THE MUTTER MUSEUM
America's finest museum of medical history, the Mütter displays its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models, and medical instruments in a 19th century "cabinet museum" setting. The goal of the Museum is to help the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.
The Collection began as a donation from Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, who was determined to improve and reform medical education. The donation stipulated that the College had to hire a Curator, maintain and expand the collection, fund annual lectures and erect a brick building to house the collection. Since 1858, the College has held true to its promise to Dr. Mütter. Today the museum enjoys steadily rising international popularity, including a recent documentary on the Discovery Channel and two best-selling books.
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, 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; slides of Albert Einstein's brain and a section of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau who assassinated U.S. President James A. Garfield.
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.
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.
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."
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.