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Lily Landes

11 Things You Won't See on Display at the Mütter Museum

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Lily Landes

On a cart in Anna Dhody’s office sits a small, innocuous box marked “caramel Danish rolls.” Open it up, though, and you won’t find a pastry; instead, there’s a human skull nestled inside. Nearby, there’s another cardboard box—this one labeled “brain slices”—and on the bookshelf sits a jar of dried human skin.

The presence of these items might seem pretty weird—if not alarming—under typical circumstances, but this is not a typical office. Dhody is a forensic anthropologist and the curator of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which houses anatomical specimens, models, and instruments from medical history. Visitors to the museum—which was founded by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in 1858 from the collection of surgeon Thomas Mütter—can see the tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s jaw, slices of Einstein’s brain, a plaster cast of conjoined twins Chang and Eng, a dermoid cyst, and the tallest skeleton on display in North America.

But there’s much more that the museum doesn’t have on display. Dhody took us on a tour to give us a peek at what the public doesn’t get to see. (For more on the life of Thomas Mütter and the museum’s history, pick up Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz’s excellent book, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.)

1. An Iron Lung

Though we now associate the iron lung with polio, the device was originally invented for coal miners who had inhaled toxic gasses, according to Dhody. This particular iron lung, used in the 1950s, was an Emerson Negative Pressure Ventilator. “I love this piece—it’s amazing—but it’s so big,” Dhody says; she estimates that it weighs more than 800 pounds. The machine would fit someone over six feet tall; his head would stick out, while his body was inside the chamber. “Your whole respiratory system is under a little bit of negative pressure—that’s what fills [the lungs] up with air and that’s what you need to breathe,” Dhody says. “So the engine would generate artificial negative pressure inside the chamber and basically force your ribcage to move up and down and allow you to breathe.” If the power went out, nurses would manually operate a bellows at the end of the iron lung to keep the negative pressure going. Though the machines aren’t used much anymore, “as of 2008, there were 80 people in the world that still use iron lungs either full- or part-time,” Dhody says.

2. A Mystery Penis

Though the Mütter is known for its human remains, the museum also has a fair amount of animal remains, which are important for comparative anatomy purposes. Picking the favorite of that collection is easy. “I can tell you that it’s a penis," Dhody says. "What I can’t tell you for sure is what kind of animal it comes from.” Though the tag reads “horse,” Dhody’s friend—an equine facilitator who owns a horse farm and “knows her horse junk”—put that myth to rest.

The preserved member is huge—easily the length of a person's arm—and Dhody isn’t sure when it became part of the collection. “It has an F number, which means found number,” she says. “It was way before my time.” Based on x-rays of the baculum, or penis bone, taken by the Philadelphia Zoo, “we’re basically thinking that it’s from a larger sea mammal—a walrus, sea lion, or elephant seal,” Dhody says.

3. A Jar of Human Skin

In 2009, a young woman with dermatillomania—a mental disorder that creates a need to pick skin off the body—donated a jar of skin she had picked off of her feet to the museum. Dhody promptly put that jar on display. Fast forward to 2014: “She’s still picking, and I’m still taking it,” Dhody says of the new jar of skin, donated earlier this year, that sits on her bookshelf. “What’s interesting is that this seems to churn people’s stomachs more than the severed limbs and heads in jars. They see this and go ‘ahh!’ I don’t get it. It’s skin.” There was a good reason for taking the skin, which, by the way, smells like romano cheese. “It has huge educational impact,” Dhody says. “How many other ways do I have of showing a physical manifestation of a mental disorder?” (Thankfully, the young woman making these donations only picks from her feet; others with dermatillomania can disfigure themselves.) Dhody might eventually combine both donations into a single jar for display, but, she says, “I like having it in my office right now.”

4. A Replica of Chamberlen Forceps

In the 1600s, two Chamberlen family brothers, both named Peter, worked as surgeons and obstetricians and invented modern obstetrical forceps—a technology that the family kept secret for a century. “The whole concept of intellectual property and who owns rights—it’s not just computer stuff,” Dhody says. “For a hundred years, this family dominated the field of obstetrics in Europe. They could command up to $10,000 [in the money of that time] for one birth all because of these two pieces of metal.” The Mütter’s pair of Chamberlen forceps is a metal replica that was made a couple of hundred years ago.

The design of modern forceps hasn’t changed much since the Chamberlens. “The one thing that is different is that those blades can come apart so you can insert one at a time into the vaginal canal, whereas [with this tool], they’re together,” Dhody says. “It’s amazing that this technology still exists. Forceps are going out of favor, but they are still used—not as much in America, but other parts of the world. It’s good when a baby is just stuck in there. If you are a practitioner who is skilled in the use of forceps, it’s safe. You know, there are risks involved, but there are more risks if the baby is stuck.”

5. A Pessary

“If you think about the skeletal structure of the human body—especially the lower abdominal area—there is no skeletal support structure for certain internal organs, including the uterus,” Dhody says. “Often times as a woman ages, or when she’s had a lot of children, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons will weaken and the uterus falls out of position; it can go down and through the vagina.” These days, doctors would probably opt to do a hysterectomy, but before that option was available, women “would insert an object up the vagina to kind of wedge it and keep that uterus from falling out,” Dhody says. The devices were called pessaries, and the museum has hundreds of them, including this one from the 19th century, which the curator finds particularly creepy because of the springs. “You can take it out, clean it, put it back in,” Dhody says. “You can still see these today—it’s a medical tool. But now they’re made out of surgical grade plastic. If you’re living in an area where surgery isn’t an option or if you have certain religious objections to that, then a pessary is a good bet.”

6. A Blood Circulator

This device, from the early 20th century, claimed to do “for internal organs what exercise will do for the limbs” as well as alleviate cold symptoms. “It was a suction thing,” Dhody says. “You’d push it against the body and it vibrates.” The instruction manual is full of photos of a presumed doctor placing the circulator on various parts of a woman’s body and cranking the handle, which the manufacturer claimed would create suction and increase blood flow to a particular area.

7. A Skull with Artificial Cranial Deformation

Dhody rediscovered this skull in the museum’s mobile storage. “I came across these boxes that said ‘caramel Danish rolls,’” she says, “and I was like, ‘What are the chances that these actually have caramel Danishes in them? Very little.’" She adds jokingly, "that happens a lot—it’s never a Danish. Sometimes you have enough skulls, and you just want a Danish.”

The skull, which has been artificially deformed, comes from Peru; Dhody guesses it’s from around the 1800s. “People in Peru practiced artificial deformation for hundreds and hundreds of years,” she says. “Up until about the 20th century, [there were] remote parts that were practicing it.”

8. Dhody’s Husband’s Gallbladder

“We have a friends and family plan at the Mütter,” Dhody says. “It’s basically acknowledged that if you work here, or if you are associated with anyone who works here, and you lose any body part for any reason, we have dibs.” So when her husband had his gallbladder removed, Dhody jumped at the chance to both watch the operation and make it part of the collection. “Unfortunately, it looks perfectly healthy,” she says. “I guarantee you, it was not when it was removed." Gallstones, she says, block the bile duct and cause inflammation, pain, and vomiting until they’re removed. Patients will get big stones—which you can see in the photo below—or microstones, which look like sludge and more easily block the duct.

Dhody's husband had microstones, so his gallbladder had to come out. To remove the gallbladder, surgeons made five small incisions—including one through the belly button—and inserted laparoscopic tools. “Then, they seal the gallbladder in, like, a tiny little body bag and tug it out,” Dhody says. Now, her husband’s gallbladder sits preserved in alcohol in the Mütter’s wet room, where the museum’s on-site conservation also takes place.

9. Intestinal Specimen

The wet specimens are housed in a climate controlled room where the air is exchanged six to eight times every hour, with redundant units to ensure it’s always the proper temperature. The majority of the Mütter’s specimens are preserved in alcohol, which doesn’t destroy DNA. “This doesn’t look too interesting because it’s just a intestinal specimen,” Dhody says, “but this is one of a series of specimens from individuals who died of cholera in the 1849 outbreak that killed over 1000 people [in Philadelphia]. What we were able to do, long story short, is we were able to get the DNA not just of the individual—we got the DNA of the cholera. To my knowledge, when this was published earlier this year, it was the oldest viable DNA of a pathogen recovered from a fluid filled specimen ever.”

This is important, Dhody says, because it helps scientists trace the ancestry of pathogens. Though less prevalent than it once was, cholera still kills thousands of people a year. “If we know this particular strain—which is called a Vibrio strain of cholera—killed over 1000 people in 1849, and then we can find other specimens and other people who have had cholera, and we can trace the lineage of the pathogen through history as it changes,” Dhody says. “Now the more prevalent variety of cholera you see in the world is the El Tor; that’s the strain that killed people in Haiti [after the 2010 earthquake]. Thousands of people die of cholera still, in the 21st century. So this shows how a 19th century specimen can have very important 21st century medical and scientific relevance.” The museum created a research arm called the Mütter Institute, which hopes to use historical and ancient specimens to help solve 21st century health issues.

10. Brain Slices

The museum has 670 brain slices; some of them were in Dhody’s office in a cardboard box with “brain slices” scrawled on the side. “Every one has a pathology somehow that related to the brain, whether it was a stroke, cancer, or dementia,” Dhody says, “and we have all the antemortem information but we have redacted it for personal reasons.”

11. Historical Medical Photographs

“Something we don’t have a lot of on exhibit—I wish we did, and maybe we will in the future—is our historical photographs,” Dhody says. “Since the moment that photography was invented, it was used for medical purposes. Doctors immediately realized, ‘Hey, I can take pictures of my patients’ pathology so I can mail them to other doctors—I don’t have to cart the patient around or get the doctor to come to see the patient.’ The medical implications of photography were groundbreaking.” Among the photos in the collection is the one above. Though there’s no information written on the back, Dhody says that “judging by the way it’s kind of floppy like that, it makes more sense for it to be a uterine or ovarian cyst—something like that. It could be a tumor. It’s definitely something that’s not supposed to be there.” The photo below is a painting of the uterus of a pregnant cow, circa 1850.

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Admissible Facts About Judge Judy
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Judge Judith Sheindlin was 54 years old when her namesake TV show premiered on September 16, 1996. Two years later the diminutive (5’1”) adjudicator was trouncing the powerhouse Oprah Winfrey Show in the Nielsen ratings. Today, she is one of the highest paid TV celebrities, earning $47 million per year—which she will continue to do through 2020, thanks to a new extended contract.

Fervent fans are familiar with Judge Judy’s more outrageous cases, like The Tupperware Lady and the eBay Cell Phone Scammer, but they might not know some of these fun facts about both the show and the woman behind it, who turns 75 years old today.

1. THAT GRUFF, NO-NONSENSE STYLE OF JURISPRUDENCE IS NOT AN ACT.

Judge Judy spent a little over 20 years in New York City’s family court system, where she earned a reputation early in her career for being blunt, impatient, and tough-talking. “I can’t stand stupid, and I can’t stand slow,” was one of her oft-repeated “Judyisms” at that time. She also frequently warned attorneys appearing before her: "I want first-time offenders to think of their appearance in my courtroom as the second-worst experience of their lives ... circumcision being the first." 60 Minutes filmed her in action as part of a 1993 profile, and while her hair color and eyebrows have softened since then, her impatient rants and verbal smackdowns haven’t changed a bit.

2. SHE BEGAN WEARING HER TRADEMARK LACE COLLAR AS SOON AS SHE WAS APPOINTED AS A JUDGE.

New York City Mayor Ed Koch appointed Judith Sheindlin to the bench in 1982, and to celebrate she and her husband Jerry—both civil servants at the time—took a $399 package trip to Greece for two weeks. While passing by a row of street kiosks with various locally made crafts for sale, she impulsively purchased a white lace collar from a vendor. She explained to her husband that male judges wore stiff-collared white dress shirts and colorful neckties that peeped out of the top of their robes, so that they had a nice colorful “buffer” between the austere black gown and their face. Female judges, however, had nothing but neck peeping out of their robes and the unforgiving black color revealed every minute of sleep deprivation as well as any skin tone irregularities. The white lace collar, she decided, would not only perk up her face but would also be a bit disarming for litigants—she could picture them thinking “That nice little lady with the lace collar sitting behind the bench couldn’t hurt a fly!”

3. DESPITE THOSE NEW YORK CITY SCENES ON THE COMMERCIAL BUMPERS, JUDGE JUDY IS TAPED IN CALIFORNIA.

Sheindlin spends 52 days per year taping her show. She flies to California via private jet every other Monday and hears cases on Tuesday and Wednesday (occasionally Thursday if there are production delays). One full week’s worth of shows are filmed each day. Many viewers, however, are fooled into thinking Judy is holding court in her native New York, thanks to the scenic Manhattan footage in between station breaks and the New York state flag behind her chair. That is, until something oh-so-unique to the west coast—like an earthquake—occurs on-camera. (Note that in the clip below, Judge Judy quickly ducks beneath her bench once the room begins to tremble.)

4. SHE IS BRIEFED ON THE CASES BEFORE SHE ARRIVES ON THE SET.

Judge Sheindlin does not go to the studio unprepared; producers FedEx the sworn statements and relevant information on each upcoming case to her home (Naples, Florida in the winter; Greenwich, Connecticut in the spring and summer) and she familiarizes herself with enough details to have some background, but not enough so that the case doesn’t appear “fresh” when she questions the litigants during filming.

5. THE CASES REALLY ARE REAL.

The production company has a staff of 60-plus researchers across the country who spend their days poring over lawsuits filed in local small claims courts. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, they are able to photocopy cases that they think might make for interesting television and those copies are forwarded to the show’s producers. Any cases that make it to the next stage (about three percent) involve contacting the litigants involved and asking them if they’d like to forego their civil court hearing in exchange for a free trip to Los Angeles, an $850 appearance fee, and a per diem of $40 (as of 2012). An added incentive is that any judgments awarded are paid by the show, not by the plaintiff or defendant. The best cases, according to the executive producer, are those that involve litigants with a prior relationship—mother/daughter, father/son, boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. Such cases engage the audience because it’s an emotional tie that’s been broken (the recurring plot on many soap operas).

6. THE AUDIENCE, HOWEVER, IS NOT SO REAL.

Regular viewers will note that the same faces seem to pop up in the audience regularly. Those folks in the spectator seats are paid extras (often aspiring actors) who earn $8 per hour to sit and look attentive. Prospective audience members apply for the limited amount of seats by emailing their contact information along with a clear headshot to one of Judge Judy’s production coordinators (sorry, we cannot provide that info). If chosen, the spectator must dress appropriately (business casual or better) and arrive promptly for the 8:30 a.m. call time. Audience members must pass through metal detectors on their way in and are not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronic devices with them, and food, drinks and chewing gum are also verboten. Spectators are rearranged after each case so it’s not as obvious that it’s the same group of people, and the most attractive folks are always seated in the front row (it’s Hollywood, after all). The audience is instructed to talk animatedly amongst themselves in between each case so that Officer Byrd’s “Order in the court!” admonition has more impact. Bad behavior is grounds for immediate expulsion (in front of 10 million viewers, as Judge Judy likes to remind us).

7. JUDGE JUDY DRESSES CASUALLY FOR THE JOB.

Sheindlin has been known to publicly chastise litigants who come to her courtroom in skimpy clothing or “beach attire,” but behind that bench and under that robe she is usually sporting jeans and a tank top or T-shirt.

8. OFFICER BYRD IS A REAL BAILIFF.

Brooklyn native Petri Hawkins Byrd earned his B.Sc. degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 1989 and started working in the Brooklyn Family Court system. He first worked with Judge Sheindlin when he transferred to the Manhattan Family Court. “We [the court officers] used to call her the Joan Rivers of the judicial system,” he recalled in a 2004 interview. “She was just hilarious.” Byrd relocated to San Mateo, California in 1990 to work as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal and a few years later he read an item in Liz Smith’s gossip column about Sheindlin’s upcoming TV show. He sent his old colleague a congratulatory letter and added, “If you need a bailiff, I still look good in uniform.”

9. DESPITE HIS SOMETIMES IMPOSING COURTROOM DEMEANOR, OFFICER BYRD IS ALSO A VERY FUNNY GUY.

He is a talented impressionist, but his sense of humor almost cost him his job—or so he thought at the time. Once, back when he was working with the feisty Judge Sheindlin in New York, he donned her robe and reading glasses to entertain his co-workers with a barrage of Judyisms. Of course, as always seems to happen when one mocks the boss in the workplace, he was caught in the act.

10. THE OCCASIONAL CELEBRITY RELIES ON JUDGE JUDY’S BRAND OF JUSTICE.

Depending upon your own definition of “celebrity”, of course. Actress Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days) appeared on the show in 1996 as the plaintiff, suing her plastic surgeon for a leaky breast implant that was impeding her acting career. One year later, former Sex Pistol John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) appeared as a defendant when drummer Robert Williams, who was hired to support Lydon on a solo tour, sued the singer for lost wages and an assault. Despite Lydon’s occasional bad courtroom behavior, the decision was made in his favor.

11. THE STAR ORIGINALLY DIDN’T WANT THE SHOW NAMED AFTER HER.

Sheindlin first envisioned calling her show Hot Bench, a term used frequently in the appellate court, but the producers wisely advised her that the term was meaningless to TV viewers who didn’t work in the legal system. Her next thought was Judy Justice, since she’d overheard her court officers warning deadbeat parents who were delinquent in child support payments that they were in for a load of "Judy Justice" if they weren’t prepared to cough up some money. In retrospect, Sheindlin realized the wisdom in calling the show Judge Judy: She couldn’t be easily replaced, as the various judges had been on The People’s Court. However, after 19 years on the air, she still does not refer to herself by that sobriquet; whether introducing herself to someone or advertising her show in a promotional clip, she is always either “Judge Sheindlin” or “Judge Judy Sheindlin.”

12. JUDGE SHEINDLIN INHERITED HER SENSE OF HUMOR FROM HER FATHER.

Murray Blum, Judy’s beloved father, was a dentist whose office was in the family home. In those days—before sedation dentistry was an option—a dentist’s best tool to distract nervous patients was the gift of gab, and Murray became a master storyteller out of necessity. Years of listening to her father at the dinner table and at family gatherings taught Judy how to deliver a punchline. One evening outside of a hotel in Hollywood, Sheindlin was approached by a woman who introduced herself as Lorna Berle. She told the judge that her husband Milton was a huge fan and asked if she would mind talking to him for a moment. The elderly comic slowly emerged from a limo and Judy greeted him by singing the theme song to Texaco Star Theater, her favorite TV show as a child. Milton Berle complimented her in return, saying “Kid, you’ve got great comic timing.”

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