Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of the macabre? Do you often find yourself laying awake late into the night, staring at your ceiling, wondering what's the nastiest display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia? If so, it's time to get dirty with this list all about the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, also known as the museum of medical oddities.
The Mütter Museum opened in 1858, after surgeon Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter donated $30,000 and 1,700 medicine-related objects and specimens to the college, on the condition that his collection be expanded upon and curated. And thus, the weird displays at the Mutter Museum came into being.
Housed in an unassuming brick building with white stone columns, the two-story museum is home to over 25,000 medical models of infectious diseases, osteological (bone & skeleton) specimens, cysts, tumors, organs, and old surgical instruments that wouldn't look out of place in a Saw movie. Hence why you've made heard all about some seriously gross Mütter Museum display objects.
In 1813, a physician named HF Nordeman said, “Nothing is more satisfactory than the treatment of venereal warts." The genital warts on display at the Mutter Museum are helpfully strung like a necklace to make studying them easier.
In the 21st century, lasers and liquid nitrogen are used to remove and freeze genital warts; doctors numb the area with a local anesthetic before hand. Warts in the early 19th century were burned off with nitric acid. The local anesthetic used? A shot in the genitals with an eight-percent solution of cocaine. Time to start building a time machine.
Giving earnest new meaning to the phrase “You shouldn’t have," the Mütter received a special gift from a 23 year-old woman in 2009: two jars filled with skin pickings and peelings from her feet. Her identity is unknown, but it's clear she suffers from Dermatillomania, the obsessive-compulsive need to pick, peel, and scratch at one’s own skin, which can lead to scarring, discoloration, and in extreme cases, tissue damage.
Hirschsprung’s Disease (a congenital condition resulting in undeveloped nerves in the colon) caused this man’s colon to grow to eight-and-a-half feet long, stretch two-and-a-half feet in diameter, and fill with 40 pounds of feces at time of death. Corrective surgery was uncommon in the 19th century, and deemed too risky.
Making the most of his situation, the owner of this swollen colon man dubbed himself “Balloon Man” and “Windbag,” and performed in freak shows, charging a dime a peek. Balloon Man died in 1892, at age 29, after nine years of appearing in freak shows. By age 16, Windbag was defecating as little as once a month.
In the 19th century, only criminals’s bodies were disseminated and publicly displayed. Since most regular folks didn't want to associate themselves with that element, it wasn't fashionable to donate your body to science. Thus, grave robbing was a thing (doctors and scientists bought corpses), as were moulages, or wax sculptures, such as the one pictured above, which depicts someone with late-stage syphilis.
How would this patient be treated? They’d be locked in a box with mercury fumes, which usually killed the patient before the syphilis did.