Top 10 Macabre Museums
The most famous anatomical wax museum in the world attracted the rich and famous from near and far. The gruesome albeit fake displays were so real looking and graphic that one could hardly resist as word spread. Many of the wax figures were of humans with their insides, out. La Specola, which is part of the Museum of Natural History, is the oldest museum in Europe intended for the public. When it opened in 1775, the only admission for entry was that you looked clean. No bums allowed, I guess. What, did they think the bums would get hungry and eat the wax? Located in Florence, Italy, Specola translated–means observation. There is certainly plenty to be observed in the 34 rooms of exhibits that include fossils, taxidermy animals including a huge hippo, and anatomical waxes originally designed as teaching aides for medical students. The Marquis De Sade especially liked the female bodies in erotic poses with their guts hanging out. Most of the “bodies” are in glass cases that look like glass coffins.
When we hear the word moulage today, we think of CSI and the forensics of making plaster and wax moldings of crime scene clues. A footprint here, a tire track there, it is even used to create body parts to duplicate a fatal wound or laceration. However, back in the day, museums were dedicated to the wax art of anatomical anatomy or anomalies. Two of the most famous of these are the Le Musee Des Moulages of Paris, France and the Moulagenmuseum at Zurich, Switzerland.
The Moulagenmuseum is the second largest such museum behind Le Musee Moulages and is dedicated to diseases of the flesh. Horrible wax images of leprosy and syphilis are on display and ready to turn your stomach. Most people find that even though these are only wax, they cannot help but want to hold their breath and keep a safe distance, as if the art itself could somehow transfer the deadly diseases. Le Musee Moulages is a large warehouse filled with moulage body parts that are afflicted with the most disgusting ailments imaginable. The artist, Jules Baretta developed a unique technique that he refused to share with famous Professor G. Photinos, who later opened a museum dedicated to venereal diseases for the training of doctors. Both of these museums are fascinating and disgusting at the same time.
In 1776, medical master and collector Honore’ Fragonard opened what is now one of the oldest museums in France, a city known for its museums. This strangely unique museum however, is the most memorable. Its teratology exhibits is one of the finest in the world. Also on display among the animal skeletons is an art form called encorches, or flayed art. While his contemporaries made molages of wax, Fragonard developed a process of preservation of flesh and literally flayed the skin off his subjects to expose the diseased inner workings. He started with animals and not long after, he flayed human cadavers for the museum. People started to complain, believing only a madman or a monster could do such a thing and he was de-commissioned. However, he continued his work, supporting himself through the sale of his skinless creations. He went on to finish over 700 flayed cadavers, 20 of which are at the museum. Their prized possession is his piece called the Horseman of the Apocalypse. Even though he was pressured to reveal the process he developed to make his creations, Honore Fragonard took his secret to the grave with him.
It is sad to know that there were so many babies born or nearly born with such diseases as cyclopia or conjoined twins that they fill entire museums but it is a fact. Such museums, while considered as ghoulish to much of the general populace, have their place in the educational fields of medicine. Even many of the people who consider it bad form cannot help but go at least once and look at the terrible fate life has given to these poor souls, robbed of their chance to contribute their lives to society. Besides the jars of deformed children, there are bones and dental collections on display. This amazingly popular museum is in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Pronounced, mute-er museum, just one visit to this horrific wealth of medical monstrosities will make you eternally grateful to have been born in our current day and age where the science of medicine has come out of the darkness and into the more sensible light of day. As recently as a hundred years ago, a visit to the doctor could mean a death sentence. Earlier than that and it was almost a surety. America’s first president George Washington was feeling ill so he called in a doctor. He was dead in forty-eight hours. The “doctor” bled him four times to get rid of the “bad” blood and fed him mercury to cleanse his body of fever, which we know today is poison and is probably what killed him. Abraham Lincoln, another great American President may have survived as the bullet entered a part of the brain that many people today have survived. However, the doctors probed for the bullet without the benefit of the x-rays that we enjoy today and that most definitely killed him. Forensic science has shown that Lincoln could have survived if the bullet had been left alone, at least, for several years. The Mutter museum is not the kind of place you want to visit if you have just eaten, as medical oddities can be quite gruesome. You have been warned!