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The Museum Dedicated to Deformity & Medical Oddities, The Mutter Museum

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Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

By Kate Haverston

If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, there is no better place to visit than the museum dedicated to deformity, oddity, and medical history in Philidelphia.

Mutter History

Mutter Museum is named for a 19th-century plastic surgeon, Thomas Dent Mutter. Plastic surgery back then didn’t look like what it does now. Mutter primarily worked with patients who had physical deformities, such as cleft palates or clubbed feet, and assisted burn victims in their recovery. His cleft pallet repair technique, the Mutter Flap, is still used today.

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In addition to developing progressive techniques to help patients in the 19th century live more normal lives, he was the first surgeon in the city who used anesthesia, which makes us all really grateful that we live in the 21st century.

When he died, he willed his entire medical collection and $30,000 to enable the city to open the Mutter Museum.

Learning from the Dead

The “Soap Lady”

There are so many exhibits that you can easily spend an entire day wandering around the macabre and educational halls of the Mutter Museum. There’s a wall filled with 139 human skulls collected in 1874 by an anatomist from Vienna. There’s the Soap Lady, who died in the 1830s. As she started to decompose, her body’s fat converted to a soap-like substance called adiopocere.

There’s jewelry made from genital warts, a pair of conjoined twins who died in the womb and were preserved in skeletal form, and even a maze that showcases health and hygiene during the Civil War when it reached Philadelphia.

‘Game of Thrones fans…Greyscale might not be a real disease, it is similar to a real condition called FOP (fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, AKA Stone Man Syndrome) is where other body tissues can turn into bone.’

Perfection in Imperfection

We’re steeped in the societal ideals of perfection — bikini bodies, perfect makeup and the idea that plastic surgery can fix anything that looks like it might be wrong with your body. That’s what makes the Mutter Museum such a unique place to visit.

Mutter focuses on the perfection that is found in imperfection. It sparks something in our minds, makes us question our ideas of what’s weird and what’s normal and forces us to reconsider what we see as things that should be hidden, changed or cut away.

It might be marketed as a “freak show,” but it’s bigger than that. If you haven’t had a chance to explore the Mutter Museum, it should be on your list of places to check out.

Giant Colon of a man with bowel disease

You Should Visit Philly Anyway

If the macabre doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of other things to do in the beautiful city of Philadelphia.

  • For a bit of history, take a tour of Independence Hall and see where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
  • You can walk through a giant human heart exhibit at the Franklin Institute — more fun, science-y stuff.
  • There are a ton of cool places to see concerts, drink specialty cocktails and explore craft beers.
  • You could also take a kayak tour down the Schuylkill river.
  • Little tip: Philly has decriminalized up to 30 grams of marijuana, so if you enjoy a bit of Mary Jane in your off hours, Philly is one of the safer cities to visit in Pennsylvania.
  • Of course, you don’t even have to visit any of the attractions. You can just go for the food. Chow down on a classic Philly cheesesteak or enjoy any of the dozens of different food vendors at the Reading Terminal Market or the South 9th Street Italian Market.

I definitely recommend planning a trip to the Mutter Museum, even if the kind of stuff you’d see there is not within your usual interests — I think it still has the potential to surprise. 

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