminder of the myriad ways our fleshy incarnations can go horribly, horribly wrong. [Post by Anne D. Bernstein]