Standing in the Mütter Museum of medical oddities, contemplating a neat row of jars, each containing a malformed fetus with spina bifida, Riva Lehrer realized just how easily she, too, could have ended up a specimen in a bottle, an object of curiosity, pathos, and, yes, revulsion. "Their spinal column failed to fuse all the way around their spinal cord, leaving holes (called lesions) in their spine," she writes, in a New York Times essay so scarifyingly honest it feels like self-anatomization. "Some extrude a bulging sac containing a section of the cord. These balloons make the fetuses appear as if they’re about to explode. This condition is called spina bifida. I stand in front of these tiny humans and try not to pass out. I have never seen what I looked like on the day I was born."
Born with Spina bifida, the survivor of scores of surgeries, Lehrer is "less than five feet tall." She writes, "I have a curved spine. I wear huge, clunky orthopedic boots." Yet as she notes in her Times essay, she no longer winces at her own reflection. Through her stunning, photorealistic portraits of people with disabilities—people like Mat Fraser, a.k.a. Sealo the Seal Boy from American Horror Story; Nomy Lamm, born with one leg smaller than the other; Lynn Manning, a blind actor and 1990 World Champion in Blind Judo shown brandishing his white cane like a katana—she has come to see "disabled bodies as unexpected and charming and exciting. Read the rest
Mark Dery shines a light into the literary unconscious of Joanna Ebenstein, director of the Morbid Anatomy Museum.
Specializing in performing reconstructive surgery on the severely deformed in a time before anesthesia, Thomas Dent Mütter was one of the first American pioneers of plastic surgery. In the new book, Dr Mütter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine, author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz explores the life and times of this idiosyncratic doctor and American original.
You know the Mutter Museum for its deformed fetuses and misshapen skulls, but they have a new exhibit dedicated to chronicling the injuries suffered by Civil War soldiers and (because this is the Mutter Museum, after all) the often gruesome medicine used to fix them. Read the rest
The Mutter Museum — a freaky fantastic collection of medical curiosities — is trying to restore and preserve a collection of 139 skulls that were once used to debunk the pseudoscience of phrenology. You can help by adopting a skull for $200. Read the rest
In The Atlantic, science writer extraordinaire Carl Zimmer wrote a fascinating long article about fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a rare medical disorder in which the sufferer grows a second skeleton. (Above, the skeleton of FOP-sufferer Harry Raymond Eastlack, on display at the Mütter Museum.) Beyond a tale of medical curiosity, it's a genetic detective story that says a lot about the study of rare diseases. From The Atlantic:
A rare disease is defined as any condition affecting fewer than 200,000 patients in the United States. More than 7,000 such diseases exist, afflicting a total of 25 million to 30 million Americans.
The symptoms of these diseases may differ, but the people who suffer from them share many experiences. Rare diseases frequently go undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, for years. Once people do find out that they suffer from a rare disease, many discover that medicine cannot help them. Not only is there no drug to prescribe, but in many cases, scientists have little idea of the underlying cause of the disease. And until recently, people with rare diseases had little reason to hope this would change. The medical-research establishment treated them as a lost cause, funneling resources to more-common ailments like cancer and heart disease.
"The Girl Who Turned to Bone"
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At Popperfont, the great David Ng discusses the biological and/or evolutionary steps necessary to produce a theoretical real-life unicorn. I find it delightfully ironic that his first possible route involves something that, if I were to show you pictures of it*, you would probably request a unicorn chaser.
Basically, some kinds of tumors can produce little horn-like protrusions from the surface of the skin. (Sometimes these tumors are malignant, sometimes not.) If the tumor formed right in the middle of a horse's forehead ... et voila! You've got a unicorn.
This is not as unlikely as it sounds, by the way. The Mutter Museum has a wax model of the head of a French woman, Madame Dimanche, who had one of these tumor horns removed from the middle of her forehead when she was 82 years old. This happened sometime around the beginning of the 19th century. At the time of removal, the horn was 9.8 inches long.
And, yes, this would be roughly the same way that you get a jackalope.
Read David Ng's full discussion of several possible ways to produce a real-life unicorn
*Needless to say, all links shall be followed at the viewer's own risk. I am not responsible for lost appetites.
Image: Unicorn, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from robboudon's photostream
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Last week, I toured Philadelphia's Mütter Museum -- the Philadelphia College of Surgeons' astounding collection of pathological oddities -- and was treated to a sneak peak at the museum's latest acquisition: 46 microscope slides from Albert Einstein's brain. They were donated by Dr. Lucy Rorke-Adams, one of the College's trustees. Mütter curator Anna Dhody was kind enough to scan one of the slides at high resolution for us, and you can click through the image above to get it at full rez. The slides are now part of the Mütter's permanent collection, and are just another reason to visit this remarkable collection.
The slides were prepared in 1955 in the pathology lab of Dr. William Ehrich, Chief of Pathology at the
Philadelphia General Hospital and the Graduate School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania.
Five sets of slides were prepared in the lab, one set was given to Dr. Ehrich by Thomas Harvey, MD, the
physician who performed the post-mortem exam on Einstein at Princeton Hospital.
After Dr. Ehrich died in 1967, his widow gave them to Allen Steinberg, MD. Dr. Steinberg gave them to
Lucy Rorke-Adams, MD, Senior Neuropathologist, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Clinical
Professor of Pathology, Neurology and Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, and a longtime
Fellow of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Mütter Museum Read the rest
From How to Be a Retronaut, a fine gallery of scanned syphilis/gonorreah posters from the last days of each disease's reign of terror, before widespread use of antibiotics. If you're ever in Philadelphia and want to get a sense of how scary syphilis must have been in its day, head on over to the Mutter Museum, an exhibit of pathological curiosities, and have a gander at the cases of syphilitic skulls. I still get nightmares.
Syphilis Posters, 1940s
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This wax sculpture of a sleeping woman was made with several wicks, turning her into a giant candle (not to be mistaken for the soap woman of the Mutter Museum). It was sculptded for the Arnhem Mode Biennale 2011 by A.F. Vandevorst.
production A.F. VANDEVORST installation for Arnhem Mode Biennale 2011
(via Neatorama) Read the rest
In the 19th and 20th centuries, laryngologist Chevalier Jackson pioneered new methods to remove weird things that people swallowed, from safety pins, buttons, cigarette butts, and even a toy dog (seen here in the esophagus of the 3-year-old who gulped it down). Jackson developed quite a collection of the objects and eventually donated them to the fantastic Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Jackson's story is told in English professor Mary Cappello's curious new book, "Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them." From AOL News:
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Take, for example, the 1923 case of a baby boy, Joseph B. According to his account, Jackson removed 32 foreign bodies from within the child, including buttons, closed safety pins, bent straight pins, cigarette butts and burnt matches.
Joseph's mother had ignored signs at home, dismissing evidence -- such as a button found in her son's stool -- by assuming it fell off his clothing. Buried inside the case study, Cappello found wha
t she considered a "throwaway line" offering an explanation:
"According to a statement made by both the father and the mother, the child was cared for by a friend on May 28, and they believe that she deliberately fed these many articles to the child." The question of why this caretaker would have done such a thing is not discussed.
"Jackson wasn't really interested in human psychology," Cappello said. "He was trying to master the foreign body. But he had to leave certain things out of his inquiry.
On April 26, 1865, Sergeant Boston Corbett shot and killed John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin who was hiding out in the barn of a tobacco barn in Caroline County, Virginia. Or did he? Some historians have suggested that the man in the barn wasn't Booth, and that he lived for several more decades under assumed names before committing suicide. Now, Booth's descendants have authorized the exhumation of John Wilkes Booth's brother, Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, to get a DNA sample and close the books on the case. The DNA will be compared with a sample from vertebrae of the man killed in the barn. The body itself is buried but bone samples are in the collection of the National Museum of Medicine and the (incredible) Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. From CNN:
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“I just feel we have a right to know who’s buried there,’’ said Lois Trebisacci, 60, who told The Boston Globe she is Edwin Booth's great-great-great granddaughter.
In 1995, the family tried to exhume the body inside the family plot that contains the man shot in the barn, but a judge denied the request.
“The family was as much interested in disproving [the escape] theory as they were in proving it,’’ Mark Zaid, an attorney for Trebisacci, told the Globe...
A spokesman told The Inquirer that the National Museum of Health and Medicine was concerned about damage to the precious piece of history, just for the sake of trying to debunk a myth. But Jan Herman, chief historian for the Navy Medical Department and special assistant to the Navy surgeon general in Washington, said since only a small drill would be used, the sample wouldn't be damaged.
The Brothers Quay, creators of phantasmagorical stop-motion animation, are shooting a documentary film about the College of Physicians of Philadelphia's Mutter Museum, the incredible wunderkammer of antique wax anatomical models, pathological specimens, and antique medical instruments. (If you can't make it to the museum in person, the gorgeous Mutter Museum coffee table book and Mutter Museum 2011 Calendar are the next best things.) the From the New York Times:
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The brothers were touring the Mütter Museum, a 19th-century repository of curiosa at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, garbed somewhat disappointingly in chinos and sweaters. They were filming manikins, anatomical anomalies and bizarre surgical instruments for an as-yet-untitled documentary on the museum and its adjoining 340,000-volume library. Next fall the short will be screened as part of a symposia at the Mütter, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and, in Los Angeles, at the uncategorizable Museum of Jurassic Technology. Bankrolled by a $287,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, the project is the latest attempt by a museum to expand its audience by enlisting artists to interpret its collection...
Timothy (Quay) hinted that the film’s framing device would be the tale of Harry Eastlack, whose skeleton is on display at the Mütter. He died at 39 of a rare, progressive, inflammatory disease that turned the connective tissue in his body to bone. During his final days he became a kind of living statue. After his death, in 1973, his sister often dropped by the museum to see his exhibit.
Hi everyone! Pleased to be back on Boing Boing again. Last time I was here with Dylan Thuras we announced the launch of the Atlas Obscura, a user-generated compendium of the world's "wondrous, curious, and esoteric" places.
Dylan and I are excited to let everyone know about the upcoming real-world manifestation of the Atlas: International Obscura Day, taking place on Saturday, March 20th, 2010. More than just cataloging the world's curious, uncelebrated spots, we want to encourage folks to actually go out and explore them. That's what we're going to be doing en masse, all over the world, on March 20th.
So far we've seeded Obscura Day with events in almost 40 cities and towns around the world. We're getting access to private collections and museum back rooms, exploring hidden treasures, and leading expeditions to places that aren't normally open to the public.
We hope to have Obscura Day happenings taking place in dozens more cities on every continent. But we can't do it alone. Please consider volunteering to help organize an Obscura Day event in your own hometown. If you want to get involved, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll help you make it happen.
Why are we doing this, you ask? Well, because we think it will be a lot of fun. We love these sorts of places, and we think they deserve to be celebrated. We believe you don't have to go to the Grand Canyon to experience wonder, or to the Smithsonian to indulge your sense of curiosity. Read the rest