Meguro Parasitological Museum

Meguro Parasitological Museum (Tokyo, Japan)

Mel informed me of this delightful museum, which is described vividly on TIMEasia Magazine’s website: “Though it occupies only two floors of a small office building, the museum boasts that it displays more specimens of roundworms, hookworms, flukes, nematodes and leeches than any other place on earth—not to mention gruesomely graphic images and descriptions of the havoc they can wreak on humans and other hosts. For sure, no one could possibly leave the museum complaining that there were too few of these creepy objects on show. The formaldehyde-filled glass jars of the often impressively large and malevolent-looking critters put the work of Damien Hirst to shame. Among the must-sees: a dog’s heart with more holes than a wedge of Swiss cheese (thanks to a bad attack of heartworms); a tortoise’s head with leech-ravaged eyelids; and an 8.8-m-long tapeworm extracted from a man who chose the wrong trout to eat raw. Even more weird, all of this is displayed with nonjudgmental cheeriness. The museum even has a gift shop filled with gaily colored, branded souvenirs certain to dumbfound or disgust the folks back home. Our favorite: a T shirt adorned with a menagerie of cartoon parasites and the slogan wonderful world of the worm.”

Specola Museum

Museo La Specola (Florence, Italy)

Suggested by John: “The Specola museum in Florence, Italy is a most fascinating museum. It is a natural history museum and is laid out starting with insects and mollusks, then birds, fish, mammals (all stuffed, sometimes very weirdly) and ending with the most stunning wax anatomical models of humans and their parts. There is a book published by Taschen called: Encyclopaedia Anatomica. If you ever find yourself in Florence, I strongly advise you go there. It’s near the Pitti Palace.”

Mütter Museum

Mütter Museum (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The Only Museum That Mütters!

Mütter Museum, Philadelphia, PA
June 14, 2001

As you must surely know, one of the main reasons why I wanted to come to Philadelphia – indeed, my primary long-term motivation to come here, was to visit the magnificent Mütter Museum at the College Of Physicians of Philadelphia. The Mütter Museum is a fantastically disturbing collection of 19th century medical teaching specimens, including a large number of oddities such as congenital birth defects, mummified remains, skeletons showing strange malformations, and the like. In other words – can there possibly be a more glorious place to visit!! I thought not! And so, with a full memory card on my digital camera and a heart full of hope and wonder, my friend Christine and I set off to locate that most morbid of museums.

We parked the car nearby and walked down 22nd Street, past a pretty old church and to the front of the College Of Physicians Of Philadelphia. Hmmm… somehow it wasn’t nearly as pretty as I’d hoped since it was undergoing renovation of the front facade. We had to enter through a back entrance that was so nondescript I didn’t even bother photographing it.

When we entered into the lobby, the man at the counter looked disapprovingly at my camera and said, “There are no photographs allowed”. I was shocked! I’d come thousands of miles to photograph this glorious place and now I was being told I could not take any pictures??? I asked him why this was the case. He said, “Some site on the internet has been selling photographs.” I explained to him that I run a Morbid Sightseeing website and that I was hoping to use the photographs I took here to advertise the museum, not for profit. He was unconvinced, but explained that they had calendars that I could purchase instead. As if I wasn’t going to purchase those damned calendars anyway, in addition to taking some pictures!

So, you can imagine how grumpy I was as I wandered into the museum. The only good thing was that he hadn’t asked for my memory card or told me that I couldn’t take my camera with me, so there was still a chance I could completely unethically sneak a few shots inside. In fact, as I entered the main hall of the museum I tested my mettle by slyly snapping a shot of a beautiful collection of skulls along the far wall – and, hey! It came out as crappy as you’d expect a low-lighted long distance taken on the sly shot to turn out! But let me tell you about those skulls anyway. They were all annotated with explanations of how the person died and the date of death. (Here’s a much better Joel-Peter Witkin shot of one of the skulls, taken from the calendar, showing the writing on the side.) It was, of course, of compelling interest to me and I spent the longest time staring at each skull and reading of the manner of death – suicides, murders, diseases, etc. – that befell the poor unfortunates. Obviously, I should have taken a close-up, but I was suddenly filled with nervousness that I would be caught and castigated for snapping pictures illicitly. I know, what a wuss, huh?

Fortunately for all of us, Christine was not nearly so much of a wuss as I, and she quickly took over camera duties. Of course, in a dimly lit arena like this, one cannot expect the greatest of pictures, so please lower your expectations… ummm… lower than that… a little lower… almost there… okay, now that you’re buried three stories underground, you’re about right! 😉

Okay, enough muttering about the pictures. (Yes, I’m going to use and abuse that pun until you’re ready to put my skull up on that shelf yourself!) It’s time to introduce you to one of the stars of the museum: The Giant Colon. Okay, in this picture, it doesn’t look like much but that brown thing is actually a five-foot long megacolon – a condition where the colon just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger, without being able to properly move feces through the body. This poor guy had 40 pounds of excrement in his colon when he finally died from this condition. There was a picture of him when he was alive and he looked incredibly obese – but it was all just his colon filling up his entire abdomen, putting pressure on his other organs, etc. Not a pretty condition, by any means!! (Here’s a somewhat better picture of the colon from the Roadside America site, if you really, really want to see it!)

Another of the “highlights” of this section of the museum is the Soap Lady, which I could not photograph because of the poor lighting conditions. Here’s an image of her from the Roadside America website, however. She was a woman who died of yellow fever sometime in the 19th century and her body turned to adipocere – a waxy, soap-like substance. There are x-rays of the Soap Lady as well. Isn’t that nifty?

There are Freakish Things are all around you as you walk around the disturbing realm of the Mütter Museum. It’s like one of those silly horror movies where the woman backs up in the spooky basement and bumps into a teaching skeleton and screams! And then then she opens a cabinet and sees some horrible malformed things in jars and screams louder still! (Actually, these are anencephalic babies – babies with underdeveloped brains…) You’re just surrounded with horror everywhere you look… and it’s absolutely captivating! This was one of my favorite freaky specimens – a skeleton of a siamese twin with two bodies, but only one head/face! Talk about weird!! I’d love a model of this one in my house – what a conversation piece that would be! (Yes, I think that’s enough evidence to convince the asylum to throw me in the padded room without a key, but if you did that you wouldn’t have any more of these nifty travelogues to look forward to, would you?)

This was the one thing that probably freaked me out more than anything in the entire building (even the evil man who wouldn’t let me take pictures!) This is someone’s face in plastic. And right to the right of the face is a slice of the skull. You see, some creative soul in the 19th century took someone’s head and sliced it into thin slices and put each piece in plastic, to create this great learning tool that allowed you to see inside the head. (Here’s a better shot from the calendar.) What really freaked me out, though, was the face. You can’t really see it in my crummy picture, but the expression on the face was one of a sort of beautiful tranquility, and the details – the eyelashes, imperfections, lips, etc. – were all perfectly preserved which just startled me. Imagine having your face preserved for all time (well our time anyway) like that?? This very well might have been a criminal – since they used to do most of their studies on criminals back in those days – and I’m not even sure if it was a man or woman (it looked more feminine to me, but who knows)… it just seemed disturbingly beautiful within all the ugliness of the museum…

The other centerpiece (other than the colon and the soap lady) were these two paradoxical skeletons (as seen in a much better picture at the top of this page). You can see the big one – a 7’6″ giant whose crooked spine has caused his ribcage to bow out like a bird’s- but on the right is the skeleton of a 3’6″ dwarf with an extraordinarily sad story to tell. You see, back in the 19th century, there was no way for her to make a living, so she turned to the sex industry and worked as a prostitute. She became pregnant and of course her tiny pelvis was not big enough for the baby to fit through. They ended up crushing the baby’s skull to try and fit her through the pelvic opening, but it still didn’t work. (The crushed skull is on display next to the dwarf. You can see it in this image from the calendar.) They had to do a C-Section but in those days before anti-septic that was a virtual death sentence. Sure enough, her abdominal wound became infected and she died shortly after. Gosh, isn’t that just the saddest story ever? I certainly thought so… Oh, here’s another, much clearer picture of the giant, but unfortunately the dwarf is hidden in this shot. Good thing I bought the calendar, eh?

Here was another interesting display: a chronology of fetus skeletons. It’s very artistic, don’t you think? Well, I think so anyway… Fetuses and babies are very prevalent in the displays. Here are some plaster casts taken from deformed infants. They also have a plaster cast of Chang and Eng – the original Siamese Twins – taken after their death. (Here’s an image of them taken from a calendar.) Of course, they also have a few real specimens in formaldehyde as well. I tell ya, I haven’t been this startled by specimens in jars since I realized that the furry thing in the dimly lit Orland High School biology classroom was actually a two-headed calf’s head – and it was looking right at me!!

In addition to the jars, there were quite a few nifty 19th century wax models exhibiting a large number of horrendous skin and eye disorders. Here are a few of them – next to a collection of trepanned skulls. (These are skulls of “primitive peoples” that have holes drilled in them in an early form of brain surgery.) There were also some other odd specimens sitting about… like the poor unfortunate plaster cast of the boy with the tumor of the buttocks (on the right) and the hydrocephalic baby (ie. really big skull due to water swelling the brain) on the left.

And so it goes on and on and on. And we’ve only shown you a fraction of the delightfully depraved items in the collection because it was right about here that Christine looked up and noticed the cameras all around the room… watching her every move… watching her every click of the camera!!! Obviously, she fell into panic mode and I slyly removed the photo card from the camera – just in case they should try to confiscate the precious images. She snuck out the back door, while I went back to the front to buy the calendars to get some decent quality pics. They never said a word (hopefully, they don’t bother with watching their display monitors – but don’t count on that! We might have just been lucky.). So, here are a few more images culled from the calendars taken by professional photographers who were actually granted the right to take decent pics here. Imagine that! (But I’m not bitter…) I figure I must have the right to show these pictures on my site, after all when I asked about taking pictures they said, “You can buy calendars with images.” So, indeed, here are a few more of my favorites:

Triplets. Miscarriage at 4 1/2 months
Model of decapitated Chinese head, 1896
Dried skeleton of a child showing veins and arteries
Another view of the “beautiful” sliced face, 1911
A plaster cast and actual Chinese bound “lotus” foot

And so our trip to the Mütter Museum came to an end. I would highly recommend this fascinating museum to anyone of peculiar disposition. On the Morbid Scale, it’s definitely a 10!!

For more information on the Mütter Museum , also see:
Look At The Giant Colon!
(This is the site that first introduced me to the wonders of the Mütter Museum.)
Roadside America 
The Mütter Museum