Mütter Museum

Mütter Museum

Coordinates: 39°57′12″N 75°10′36″W / 39.953265°N 75.176665°W / 39.953265; -75.176665

Mütter Museum
Established 1858
Location 19 South 22nd St.,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Website http://www.collphyphil.org/Site/mutter_museum.html

The Mütter Museum is a medical museum located in the Center City area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It contains a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models, and antique medical equipment. The museum is part of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The original purpose of the collection, donated by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in 1858, was medical research and education. For a fee one may personally view the museum.



The Mütter Museum is best known for the Hyrtl Skull Collection and other anatomical specimens including a wax model of a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead along with several wax molds of untreated conditions of the head; the tallest skeleton currently on display in North America; a nine-foot-long human colon that contained over 40 pounds of fecal matter which originally came from a sideshow act called the human Balloon; and the body of the Soap Lady,[1] whose corpse turned itself into a soapy substance called adipocere better known as grave wax. Many wax models from the early 19th century are on display as are numerous preserved organs and body parts. The museum also hosts a collection of teratological specimens (preserved human fetal specimens) all of which were donated to science; a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland's hard palate; the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng Bunker; a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth; and a section of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau who assassinated U.S. President James A. Garfield.

Gretchen Worden

Gretchen Worden (1947–2004) remains perhaps the best known person associated with the Mütter Museum. She joined the museum staff as a curatorial assistant in 1975, became the museum's curator in 1982 and its director in 1988.[2]

Worden was a frequent guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, "displaying a mischievous glee as she frightened him with human hairballs and wicked-looking Victorian surgical tools, only to disarm him with her antic laugh"[3] and appeared in numerous PBS, BBC and cable television documentaries (including an episode of Errol Morris' show First Person) as well as NPR's "Fresh Air with Terry Gross"[3] on the museum's behalf.[2] She was also instrumental in the creation of numerous Mütter Museum projects, including the popular Mütter Museum calendars and the book, The Mütter Museum: Of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.[2]

During Worden's tenure, the visitorship of the museum grew from several hundred visitors each year to, at the time of her death, more than 60,000 tourists annually.[2]

After her death, the Mütter Museum opened a gallery in her memory. In an article written about the gallery's September 30, 2005 opening, the New York Times described the "Gretchen Worden Room":

There are jars of preserved human kidneys and livers, and a man's skull so eaten away by tertiary syphilis that it looks like pounded rock. There are dried severed hands shiny as lacquered wood, showing their veins like leaves; a distended ovary larger than a soccer ball; spines and leg bones so twisted by rickets they're painful just to see; the skeleton of a dwarf who stood 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m) small, next to that of a giant who towered seven and a half feet. And "Jim and Joe," the green-tinted corpse of a two-headed baby, sleeping in a bath of formaldehyde.[3]

Although Worden was known for using humor and shock factor to garner interest in the museum, she nonetheless was respectful of museum's artifacts. In the foreword of The Mütter Museum: Of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, she wrote "While these bodies may be ugly, there is a terrifying beauty in the spirits of those forced to endure these afflictions."

Related projects

Blast Books has published two large books of photography involving the Mütter Museum.

The first book, 2002's The Mütter Museum: Of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, contains images of the museum's fascinating exhibits shot by contemporary fine art photographers. Included in the book are photographs of "an early-19th-century Parisian widow with a six-inch (152 mm) horn protruding from the forehead; the connected livers of Chang and Eng, the world-famous Siamese twins; the skeleton of a 7-foot, 6-inch giant from Kentucky; and a collection of 139 skulls showing anatomic variation among ethnic groups in central and eastern Europe"[citation needed] among others. William Wegman, Joel-Peter Witkin and Shelby Lee Adams have work that appear in the book.

The second book, 2007's Mütter Museum Historic Medical Photographs, focuses on the museum's archive of "rare historic photographs, most of which have never been seen by the public."[citation needed] Photographs ranging "from Civil War photographs showing injury and recovery, to the ravages of diseases not yet conquered in the 19th century, to pathological anomalies, to psychological disorders" are showcased.

Mütter, a screenplay based on the life of Mütter Museum founder Thomas Dent Mütter, won the 2003 "Set In Philadelphia" Screenwriting Award at the Philadelphia Film Festival[4] and a Sloan Foundation Fellowship at the 2004 Hampton International Film Festival.[5] The screenplay, written by poet and Philadelphia native Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, remains unproduced, although a short based on the feature-length script was created as a part of the Philadelphia Film Festival prize package.[6]. In 2010, Aptowicz was named the 2010-2011 University of Pennsylvania ArtsEdge Writer-in-Residence and she noted that she will be using the residency to work on "a non-fiction book about the life and times of Thomas Dent Mutter."[7] The Museum has granted Aptowicz full access to their museum, library and archives for the duration of the residency so that she may conduct her research for the book, and the Mütter Museum's Francis C. Wood Institute for the History of Medicine has additionally awarded Aptowicz with a Wood Institute Travel Grant to help further fund and support her work on this project.[7]

In 2001 the band Murder City Devils released a song titled "Midnight Service at the Mutter Museum" on their Thelema EP.


External links

Coordinates: 39°57′12″N 75°10′36″W / 39.953265°N 75.176665°W / 39.953265; -75.176665

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