Monday, May 19, 2014

National Museum of Health and Medicine - Gross Enough For My Wife, Historically Intriguing Enough For Me

With my parents in town, I wanted to find a museum that both they and Shira would enjoy. A tall order considering my wife's general ambivalence to all things museum like. But, I did indeed find a winner: the National Museum of Health and Medicine. What this out of the way Smithsonian lacks in location and size it makes up for in quality and the contents of its collection.

The museum itself consists of one descent size floor with 3 large rooms. It's not a random display case in a building's lobby, but it's also not the size of the well known Smithsonian on the Mall. Still, the collection of items they have on display are absolutely top shelf. It also bucks the trend of trying striving for interactive and over the top exhibits. This is an old school museum with interesting pieces in display cases; there's almost nothing hands on to do. In this case, the simple display approach really works.

F As for what's on display, they've got the bullet that killed Lincoln; the skeleton of the first Monkey to survive space travel; the love letter used to gather DNA to identify Colonel Charles Scharf's remains; the surgery kit of Mary E. Walker, the only woman to date to receive the Medal of Honor; a microscope from the 1600's used by Robert Hooke and much more. The museum has an extensive collection of Civil War artifacts. Between the items on display and the stories, I really came away with the sense that Civil War medicine was actually pretty sophisticated for its day. I always think the Civil War surgeons had more in common with carpenters of today than doctors, but that's really selling them short. Heck, the forensic analysis done on Captian Heny Wirz's remains, the commandant of Andersonville Prison during the Civil War, would fit in just fine with any episode of CSI or Bones (I can see it now: CSI: Civil War).

Yes, the museum (and heck, my photos below) contains lots of bones, organs and other things that could make you go "ewwwwww." But, as a number of folks stated in Yelp, the museum has been renovated so that it's less oriented to shock and creepiness, than it is to eduction. For sheer gross factor, you're just going to have to make the trek to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.

All in all, any museum that holds my wife's interest has to be something special. And this guy did the trick. As for my parents, they also found the museum quite interesting. Between my Mom's Master's Degree in Microbiology, and my Dad being a PhD / Biology professor, this was all right up their alley. Of course, my Mom being a Mom, nothing could gross her out.

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