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A Trip to the Mutter Museum Essay

The Mutter Museum in Philadelphia is essentially a medical museum that houses pathological and anatomical specimens, aged medical equipment, wax models, and odd medical objects. It is located in the Center City of Philadelphia, specifically at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Although the museum contains many interesting and intriguing objects, possibly the most popular one on display was the famed Soap Lady, which, according to the museum records, has been a mystery since the 19th century and is located in the Upper Gallery.

She got her name because her corpse was formed into a soapy and fatty substance which is called adipocere. Based on the museum records, the lady was initially reported to have died on 1792 due to Yellow Fever. However, recent technology proved that she died in the 1830s. Up to this day, it is not yet known exactly how she died and why her body was encased with the soap-like substance. A radiology team is running tests on the said substance and also on her hair and a piece of nail that was retrieved.

Another interesting object on display in the Upper Gallery was the skeletons of the conjoined twins. As seen in the museum, the heads of the twins were connected at their skull’s midline while the lower portion is partially divided into the palate and lower jaw. According to the museum account, the conjoined twins also shared a single stomach, esophagus, pharynges, liver, and gall bladder. They also had two hearts although one irregular in shape. Evidently, since the twins were connected at the thorax and the head, they display a symmetrical illusion of a single skull with two bodies.

Moreover, in the Lower Gallery, another skeleton on exhibit was one that has a rare genetic disorder which was initially called ossificans progressive until new discoveries in the 1970s showed that the disorder involved tissues than muscles. According to the museum records, it was then renamed Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva. The skeleton belonged to a 39-year-old man named Harry Eastlack, who suffered from the rare bone disorder. Children who have this disorder are normal upon birth except for certain malformations on the big toe.

During the first ten or twenty years of life, children experience soft-tissue swellings that are painful and progress into a process known as heterotopic ossification. Generally, this process starts at the neck then at the shoulder and back areas before moving to the knees and the hips. At present, no treatment has been discovered for this disorder. In the Lower Gallery of the museum, at the Disorders of the Skeletal System area, two skeletons contrasting in height are displayed.

According to the museum specifics, one was 7’6” tall while the other was 3’6” dwarf. The giant skeleton was recovered in Kentrucky and exhibited gigantism, a condition in which an individual grows excessively. On the other hand, the small skeleton was from Mary Ashberry, who at birth, had achondroplasia, which is the reverse of gigantism and the most common form of dwarfism. In general, dwarfism, in medical terms, is when an individual does not reach the average height.

Furthermore, also in the Lower Gallery, another object that caught my attention was the plaster of the Siamese Twins Chang and Eng Bunker as well as their well-preserved livers, which were also conjoined. The condition of the liver was highly significant as it showed in detail exactly how joined organs of Siamese twins appear. Finally, also on exhibit was the huge ovarian cyst removed from a woman in the 19th century. This particular object, according to the museum, was of historical significance because it showed the difficult health challenges that women faced during that time.


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