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Museum galleries.

Abingdon Medical Museum (Closed)

Field review by the editors.

Abingdon, Virginia

The all-important eeeew! factor is strong at the Abingdon Medical Museum. Opened in 2010, filled with the personal collection of local physician Dr. Damian Sooklal, it's in a 100+ year-old building with exhibits designed to reflect those times. "We have left the creaky and the old, which we thought would add something extra," said Dr. Sooklal.

Indeed, the museum's wooden Victorian-style cases seem entirely appropriate for its displays of amputation saws and human skeletons hanging from hooks in their heads.

Skulls and models.

Dr. Sooklal's medical artifacts are exhibited by specialty, room to room. The skeletons-on-hooks are in the first two rooms, along with a battery of human models in various states of disassembly, from fully-fleshed to bare bones. "It's perfectly legal in America to own human bones," said Dr. Sooklal, who assured us that none of his belonged to murder victims or Indians. Pointing to a half-skull, he said, "I found that in a barn."

Our interest in all medical museums is less on their educational merit and more on their cringe-worthy artifacts, and the Abingdon Medical Museum proves satisfying in that regard. There are no babies-in-jars here, no mummified human body parts, but the museum compensates with its extensive collections of medical prosthetics, devices, models, and scary tools, such as tonsillectomy guillotines and a miniature meat-slicer for skin grafts. Most of these, said Dr. Sooklal, were saved in closets or attics (or barns) when a doctor retired.

Rescue Annie.
Rescue Annie.

We asked Dr. Sooklal if any of the museum's exhibits included some of his own tools -- that bone chisel over there, perhaps, or maybe that brain clamp? -- but he said no. He did say that some of the exhibits were haunted, but wouldn't elaborate.

Whenever possible the museum tries to make its exhibits friendlier by telling the human stories behind them. The creepy "Rescue Annie" mouth-to-mouth head -- "the most kissed face of all time," according to its display -- was modeled on the head of a pretty teenage girl who drowned in Paris in the 1800s. The articulated prosthetic leg -- included among an exhibit of old-fashioned peg legs and Captain Hook hooks -- was invented by J.E. Hanger, a Confederate engineering student and also the first amputee of the Civil War.

Human fetus model skeleton.
Human fetus model skeleton.

As a modern physician, Dr. Sooklal takes special pleasure in helping visitors realize how good they have it now. Lobotomy and hand-cranked quack electro-magnetic devices, for example, have their own prominent displays. "People will believe anything," said Dr. Sooklal as he wound up a spring-loaded "scarificator" -- a bleeder -- and pushed the trigger. Twelve razor sharp blades popped out to punch holes in an unlucky patient.

Several times during our visit Dr. Sooklal said "I have a few more of those at home" when pointing to a particular exhibit. "I've run out of space," he said of his museum, which struck us as reassuring; it's nice to know that doctors are just like the rest of us. If you're a collector, it's difficult to stop at just one chastity belt or suppository machine.

Abingdon Medical Museum

At the corner of Valley St. and Reservoir Rd. Free parking in the lot behind the building.
M-F 10-2, Sa-Su 10-3 (Call to verify)

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