Philly’s Oddest Museum

Death Cast of "Siamese Twins" Chang and Eng Bunker
Death Cast of "Siamese Twins" Chang and Eng Bunker George Widman for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Philadelphia has plenty of great places to eat, but you might want to save them for later if you’re visiting the Mutter Museum. The artifacts on display at this unique institution, part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, have the potential to turn your stomach.

The collection dates to the mid-19th century stipulations of the eccentric donor Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter, who was essentially an early plastic surgeon. Dr. Mutter was determined to establish an educational research facility for medical anomalies – the weirder, the better. Visitors to the suitably gloomy exhibition hall of the museum best bring their keenest curiosity and their blackest sense of humor: The whole place is dedicated to the preservation of the human body in its most fragile, humbling forms.

Many of the Mutter’s most popular attractions are its Barnumesque oddities – a 7-foot, 6-inch skeleton, a bloated, nine-foot human colon, a two-headed baby stored in formaldehyde. (The latter is/are called, affectionately, Jim and Joe.) But it may be the more mundane pieces in the collection – the drawers full of household items extracted from the tracheae of choking victims, or the Hyrtl Collection’s scores of antique skulls, which can be “adopted” for an annual subscription fee – that inspire the truly genuine feeling of dread the museum imparts. We’re all gonna go – it’s only the how and the when that have yet to be decided.

You can’t take it with you, but you can enjoy it in the interim. The gift shop at the Mutter, as you might imagine, has lots of ghoulishly fun stuff, including crime-scene scarves, the Brothers Quay‘s deeply disturbing short film on the museum (“Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting“) and, for the holidays, a conjoined gingerbread men cookie cutter. Mmm, cookies. []

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