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The Mütter Museum

6 Things To See at the Mütter Museum’s New Skin Exhibit

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The Mütter Museum

Our skin is our largest organ, and one of our most defining: It plays a key role both in how others see us and how we see and display ourselves. A new exhibit at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, "Our Finest Clothing: A Layered History of Our Skin," offers a selection of medical and cultural objects that encourage visitors to think about skin in new ways. “I decided I wanted to take a broader view of our skin,” Mütter Museum curator Anna Dhody says. “So instead of focusing on the ‘ology’ of our skin and only talking about dermatology and everything that can go wrong with our skin … we discuss the physical structure of skin, the artistic and cultural aspects of skin, and yes, we do discuss dermatology and skin pathologies.” With that in mind, here’s a selection of intriguing (and generally not-for-the-squeamish) objects on display.

1. WAX MOULAGES OF SKIN DISEASES

An arm with smallpox 

Photos are one thing, but for 19th-century physicians trying to diagnose medical conditions, 3D wax models were the gold standard. The Mütter’s exhibit includes wax moulages showing skin cancer, smallpox, gangrene, leprosy, hives, and a giant carbuncle on a thorax, among other afflictions. One model also shows an arm with erysipelas, a burning skin infection also known as St. Anthony’s Fire, while several show the horrifying effects of syphilis in its various stages, as it eats away at skin and bone. “It’s really something to see what syphilis can do to a face,” Exhibitions Manager Evi Numen says. 

While the moulages might seem like little more than horrifying props now, they’re not only useful to doctors of the past—for medical students and physicians of today, these studies in wax are often the closest they’ll come to seeing antiquated diseases, as well as conditions that are now rarely allowed to progress as far as they have in these models.

2. PRESERVED EARLY 20TH CENTURY TATTOOS

Watercolor of an arm infected with syphilis after a tattoo. 

The exhibit includes several tattoos—and their associated swatches of human flesh—depicting religious and patriotic images, as well as less-expected graphics such as a clown and a tombstone. (Although the exhibit includes five tattoos, the selection on display rotates.) Though their precise origin is unknown, all were originally part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s collection. The vintage ink can be seen alongside information about Otzi the Iceman—the ancient mummified man whose 61 tattoos are the earliest preserved on a human—as well as a watercolor of an arm infected with syphilis after a tattooing session (above).

3. A MODEL OF A WOMAN WITH A HORN.

Madame Dimanch 

Of all the reasons to consider yourself lucky, include the fact that you didn’t wake up this morning with a giant horn growing out of your forehead. Madame Dimanch, a 19th-century Parisian widow, wasn’t so fortunate: She suffered from a unique type of growth called a cornu cutaneum, which looks like a horn but is actually an overgrowth of the same keratinous stuff that forms hair and nails. Madame Dimanche had small “horns” all over her body, but by her 80th birthday the one on her forehead had reached an unmanageable 10 inches, and she was convinced to have it removed. The surgery was successful, despite the lack of both anesthetics and antibiotics. 

You can see Madame Dimanche’s skull and horn at the Museum Dupuytren in Paris—the object at the Mütter is a wax model, although it’s displayed next to another 20-centimeter-long “horn” removed from a 70-year-old woman. The Dimanche model is one of the original objects collected by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, the 19th-century surgeon who founded the museum.

4. A JAR OF SKIN

For some people, this jar alone might be reason to avoid the exhibit after lunch. A few years ago, Dhody received a donation from a woman suffering from dermatillomania (a skin-picking disorder): two Trader Joe’s jars filled with skin the woman had picked from her feet. 

“The jar of picked human skin is so interesting because it is the physical manifestation of an impulse control disorder,” Dhody says. “It is hard, sometimes, to show an anatomical/physical example of a mental disorder to the public in a way that engages and stimulates them to learn more about it. This jar of skin grabs people’s attention and they stop and read the label and learn about this disorder and how it affects people’s lives.” The jar on display is actually the second one the woman donated, and it sounds like there’s more to come. 

5. ILLUSTRATIONS FROM DERMATOLOGY’S FOUNDATIONAL MODERN TEXT

The exhibit includes several images from English physician Dr. Robert Willan’s On Cutaneous Diseases. While people have been attempting to diagnose and treat skin diseases for millennia, dermatology as a modern field is only about 200 years old. Willan is considered a pioneer in the field, and his book was a landmark text, with a classificatory system and detailed plates that proved highly influential to other physicians on both sides of the Atlantic. It also proves that Willan must have had a pretty strong stomach. 

6. SKIN CANCER SLIDES FROM THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR’S NOSE

During a medical screening a few years ago, Mütter Museum Director Robert Hicks discovered he had a common type of skin cancer, a basal cell carcinoma, on his nose. (He blames his years of exposure to the Arizona sun and his fair-skinned complexion.) Hicks successfully underwent Mohs micrographic surgery—in which very thin sections of tissue are removed until no more cancer is found—and the museum now has some microscopic slides from the procedure. Display text alongside the slides notes that Hicks is lucky to be alive now: Before the surgery was introduced during the 20th century, “the cancer might have gradually spread and destroyed much of his face.”

All images provided by the Mütter Museum.

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Need to Calm Yourself Down? Try This Military-Approved Breathing Technique
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Whether you’re dealing with co-worker chaos or pressure to perform on a project, it’s difficult to excel at work when you're extremely stressed. Can’t escape the office? Take a cue from real-life soldiers and try a technique called tactical breathing—also known as combat breathing, four-count breathing, and diaphragmatic breathing—to lower your heart rate and regain control of your breath.

“It’s one you can use when things are blowing up around you”—both literally and figuratively—“and you need to be able to stay calm,” explains clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, who demonstrates a version of tactical breathing in Tech Insider’s video below.

Vranich is the author of 2016’s Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve your Mental and Physical Health. Watch, learn, and—of course—inhale and exhale along with her until you feel zen enough to salvage the remainder of your workday.

[h/t Business Insider]

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10 Creepy Candles to Get You in the Halloween Mood
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GraveDiggerCandles

Candles are always a handy household accessory, but they're especially useful around Halloween, when they can be used to light jack-o'-lanterns, summon spirits, or simply brighten a long, dark night. These spooky lights are more suited for tabletops than pumpkins, or soirees than seances, but they'll still make your upcoming costume shindig extra festive (and fragrant, to boot).

1. KISA CANDLE

PyroPet’s cat-shaped Kisa candle looks like an ordinary wax feline. But as it melts, a hidden surprise reveals itself: a macabre metallic skeleton with charred bones and bared fangs.

The Kisa candle costs $34 and comes in three colors: pink, gray, and an ultra-spooky black. Not into cats? Additional PyroPet offerings include birds, bunnies, reindeer, owls, and dragons, all with the same silver framework.

2. BRAIN CANDLE

Brain candle by Creepy Candles
Creepy Candles

This specimen-inspired candle by Etsy seller Creepy Candles would look equally at place in a mad scientist’s laboratory as it would at a Halloween soiree. A wax brain is suspended in green-tinted gel that resembles formaldehyde, but the candle itself thankfully smells like grapefruit. The Brain Candle costs $25 and is handmade to order.

3. HUMAN SPINE CANDLES

Beeswax human spine candles, set of three, by Grave Digger Candles
Grave Digger Candles

Grow a spine this Halloween—or at least buy one. These notched beeswax pillar candles are inspired by the Victorian Era, a period in which physicians created detailed wax models of flayed corpses to teach medical students the literal ins and outs of anatomy. Etsy seller Grave Digger Candles sells them in sets of three for $76.

4. OUIJA BOARD CANDLE

LED battery-operated Ouija board candle by Twisted Nightmares
Twisted Nightmares

This Ouija board-inspired, LED battery-operated candle probably won’t summon spirits, but it’s still spine-tinglingly spooky. Sold by Etsy user Twisted Nightmares, it costs $20 and requires three AAA batteries, which aren’t included with purchase.

5. BLEEDING HEART CANDLE

Bleeding Heart Candle by Cozy Custom Candles
Cozy Custom Candles

Love guts, blood, and Gothic romance? Your heart might bleed for this candle, which turns into a gushing heart when lit. Sold by Etsy seller Cozy Custom Candles, the heart-shaped light source has a white outer shell made from a high-melt point paraffin wax, while its core is made of a red-colored wax blend with a low melting point. The candle hemorrhages vital fluids as it burns, making it the perfect accessory for a bloody good time.

The Bleeding Heart Candle costs $17 and comes in multiple autumnal scents, including caramel apple, pumpkin pie, and sweet cinnamon-pumpkin.

6. PICK YOUR POISON CANDLES

Pick Your Poison candle by Mr. Toad's House of Wax
Mr. Toad's House of Wax

The “Pick Your Poison” candles by Etsy seller Mr. Toad’s House of Wax appear to have been snatched from the shelf of a Victorian apothecarist. But while labeled “Poison Hemlock Oil” and “Tincture of Wolfsbane Poison,” they smell like fresh fallen leaves, pumpkin spice, and other autumnal scents when lit. Both candles cost $21, and are embellished with a sparkly jewel and black velvet ribbon.

7. CREEPY WOODS & GRAVEYARD DIRT CANDLE

Woods & Earth candle by Geeky Girl Scents
Geeky Girl Scents

There’s nothing quite like the aroma of trees and fresh graveyard dirt on a fall night. With hints of wood and earth, this candle by Etsy seller Geek Girl Scents will make your living room smell like a haunted cemetery. An eight-ounce jar costs $15, and a 16-ounce version is also available.

8. WITCH FARTS CANDLE

Witch Farts Scented Soy Wax Candle by The Candle Crate
The Candle Crate

If you’ve ever wondered what witch gas smells like (who hasn’t?), you can find out by purchasing The Candle Crate’s flaming ode to supernatural flatulence. The Etsy seller’s “Witch Farts” candle is more Glinda the Good Witch than Elphaba, with top notes of peach, apricot, and blackberries and middle notes of mandarin, cinnamon, and rose.

The soy wax candle costs $12, and is sold alongside other witchy, Harry Potter-inspired products like “Number 12 Grimmauld Place” and “The Leaky Cauldron.”

9. GHOST REPELLENT CANDLE

Ghost Repellent candle by Nola And Neighbors
Nola And Neighbors

Even if you ain’t afraid of no ghosts, you can still keep them at bay with this “Ghost Repellent” candle by Etsy sellers Nola And Neighbors. It smells like lavender and sage, and comes with an instruction label informing owners to light it “at dusk or dawn” for best results—although the ghost’s removal is “not guaranteed.” At $17, it’s still way cheaper than hiring the Ghostbusters.

10. ZOMBIE GOLDEN GIRLS PRAYER CANDLE SET

Zombie Golden Girls prayer candle set by The Eternal Flame
The Eternal Flame

Golden Girls devotees who’d follow the Fab Four to the grave and beyond can light up their lanais with these zombie prayer candles by Etsy shop The Eternal Flame. They come in sets of four (one for each Girl, naturally) and cost $40. Color choices include white, orange, and purple.

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