Musée Fragonard

Musée Fragonard (Paris, France)

Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1799) was an expert in the art of anatomic preparations. His elaborately posed preparations were the forefathers of Gunther von Hagens’ “Body Worlds”. At the Musée Fragonard, you can see all of his surviving work including some creepy looking “Human Fetuses Dancing a Jig”. I am mesmerized.

Ellwood Manor

Ellwood Manor (Wilderness, Virginia)

XashbugX sends a note about this site: “A slightly morbid site awaits you in Wilderness, Virginia, if you ever get down there on a weekend. What horrors await if you trespass on a weekday, I’m not sure, but the Lacy House (private property) is the home of the grave made for Stonewall Jackson’s arm. Seems that after the amputation, he recovered and was moved to another city (I think Chancellorsville), but his arm remained in Wilderness, where it was buried by the surgeon who removed it. Jackson died eight days later and was buried in Fredericksburg, I believe. I wasn’t so interested in his body’s grave as I was in that of his arm! We found the little turnoff to the Lacy House, but there was a wire across the gate to the farm, and the sign said “authorized vehicles only.” We didn’t cross the gate, but a few brave tourists DID, and I only hope they didn’t meet the fate that trespassers in those parts usually do: the property owner’s rifle.”

The national park service website does provide information on how to get permission to visit the site, thankfully.

Old City Cemetery

Old City Cemetery (Lynchburg, Virginia)

Shonagh recommends this site: “If anyone is heading toward Lynchburg, Virginia, there is a great cemetery to visit. It has a huge civil war section, not to mention one German soldier from World War Two. Also right in the cemetery are two small museums. One is a pest house and medical musuem from the Civil War. It is really interesting to see how medicine advanced. then then other is simply a museum chronicling how people were buried in the 19th Century. There are two great things in this museum: a horse-drawn hearse all clad in black. It is open. We have a picture of my mom laying in the back. The second is a wicker casket. That fascinated me, seeing as that anything left outside for a day in Lynchburg instantly rots. I am guessing that wicker caskets weren’t popular. Anyway, it is one of the best cemeteries I have ever been to.”

William13 has additional information to offer: “I had the opportunity to visit the Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. A beautifully maintained cemetery dating from the golden age, it boasts a sizable contigent of Confederate dead, a renowned collection of rose bushes as well as a pond and ‘scattering’ garden for the ashes of the cremated. But most exciting was the ‘Pest House’ where the poor sufferers of smallpox were treated during the great smallpox epidemic of 1862 – 1864. One could almost hear the desperate groans of the blighted souls as the doctor and nurses coated their rotting flesh with various balms and unguents.”

National Museum of Civil War Medicine

National Museum of Civil War Medicine (Frederick, Maryland)
I went to this museum back in 2001, but I couldn’t do a travelogue on it because they did not allow me to take pictures. I can tell you that it is an interesting place to visit, with dioramas depicting injured soldiers and the techniques that were used to tend to the them. There are lots of scary looking old amputation kits, as well as stories and photos of injured individuals. Recommended.


New Orleans Pharmacy Museum

New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (New Orleans, Louisiana)

514 Chartres Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 7, 2002

One of the lesser known, but still rather interesting, sites to see in New Orleans is the Pharmacy Museum. The museum is housed in a vintage 1850’s apothecary that has beautiful mahogany cabinets and an interesting collection of 19th century medicine. Although there really isn’t a whole lot to see for your $5.00, if you’re interested in 19th century medicine, it’s a must.

One of the highlights of the pharmacy is this wonderful 1855 soda fountain. From the museum’s website: “Soda fountains originated in pharmacies in the 1830’s. Pharmacists would mix phosphates and flavorings with bitter tasting medicines to make them more palatable. Eventually customers wanted the drinks without the medicine, hence the development of soft drinks. Crushed ice and salt were used to cool the mineral, soda and seltzer waters which were dispensed through brass faucets to create a nectar soda or the fruit phosphates favored by New Orleanians of that time.”

The mahogany cabinets, filled with vintage medications, are amazing too. They don’t make things like this anymore!

But the real fun is in the details – reading the outlandish, completely medically unproven pronouncements on the boxes and bottles, and looking at some of the grim collection of early pharmaceutical supplies. I was especially fond of the lead nipple shields: “Nipple shields were produced in lead, pewter and silver as early as 1820. The lead shields were advertised as soothing to the mother’s breast through the creation of lead lactate.” Say what???

Notice the baby bottle with the lead nipple too. “Prior to the invention of rubber or plastic, lead was used in the manufacture of baby nipples. The sweet taste of lead would encourage the child to feed, however, the long-term affects of lead poisoning were not understood. Prolonged exposure to lead may cause loss of appetite, headache, anaemia, vomiting, incoordination, paralysis, elevated blood pressure, cranial nerve paralysis, convulsions, and coma.”

Ah, the good old days!

Anyone have any additional stories, tidbits or photos to add?
If so, by all means, write me!


International Museum Of Surgical Science

International Museum Of Surgical Science (Chicago, Illinois)
Comtesse Travelogue through the morbid memorabilia in Chicago’s lovely lakeshore museum.

The International Museum of Surgical Science is located along Lake Shore Drive, just across from Lake Michigan, in the Gold Coast neighborhood of lovely Chicago. The museum is housed in what was once the residence of Eleanor Robinson Countiss, the daughter of a Diamond Match Executive. Obviously, Daddy wanted “only the best” for his little girl. Of course, when the house was constructed in 1917, nobody could foresee that one day all manner of surgical implement would be stored in these hallowed halls. But that’s exactly what happened when the building fell into the surgeon’s hands of Dr. Max Thorek and the International College of Surgeons in 1950. The museum opened in 1954 and continues to this day.I visited the museum on April 7, 2004 and found it to make for a very interesting stroll. A bit low-key on the morbidity scale, but there is still enough to keep the morbid mind happy. Here’s a snippet of what I saw…

As you approach the building, the first notable sight is this cool sculpture by French artist Edouard Chaissing entitled “Hope and Help” which depicts a physician propping up a sickly patient. Too bad they don’t sell reproductions of it at the gift shop…
Another shot of the entrance to the museum. The building was modeled after Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, incidentally. I’m sure that means something to someone!
One of the best things about the museum is the wonderful collection of large-scale medical paintings, most of which are very morbid in nature. Many of them, like this one, are by Gregorio Calvi di
Bergolo and were painted in 1953. This one is called “Life, Labor, Study, Charity, Death” and symbolizes the five phases of life. This one is pretty cool, but they get much, much better, as you’ll see.
There is also a fascinating collection of medical antiquities on display, including this Peruvian stone which has a very anatomically detailed etching of a heart on it. One wonders how they acquired the hearts to study… Or at least, I do!
There are also some nice reproductions of vintage doctor/dentist offices. Here’s a well-done old dentist office. I’d really rather not get any closer, if that’s okay with you…
Here’s a reproduction of a 19th century apothecary which was created from two pharmacies originally located in upstate New York and Iowa. Ooooh, I LOVE vintage pharmacies!! Just reading the labels on the medication can be ever so much fun!!!
Another shot of the pharmacy.
Even the pharmacist is well-done in this fine museum. Look at him – doesn’t he look like he’s in the process of misprescribing laudanum for quinine right now?
There are some nice displays that you can get up close and personal with, such as this collection of pill boxes. Can you guess which one caught my attention?
Yep, you guessed it!! The “Blue Ointment” box has a particular allure, don’t you think? I wish I could have one of those at home too…

Here’s some of the fun-filled medicine boxes. Oh, be still my arcane morbid heart!! Such great fun: “Blood Medicine,” “Jerome’s New Discovery For Liver, Kidneys, Stomach and Bowels,”
“Wheeler’s Nerve Vita-Lixer”. So much quackery, so little time!

Okay, now that we’ve seen the pharmacy, it’s time to indulge in a gallery of some of the marvelous morbid artwork. The one in the foreground is a depiction of “Primitive Trephining” in
prehistoric Peru.
Here is one of the galleries of historic medical paintings.
And some more.
Most of these murals were painted in 1953 by Gregorio Calvi di Bergolo to illustrate the historical achievements in surgery and medicine. Here’s a close-up of one of my favorites as the learned doctor and his students discuss a particularly pale corpse. (It’s entitled “Anatomy Lesson”.)
Here, it appears that a group of doctors are discussing the particulars of a nasty case of consumption, or something. It seems that death is entering the room, doesn’t it? Or is that just me again? (Actually, it’s entitled “Ephraim McDowell” and dpicts Mr. McDowell domstrating the technique of ovariotomy. I like my version better.)
Damned flash disrupted the beauty of this snippet of a composition, which, if I were the artist, I would entitle, “Raw Meat”. (It’s actually called “Anesthesia”.)
And then there’s my personal favorite – the old-fashioned amputation! I would love to have a copy of this one in my household – wouldn’t you? (“Early Amputation”)
After leaving the murals, I was instantly engrossed by this vintage iron lung, which is used to illustrate the damage that polio used to wreak on the populace prior to immunization programs.
Can you imagine having to eek out an existence in one of these? What would one do to pass the time??? I don’t even want to consider it…
There’s also a room full of life-sized sculptures of the founders of modern medicine. The only one that I found particularly entrancing was this one of Vesalius (1514-1564)… for obvious reasons.
This was definitely my favorite room in the mansion – the wonderfully ornate library! Of course, it’s decked-up with an extensive collection of vintage medical textbooks. Oh, what a lovely time I would have in this reading room!
Here’s a view of the other side of the library.
Here’s another lovely mural in the hall, this one depicting a c-section. I suspect one of the first ever, although I didn’t bother to record the details of this picture or its author.
Another great thing about the museum is the collection of medical equipment. Here’s a cabinet full of trephining equipment (ie. drilling a hole in the skull to reduce pressure on the brain, or just for the heck of it).
Here’s some more lovely artwork – this one seems to be showing how ether was administered as an early anesthetic for early surgeries, and how early surgeries attracted perverts of all ages. (Anything to see under a woman’s dress, don’t you know.)
Here’s another similar masterpiece, showing the use of chloroform. Notice how when a man is having the surgery, there aren’t nearly as many men standing around watching? I rest my case…
The museum also has a nice reproduction of this Rembrandt masterpiece entitled “Anatomy
This display illustrates how chloroform inhalers were used: “A layer of gauze was placed over the inhaler and clamped in place. The anesthetists placed several drops of chloroform on to the gauze.
The mask was then placed over the patient’s face. The patient was asked to inhale deeply.” And, hopefully, they survived this inexact science!
Of course, I had to take a picture of this drawing which shows a man with a rather prodigious case of elephantiasis of the testicles.
There are some examples of early x-rays hanging about as well, such as this child’s x-ray taken by Chicago’s own x-ray pioneer Emil Grubbé in 1910.
I found the x-ray equipment displays to be particularly interesting. Here’s a case full of early x-ray tubes and plates.
Here’s one of my favorite bits of medical insanity – the x-ray shoe fitter! Yes, back in the ’40’s and ’50’s the shoe-fitting x-ray unit was a common shoe store sales promotion device. Ah, the fun
we used to have with radiation before we knew better! (More info on this device is available here.)
Here are a couple more early x-rays.
This creepy looking device is an early x-ray machine – specifically, a Wantz Interrupterless X-ray Transformer which was used by Dr. Emil Grubbé in 1907. Wouldn’t this be a nifty conversation
piece in the living room?
Another shot of the Wantz Interrupterless X-ray Transformer, taken from the side. “Oooh, I wonder what this knob does??”
There is also a delightful collection of ancient Peruvian skulls that depict the art of “trephination” – drilling holes in the skull – in graphic detail, along with some of the trephining
instruments. Amazingly enough, healing of the skull shows that people actually survived this ancient surgery.
I found this collection of gallstones, kidney stones, bladder stones, etc. to be quite fascinating as well. Who would think that they could be so pretty? Some of them look more like pearls than anything produced from a human body.
Among the eclectic collections in the museum is this copy of Napoleon’s death mask in a suitably regal case.
These wicked looking things are actually vaginal speculums and catheters from the Roman era. Pretty nifty looking instruments, but I’m sure glad I didn’t have them used on me!
Here are more ancient Roman surgical instruments. They also have some nasty looking amputation equipment, like this saw which probably dates from the 19th century. I wonder how many limbs this thing severed? This is a very nice amputation set from the 1800-1850 era. Again, imagine the stories that the saw could tell… I took a particular liking to these before and after images of girls suffering from osteological deformities, which purport to show the miraculous results of using the “bone crusher” treatment.
And here is the “bone crusher” itself: “Osteoclasts, or bone crushers, were used during the early 1900s to produce intentional fractures in the limbs of children with birth deformities. The bone
crusher applied pressure to the deformed bones, fracturing them in a controlled manner and then reset the fractured bones allowing them to heal correctly.” Oh, my limbs ache just thinking of it!!!
And where there are bone crushers, there must surely be artificial limbs! A nice assortment of them, in fact. Another view of the assorted limbs. And with one last loving look at a surgical kit, it was time to bid the museum adieu.