Morbid Sightseeing Alert!

When I was dating the girl in DC earlier this year, I made a trip to the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.  Was it a rip-off at $21.95 compared to the great low cost (free!) of the Smithsonian museums?  Certainly it was.  But were there interesting things on display here?  Yes, there certainly are, including Gacy’s Pogo the Clown outfit.  So then isn’t it worth it?  Well, kind of, I suppose.

But the point is: It’s closing at the end of the month!  So, get out there now or wonder if it will ever open anywhere else for the rest of your life!

I’ll hurry up and put out my travelogue this week (if work allows) so that you can see what you’re missing if you choose not to make a trip.

Crime Museum Is Closing At The End of September

(Thanks to Ear for the heads up!)

Palace of Wonders / Red Palace

Palace Of Wonders / Red Palace (Washington, D.C.)
Anna recommends this bar: “Palace of Wonders is a new bar that opened up in DC. The theme is sideshow. I had the wonderful privilege of attending the grand opening last weekend and seeing a man eat a light bulb, sword swallowers and many other sideshow acts. The upstairs is a museum of authentic oddities from the early sideshows. Things in jars, weird animals medical weirdness all amassed by a man named James Taylor. If you’re hungry they actually serve carnival food, popcorn, nachos and corndogs. For anyone ever visiting Washington D.C., I highly recommend this place!”


The National Theatre

The National Theatre (Washington, D.C.)
“For almost a century the National has been haunted by the friendly ghost of actor John McCullough, reputedly shot and killed by a fellow performer. The two men argued while washing clothes in the Tiber Creek, which then flowed through the basement backstage. A rusty pistol, perhaps the murder weapon, was unearthed under the stage in 1982, near where McCullough’s remains are rumored to lie in the earth beneath the stage. According to legend, his spirit roams the theatre on the eve of opening nights, and was once seated in the audience.” (Thanks to Myponine for the suggestion.)


National Museum of Health and Medicine

The National Museum Of Health & Medicine (Washington, D.C.)
A Comtesse Travelogue!

Here’s my journey to one of the finest morbid sights in the country – a place where you can see The Bullet That Killed Lincoln, Civil War General Sickles’ fractured tibia and fibula, and sundry other gruesome and fascinating sights! A must-see for the morbidly minded!

American Freaks!

The National Museum Of Health And Medicine
Washington, D.C. – June 18, 2001

The National Museum Of Health And Medicine
6900 Georgia Avenue and Elder St., NW
Washington D.C. 20307-5001 4506


You know, after visiting Philadelphia’s magnificent Mütter Museum, I had thought that it would be a very long time coming before I would again experience its lofty heights of morbidity and freakiness. However, only four days later, I was privileged to walk through the hallowed halls of the National Musem Of Health And Medicine: America’s shrine to death, disfigurement, disability, disease, and all-around dysfunction. And, although the Mütter Museum does possess that certain je ne sais quois that sets it apart from all others as the foremost Disturbing Museum of America, the NMHM comes awfully close to equaling its macabre canon. And, in many ways, I found the Museum Of Health & Medicine to be even more enticing than its Philadelphian counterpart: such historical must-see’s as the Bullet That Killed Lincoln, General Sickles’ tibia, and numerous other Civil War casualties, all presented with excellent documentation, make this an absolute must-see for the morbidly minded. So, let me share with you a smattering of the more macabre displays in this most disturbing delight.

But first, let me share the tale of earlier in the day. We left Gettysburg, PA early in the morning and drove to Frederick, Maryland, where I was eager to visit the Museum Of Civil War Medicine. However, I was most dismayed to find that they were extremely strict in their “No Photography” philosophy. How annoying is that? First the Mütter Museum, now this one. Well, all I have to say is that you really aren’t missing out on much by my not being able to take pictures there. The museum was a bit of a rip-off, especially in comparison to the glories of the free and photos-allowed National Museum of Health and Medicine. Most of the exhibits consisted of mannequins dressed in Civil War costumes and supposedly tending to other “wounded” mannequins. There wasn’t much in the way of gore or war debris. In fact, the most interesting thing about the place was actually the bookstore, where you could buy “Embalming The Dead” t-shirts and coffee cups. We were pretty happy to be on our way to bigger and much better things.

The National Museum Of Health And Medicine is located in the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in northern Washington D.C. But if you go there, don’t make the mistake that we made: we must have circled through every sidestreet in the entire (quite large) complex looking for the damned museum. It was interesting seeing all of the old brick buildings in the complex, and I was enjoying reflecting on the fact that there are still tissue samples from victims of the 1918 flu and smallpox epidemics lurking in some dark cabinets somewhere in the vicinity, but after a couple of times circling about it got a bit old. Of course, as is always the case, the museum was actually located close to the entrance – we just went the wrong way when we came in. Duh…

Since this is a National Museum, admittance is free: it basically belongs to the American people. But there’s no flash photography allowed, and in the low-lighting conditions some of my pictures didn’t turn out the best. But hopefully they’ll give you an idea of the macabre delights lurking in this building. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get morbid!

This is the first Fascinating Thing that we stumbled across. At this computer terminal, you can use the roller ball to zoom through cross-section views of a real human cadaver. From head to toe. Obviously, we were captivated.

The museum holds a large collection of antique medical instruments as well. I found this chimpanzee microscope, circa 1850, quite lovely.

This is The Most Important Display in the museum: articles from the Assassination of President Lincoln. Clockwise, from left, we have a lock of Lincoln’s hair, removed from the site of the wound; fragments of Lincoln’s skull, removed at autopsy; a bloody bandage used on Lincoln’s head; the bullet that killed Lincoln; the pick used by the doctor to extricate the bullet; and more skull fragments removed at autopsy. I spent a few long moments staring down at these sad reminders…

This is one of the many fascinating Civil War Injuries exhibits that put the Museum Of Civil War Medicine to shame. This one illustrates how they used to repair injuries to arm bones back in the day. You see, the old Civil War bullets were enormously damaging to bones – causing them to fragment mercilessly. If the surrounding vascular tissue remained viable, they would simply remove the bone, and leave the tissue. So, you ended up with men like this fella – who has an arm, but no humerus, so his upper arm just flops about with no support. Bizarre, huh?

This is a portion of the upper arm bone of Private Keggereis: “Private J. P. Kegerreis… was wounded at Petersburg, Virginia on June 17th, 1864 by a minie ball. The ball entered his neck, punctured his windpipe and passed through his right shoulder joint. Keggereis was tagged for amputation at the field hospital but tore off the tag and crawled among the less seriously wounded. Three days later, while at City Point Hospital, his wound was treated and found filled with maggots. His neck wound healed in a month, but his shoulder wound became infected. In the winter of 1865, the infected bone was removed by excision (top of picture at left). The wound healed slowly and he was discharged in May of 1866. In December of 1867, a surgeon removed a large piece of bone from the joint and the bones of the arm later fused on a semi-flexed position. He was able to lift 135 pounds with his injured arm.”

This was my personal “favorite” of the Civil War injuries – a bullet lodged right between the eyes:
“Corporal G. W. Stone… was wounded at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13th, 1862, when a conoidal ball penetrated his right eye and lodged behind his left eye. His only exterior symptoms were a small wound to the lid of his right eye and the slight protuberance of his left eye. His left eye continued to function normally and Corporal Stone complained only of a slight headache. The wound to his right eye healed well and within three weeks, he was allowed to walk about the city with a hospital pass. Suddenly on February 6th, 1863, he developed chills. Fever and delirium followed. He died at midnight on February 15th, 1863.”

Another grim Civil War injury:
“Private J. Luman… was wounded at the battle of Mine Run, Virginia, on November 27th, 1863, when a minie ball passed through his skull. He was treated in the field hospital for several days before being evacuated to the 3rd division hospital in Alexandria. By December 8th, Private Luman was comatose and Surgeon E. Bentley applied a trephine and removed the splinters of bone associated with the wound. His condition failed to improve and he died five days later.”

I was quite delighted to meet up with General Daniel Sickles’ tibia and fibula, which were donated to the museum by Sickles himself after his leg was struck by a cannonball at the Battle Of Gettysburg and had to be amputated. For years afterwards he would journey to the museum on the anniversary of the amputation to visit his leg. What a guy, huh? Also of note: Sickles was the first defendant to successful argue “innocent by temporary insanity” after he murdered his wife’s lover (Philip Barton Key, son of the composer of the national anthem) in 1859. Yep, a true purveyor of morbidity…

This is a femur (upper leg bone) that has been severely disfigured by … erm … some disease or another. Osteoporosis? Syphilis? Elephantiasis? Anyone know??? Well, it’s a creepy looking bone, anyway!

A cornucopia of Civil War injuries – from upper left: “Private C. C. W. … was wounded at Spottsylvania, Virginia, on May 12th, 1864, when a minie ball struck the left side of his head with enough force to split the bullet. Surgery was deferred until May 31st when the minie ball and fragments of the left parietal were removed. By next day, symptoms of infection and pressure on the brain were noted. Private C. C. W. died on June 4th, 1864”; “Private G. Smith… was injured in the skull during an explosion aboard the gunboat George Washington on the Coosaw River in South Carolina on April 9th, 1863. He died on April 12th in Beaufort, South Carolina”; “At the battle of Gettysburg, Private W. F. Faucett, flag bearer… was shot in the left arm and dropped the flag. Faucett picked up the flag with his right hand and continued into battle. After being captured by Union troops, he received hospital care for his injury. The wound became infected and his arm was amputated on September 22nd, 1863.”

Like the Mütter Museum, the National Museum of Health and Medicine has quite a few creepy wax figures that were used as educational tools on display. Here are a couple displaying “before and after” reconstruction of facial injuries incurred during wartime. They’d make great Halloween masks, wouldn’t they?

More nasty ouch-inducing wartime debris.
Regarding the skull: “Gunshot wounds to the skull were fatal in more than 80% of cases reported by Union surgeons. This skull, retrieved in 1866 from the Confederate trenches at Wilderness, Virginia, shows a gunshot wound.”
Regarding the arm: “Infection of the bone following a gunshot wound was a near certainty. Private Sullivan Sager… was shot in the lower leg by a minie ball near Richmond, Virginia, on June 29th, 1862. He entered the hospital on August 13th with puss draining from the wound. His leg was amputated on October 6th, 1862, but he succumbed to a blood infection and died three days later.”
Check out that particularly gruesome color photo of a shell wound of the wrist in the upper right hand corner too!

There are also some interesting historic photographs peppering the walls of the museum. Here’s a well-known pair of photos of a man with secondary syphilis before (far left) and after (center) mercury treatment. Obviously, it worked wonders for him, but mercury treatments were usually just as harmful as the syphilis they were meant to cure.

Here are a couple more of those lovely wax teaching models – in this case, they are showing the effects of tertiary syphilis.

Here are a few more creepy wax models (showing the effects of syphilis on the toe and gonorrhea on a penis), along with a syphilitic femur.

Here’s a nifty collection of fetus/infant skeletons. See that individual in the background with the red shirt on? There were tons of those obnoxious red shirts scurrying about. They were from some school or organization or something. Just our luck: they choose our day for their field trip.

Isn’t this cool looking? It’s a fetus impregnated with some solution that highlights the bones. They really oughtta sell these things as paper weights or ornaments! Unfortunately, this place didn’t have a gift shop. Pity…

Here’s a poor unfortunate preserved fetus that died some horrible intra-uterine death… but lives on in the museum!

A preserved fetus still inside a uterus.

Here’s an entire nervous system, carefully dissected from a body and suspended in formaldehyde. Painstaking work, to be certain!

Shades of the Mütter Museum, Part I: A Dwarf’s Skeleton! This one doesn’t come with as tragic of a story as the Mütter Museum’s poor prostitute though:
“This skeleton, of an elderly woman, exhibits some of the common traits of achondroplasia: flaring of the ends of the long bones and an enlarged head and pronounced forehead.”

Shades of the Mütter Museum, Part II: The Giant Colon! Not quite as giant as the Mütter Museum colon, however. But oh so educational: “Congenital megacolon is due to functional loss of the nerves in a segment of the colon. These nerves which normally help pass undigested matter through the intestine are absent, resulting in obstruction and enlargement. This megacolon was removed from a 19 year old man with a history of constipation.” Horrid fate…

Here’s something that would feel right at home at the Mütter Museum as well: a giant hair ball that was removed from the stomach of a twelve year old girl who ate her hair for six years. The hair ball had charmingly formed into the shape of her stomach. Blech…

This skeleton was one of the most fascinating exhibits we saw: “This is the skeleton of a 47-year-old soldier who had served 11 months in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Some years after the war, bone began to form across most of his joints, so that he was unable to move. For 15 years he lived in the U.S. Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC. His front teeth were removed so that he could be fed because he could not open his mouth.” Isn’t it just amazing the thahorrorst the human body is capable of inflicting upon itself? Here’s a comparison of his skeleton vs. a normal one.

Here are a couple of bones that were broken and not set properly, and that recovered as best they could under the somber circumstances!
I found this one to be a most disconcerting and realistic wax model – of a burn victim. Definitely not something to bump into in a dimly lit room!
This was another topic of great fascination for me: this man’s head had been perfectly preserved by some secret embalming technique. (Why is it that all exceptional embalming techniques are secret? Evita Peron… that little girl in the Italian catacomb… the list goes on…)
Whereas this girl’s head was… less well preserved. But an exceptional mummy, she is! “An American pioneer in arsenic embalming, Dr. Thomas Holmes was active throughout the Civil War, embalming bodies of dead soldiers before they were returned home for burial… During the late nineteenth century, Holmes embalmed a young girl from Kentucky. In the 1940s the remarkably preserved upper torso was donated…”
And with one last gasp – at a horribly deformed spine – our trip through the magnificent National Museum Of Health & Medicine is at an end.

And with that, I drove away from Washington, D.C. and back to Baltimore – my East Coast Morbid Tour 2001 finally at its end!

Holocaust Museum

Holocaust Museum (Washington, D.C.)
Den of Asps recommends this site: “I’ve been to the Holocaust museum once or twice, and think it’s well worth it: it’s one of the few museums downtown for which there’s an admittance charge, and you should get there early as the lines can be long, but it’s got some remarkably striking rooms in it.”