25 Medical Oddities On Display At The Mütter Museum

Published September 13, 2018
Updated October 26, 2022

The collection of Dr. Thomas Mütter begat this funhouse of morbid curiosity, which currently houses over 20,000 specimens of medical abnormalities in downtown Philadelphia.

Conjoined Twin Specimen At Mutter Museum
Cholera Wet Specimens
Mütter Museum Exhibits
Embalming Kit
25 Medical Oddities On Display At The Mütter Museum
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Connoisseurs of the medical macabre have likely heard tales of the legendary Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This world-renowned wonderland of weird is filled with anatomical oddities, pathological specimens, human curiosities, and vintage medical instruments — along with the only known samples of Albert Einstein's brain.

Inside the creepy yet clinical Mütter Museum, skeletons of all shapes and sizes reside as well as President Grover Cleveland's jaw tumor, deformed babies in jars, and preserved organs of all kinds.

While its contents may resemble a mad scientist's funhouse, the museum's roots actually pay tribute to one of the most humane, respected, and talented surgeons in American history.

The Man Behind The Museum, Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter

Thomas Dent Mutter

The National Library of MedicineThomas Dent Mütter in the 1830s.

Born in Virginia in 1811, Thomas Dent Mütter was orphaned at just 8 years old and went on to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania's medical school in 1831. Dr. Mütter opened his own office shortly thereafter and his unique empathy as a young surgeon quickly garnered many loyal patients around Philadelphia.

The good doctor was inclined to help even the most hopeless of cases; those with drastic disfigurements that most people considered "monsters." He also became renowned for his knowledge and ability to treat rare conditions, and he would be the first surgeon in the United States to administer anesthesia to patients.

Over the course of his career, Thomas Mütter amassed a large collection of research materials along with medical oddities and anomalies that he used to teach his students as a professor. This wide array of specimens would be what first populated the museum when it opened in 1863, just four years after his death from gout and lung disease.

Inside The Mütter Museum

It started with 1,700 objects and the famed doctor's donation of $30,000. The museum has since grown to over 25,000 specimens along with a vast literary and research collection that's maintained by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Mutter Musem In Philadelphia

Public DomainThe entrance to the Mütter Museum on 22nd Street in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia.

There are both permanent and special exhibitions, including the Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia.

This exhibit explores war injuries: how to treat them and what it was like experience them. It comes complete with an interactive opportunity to see what it would be like to have an arm amputated.

Of all the exhibits in the Mütter Museum, the Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits might be the most emotionally wrenching. It contains letters, surgical tools, and samples of weaponry designed to rip the human body to shreds.

Another popular exhibit at the Mütter Museum is Grimm's Anatomy: Magic and Medicine, which delves into the more disturbing side of the iconic fairy tales. For example, the exhibit explores how German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's version of Cinderella draws visceral parallels to the tradition of Chinese foot-binding.

"So many of the Grimms' fairy tales deal with the corporeal human body, whether dealing with sicknesses or a magical transformation or the various unpleasant things that can happen to the body," curator Anna Dhody tells The Metro West Daily News. "Quite often, there is no happily ever after."

The Mütter Museum is aware of its macabre draw but makes sure that its visitors walk away more educated than they came in. The Mütter Museum couldn't have said it better themselves on their website: "Are You Ready to Be Disturbingly Informed?"

After seeing some of the oddities of the Mütter Museum, check out these haunting photos of insane asylum patients from the 19th century and then learn about PT Barnum's most famous sideshow oddities.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
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Kelly, Erin. "25 Medical Oddities On Display At The Mütter Museum." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 13, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/mutter-museum. Accessed May 18, 2024.