If you find yourself in Philadelphia and you’ve already been to the Museum of Art, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, for a change of pace try the Mutter Museum. The Mutter Museum, which is affiliated with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, is America’s finest medical museum and the only place in the world you can see two segments of Albert Einstein’s brain, among other things.
The museum, which opened in 1863 with about 1,700 objects donated by Thomas Dent Mutter, today has about 25,000 objects, including parts of Einstein’s brain, a specimen from John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra and an 8-foot colon that held 40 pounds of feces at the time of the original owner’s death.
The goal of the Museum is to help visitors understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body and appreciate the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease. To that end, the Mutter presents various special exhibits throughout the year, including Grimm’s Anatomy, an exhibit commemorating the 200th anniversary of the publication of The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm that shows real-world examples of gruesome and grotesque fairy-tale bodies, along with instruments from these stories.
The Mutter isn’t just a medical museum or a “museum of oddities,” it is also a scientific institution still very much involved in research. The Mutter recently worked with a university in Canada to document the genetic history of cholera, which was accomplished by extracting a piece of tissue from jars that were alcohol-sealed in 1849.
The museum, additionally, is home to the Hyrtl Skull Collection, a collection of 139 human skulls from a Viennese anatomist named Joseph Hyrtl. Many of the skulls, mounted on stands, are inscribed with comments about the person’s age, place of origin and cause of death.
Aside from Einstein’s brain and the giant colon, among the more popular exhibitions are The Soap Lady (the name given to a woman whose body was exhumed in 1875 and encased in a fatty substance called adipocere) as well as casts and livers of Chang and Eng Bunker, conjoined twins who were born in Siam (now Thailand) in 1811.
Truly a museum for those who are curious about science’s infinite number of oddities – but be warned, this museum is not for the faint of heart.