Once it re-opens in its new Silver Spring, Maryland location this fall, this site will scare and educate, with displays of prosthetic eyes, amputated limbs and incomplete skeletons
* By Tony Perrottet
* Smithsonian magazine, June 2011
Victorian-era museums of medicine often seem like freak shows—corridors lined with displays of giantskeletons, deformed fetuses, amputated feet and cancerous lesions. But they were established with a noble purpose, as places where doctors-in-training could study actual specimens. The National Museum of Health and Medicine, in Washington D.C., which was created at the start of the Civil War to further the research of military field surgery and now is open to the public, is no exception. In 1862, SurgeonGeneral William Hammond instructed Union doctors on the front lines to send him “specimens of morbid anatomy...together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed.” The Army Medical Museum (as the resulting collection became called) was staffed by doctors, and it quickly accumulated a wealth of grisly items for medical personnel to examine on their way to the front.
Today, staff members are nolonger doctors and the exhibits relate to the history of military medicine, but there is still a vast archive of objects researchers can consult. The museum is currently housed within a wing of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a facility that treats soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Near the entrance is a shattered human skull labeled “Effects of Canister Shot in the Civil War,”followed by more displays from that war: prosthetic eyes, a photograph of stacked amputated limbs. Close by are the leg bones of a certain Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who donated his amputated limb to the museum and visited it regularly.
Perhaps the most famous items on display are from Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865. They include fragments of the slain president’s skull, pieces of hair, part of thedoctor’s blood-stained shirt cuff, and reproductions of Lincoln’s face and hands—even the lead ball removed from his head, labeled simply “The Bullet That Took the President’s Life.”
One recent exhibit is almost as startling: “Trauma Bay II,” part of the actual field hospital used at the Army Air Force Base in Balad, Iraq, from 2004 to 2007. Although plaques explain that over 95 percent ofsoldiers treated there during that period survived, emergency military field surgery seems hardly less bloodcurdling than it did in the Civil War. The museum continues to be a place for education, only these days the subject is the ghastly toll of war.
The museum closed at its current location and will reopen in its new home, in Silver Spring, Maryland, this fall.
Editor's Note: An earlier version ofthis article stated that Lincoln's autopsy was performed at this location. Lincoln's autopsy took place at the White House. This version has been updated.
How to Turn 8,000 Plastic Bottles Into a Building
Peace Corps volunteer Laura Kutner demonstrates how she turned trash into the building blocks for one community's revival
* By Arcynta Ali Childs
* Smithsonian magazine, June 2011Laura Kutner wants your trash—specifically, your plastic bottles. And, if you can spare some time, she’d like your help using those bottles to build a wall.
The construction project, which will commence at this summer’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival (June 30-July 4 and July 7-11), is part of a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Kutner, 26, will be giving visitors to theNational Mall an opportunity to recreate a project she led in Granados, a poor community in the mountainous region of Baja Verapaz, Guatemala.
When Kutner arrived there as a volunteer in July 2007, the area was known for three things: its marble production, ample fields of corn and an abundance of garbage. “Community members were fantastic about reusing items,” she says. But with a single dump...