Keeping Up With the Bones

“To learn more about Disease and Trauma, please dial the following number.” So reads one of exhibit panels at Philadelphia’s legendary Mutter Museum. Another asks visitors: “Why would you want a dried hand?” Why indeed? The answer provided didn’t seem entirely satisfactory. But, these textual offerings are all in line with the sign that greets you at the museum entrance…

The Mutter Museum, at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, is one of the world’s most fascinating medical history museums. Its purpose is to educate, to shine a light on not only the history of medicine, but also explain diagnosis, treatment, and the mysterious wonders of the human body. Its collection of anatomical specimens, medical instruments, and models are all displayed intimately in a traditional cabinet of curiosities arrangement. Highlights include a super-human-sized colon, shrunken heads, a model of a horn-like growth from a woman’s forehead, and tales of a 10-pound hairball removed from the stomach of someone with a prodigious follicular-appetite. All in all, the Mutter is disturbing, it is informative, it is morbidly fascinating, it is stomach turning, it is provocative, it is hideous, and it is beautiful. It certainly stands out among the other members of the museum world.

Photo by istolethetv via Flickr.

However, despite its uniqueness, the Mutter does have one thing in common with other museums: it needs to raise money for the upkeep of the collection. And, given the extreme competition for donation dollars in the non-profit world, that means it needs to get creative in its fundraising efforts. So, the museum decided to adopt. If zoo patrons can adopt a polar bear, and Art Institute of Chicago fans can adopt a dot from Seurat’s Sunday on La Grande Jatte, why can’t visitors to the Mutter Museum adopt something too? Enter the Hyrtl Skull Collection.

Photo by He Shoots He Scores via Flickr.

The Hyrtl Skull Collection consists of 139 skulls, which are over 150 years old and, as such, are in need of special care. They are an iconic component of the Mutter’s extensive collection, and, let’s face it, more likely to be adopted by a museum lover than a nausea-inducing jar of skin. Now through December 31—if you’re looking for a unique Christmas or Hanukkah gift, here you go—each skull is available for adoption for an annual subscription fee of $200. This money goes toward the conservation, research, and exhibition costs of each skull, and adopters will be identified as the proud patron of their skull in the Mutter Museum. A catalog of the Hyrtl Collection is available so that you can choose the skull that suits you best. Perhaps that is an unknown male from Amsterdam with turned up nasal bones, or the young fruit vendor Georg Prasnig who died in Vienna, or perhaps Orazio Trani—whose cause of death is unknown but his idiocy is apparently well established—is more your speed. Intrigued? Visit here for more information about adopting one of the Mutter Museum’s skulls.

Leave a Reply