How I Spent My Christmas Vacation


"Hey, Look at the Giant Colon!"

I wasn't looking forward to this trip. I've never been to Philadelphia, and didn't mind the idea of going there, but the thought of spending my entire Christmas with a group of rabid Christian relatives in a yuppy suburb was not my idea of a party. I went anyway. Hell, the ticket was free, and I was going to Chicago for New Years, so I thought I'd put up with the bible thumping for a few days.

Once I decided to go, I also decided that I'd do what I could to make the trip worthwhile. Luckily, I met someone on the internet who lived in Philadelphia and promised to show me some of it's lesser known attractions. The highlight of this tour, and the entire reason I'm writing this, was the Mutter Museum (umlaut over the "u" in Mutter, I don't know how to get this stupid machine to do that).

The Mutter Museum is a museum which was opened by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1863. It is a large collection of historical medical instruments and pathological medical models that are supposed to show the history of medicine. Yeah right. It's a freak show. A place to gross out, lose your lunch, and thoroughly enjoy the morbid. Just the kind of place to cure you of those bible thumpin' blues! And at only two bucks to get in, it was more than a bargain.

The museum sits in a portion the ground floor and basement of the two story College, with the ground floor being a balcony around the main exhibit area in the basement. (The giant colon in the basement kind of stands out from that vantage point... funny how that works). There are all kinds of interesting things to look at, and I'm gonna describe a few of them to you (any factual information I may give you isn't factual, it all comes from my memory, which I'm absolutely positive is wrong, but lets just pretend like I'm the expert...).

The balcony has a ton of instruments of torture that were used under the guise of helping people. Forceps with claws for extracting babies during birth, hammers to knock holes in skulls to drain the brain, bone cutting forceps, bone chisels, and a various assortment of tools for cutting bones and tissue... fun to look at, fun to use, and I'm sure a joy to experience.

Tucked into a corner on the upper level is also a series of large file cabinets that you can browse through. But these aren't your ordinary boring medical files... nope, these are specimen drawers... containing specimens of items that people have swallowed, all from the collection of a 19th century doctor who specialized in removing these things from peoples throats and stomachs. There are fishhooks, rocks, straight pins, coins, buttons, and even undigestible pieces of meat (dried out now, of course, they are over 100 years old!). Fun stuff to look at. It made me want to go home and eat from my odds and ends drawer.

The highlight of the upper level has to be the Soap Lady. She was an extremely fat woman who died, was buried, and for some reason or another was later dug up. Apparently the conditions were just right in her grave, and her fat condensed down into soap (just like they make soap from whale blubber). She is on display in a glass case. All that's left is bone, a little bit of hair, and the soap, which preserves her features, except that she's thin now. Oh, and it doesn't really look like soap, it's brown like dirt... nothing you'd want to wash your face with.

The other big attraction upstairs is a case containing around 120 skulls, each with a description below it of where it came from and what happened to the person it once belonged to. There are mummy skulls, pirate skulls, hydrocephalic skulls, skull with bullet holes, and a host of others. Very nice.

Proceeding downstairs, we near a giant brown veined bag. Holy shit! It's a colon! Taken from a man who died from a SERIOUS blockage sometime around the turn of the century. The thing was 5 feet long, and as big around as a person. It contained over 40 pounds of shit when they removed it. The doctors at the time couldn't do anything for the man, and he died in extreme pain. Thank god for ex-lax.

Next to the wunder-colon is the Secret Tumor of Grover Cleveland, preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. It's a tumor from his cheek that was removed in secret when Cleveland was President. The powers that be didn't want to worry the average citizen about the President's health problems. It's small and white, and unimpressive, except for the fact that they kept it!

Hanging from the wall on wires are three eviscerated humans, two children and an adult. These are medical specimens. Their chest and bellies have been cut open and the skin pinned back so the external organs are visible. They are very dried out. I imagine that they'd be really light if you wanted to carry one around. (What a great idea! That could be the next big thing! Just like the pet rock! It'll make millions!)

The Eye Wall of Shame is also downstairs. This is a display of wax models of various injuries to the eye, including a toothpick sticking through the retina, a burned eye, etc. Gross. Sickening. Neat!

In addition to the wax eyes, there are a number of other wax models that put Wax Museums to shame. All kinds of lesions, hydrocephalic heads, tongues showing syphilis blisters, gangrenous ulcerations of the lip, breast diseases... the list goes on.

The most painful of all the exhibits to me was the skeleton of the person who had died of a disease where the muscle turns into bone. The bones were all connected by calcified muscle tissue and the skeleton was contorted in such a way that just emanated pain. Not a way I would want to die.

There is so much sick, morbid, and cool stuff at the Mutter Museum that it is definately worth your time to check out -- but not right after breakfast or lunch. Oh, and the museum also sells a yearly calender for around fifteen bucks that you can order from them. It features photographs of some of the exhibits, with info about the museum itself.

What are you waiting for? Fly to Philadelphia and check it out yourself! Especially if you have bible thumping relatives that you need to get away from.

The museum is located at:

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103.

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