After its foundation by Dr. Thomas Mütter in 1858, the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia (its full name) has been collecting the rarest, most-curious, and most-grotesque specimens of human medical oddities, deformities, remains, and other nightmarish objects.

Of the 20,000 samples that the Museum has in its collection, only around 13-15% are displayed: considering the macabre nature of what is said, the mind inevitably wanders to the even more morbid objects that they keep hidden from sight in the Museum’s vaults.

But don’t feel bad, for the things that are nowadays exhibited are more than enough to give you make you curious and sick at the stomach at the same time.

So put down that sandwich, and keep reading as we review ten of the most revolting and eye-catching oddities of the Mütter Museum of Philadelphia.


10 /10 Henry Raymond Eastlack's Skeleton

Henry Eastlack was a man born in 1933 in Philadelphia, who started to experience symptoms of a disease known as Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP for short, by four.

This disease made muscles and other forms of tissue are replaced by bone even after minor damage (a little cut or bruise, or even normal usage), eventually locking him inside his overgrown skeleton.

His full remains are exhibited without any need for support or wiring, as the layers of extra bone keep it all together in one single piece.

Mütter Museum of Philadelphia

9 /10 A Soccer Ball-Sized Ovary Cyst

Removed on May 18, 1865, from a woman only known as “Miss S. M.,” an ovarian cyst in display at the Museum weighted seventy-four pounds (thirty-four kilograms) when it was removed through surgery.

It is not known if the patient survived the recovery period after having it extracted.

The operating surgeon, Dr. Washington Atlee, noticed that on account of the woman’s small size and the enormous volume of the cyst, the operation was instead “cutting away the patient from the tumor.”

Mütter Museum of Philadelphia

8 /10 Two Preserved Hands

Another macabre display is that of two severed hands of an unknown person, who entered into the care of the Museum at some point in the nineteenth-century.

The severed hands are affected with a disease called gout, which was especially common among wealthy men, who consumed meat and alcohol in large quantities and (like everybody in those days) were additionally in contact with high amounts of lead in things such as silverware, bottle caps and paint.

The knuckles present painfully swollen lumps called “tophi,” which are characteristic of this disease.

Michael Snell / Alamy Stock Photo

7 /10 139 Skulls In A Wall

In 1874, the Museum purchased from Viennese doctor Joseph Hyrtl his collection of skulls.

He had picked up from dead bodies around Europe in one of the most successful attempts to debunk the pseudo-science of phrenology by proving that cranial shapes varied widely within a single race.

Each skull is identified in detail, and a similar manner: “Francica Seycora, Famous Viennese prostitute, died in the hospital of meningitis,” “Constantin Aneskis, age 32, died of gunshot wound in Budapest”, “Simon Juhren, age 19, suicide; hanged himself because of an unhappy love affair.”


6 /10 The Soap Lady

No recount of the Mütter Museum’s strangest treasures is complete without taking notice of the Soap Lady, a woman who, to be blunt, turned into soap after his death due to the lack of airflow within his tomb.

She was unearthed alongside a Soap Man, who was given to another medical institution.

It was believed that she must have been an older person for a long time, but recent X-rays applied to her remains have revealed that she was probably in her early 30s or even late 20s.


5 /10 A Book Bound In Human Skin

Another exciting object exhibited is a book published in 1789 by physician Robert Couper, who entitled it “Speculations on the mode and appearances of impregnation in the human female.”

Not only the subject is cause for much interest, given what anybody at that time may have known of the processes surrounding pregnancy, but there is also another fact: the book is partially bound in the skin of Mary Lynch, an immigrant of Irish origin who died at the Philadelphia General Hospital in 1869.

John Stockton Hough, the resident physician, managed the procedure himself.


4 /10 A Collection Of Foreign Objects

Also full of interest for those interested in oddities is the collection of swallowed and inhaled objects of Chevalier Jackson, an otorhinolaryngologist who managed thousands of cases of things of this nature during his career.

Among the 2,374 specimens included in this collection are coins, pins, toys, buttons, and rarer objects such as three squirrel vertebrae removed from a forty-year-old man and a group of thirty-two different items removed from a baby.

Mütter Museum of Philadelphia

3 /10 A Huge Colon

That’s it. A giant, colossal colon or “megacolon,” taken from a deceased twenty-nine-year-old man who used his difficult disease to make an extra buck and often toured with freak shows around the United States.

Already at sixteen years of age, this man only experienced bowel movements once a month and was starting to be known as “The Wind Bag” or “The Balloon Man.”

Sadly, he died of this condition, but his several-pound colon is still exhibited at the Museum.


2 /10 Genital Warts Necklace

Not as an element of fashion but to facilitate their study, an unknown donor delivered to the Museum’s collection a group of genital warts sewn together during the nineteenth century.

The warts are probably from this donor’s patients. At the time, these were removed using either surgical measures or acid.

The patient received local anesthesia in the form of a solution of cocaine at 8%, injected directly into the genitals.

Mütter Museum of Philadelphia

1 /10 A Jar Of Human Skin

One of the latest elements delivered into the Museum’s care has been a jar of human skin, picked by the donor (a woman of twenty-three years of age, affected with dermatillomania or skin picking disorder) from her own feet.

Not only had she been doing this, but also saving each piece meticulously, finally delivering a whole jar of it to the Mütter Museum in 2009.

It’s not clear what medical usage has the Museum found for it, but at least it goes to show that not every weird and macabre thing out there has come out of the nineteenth century!

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