From a bulletproof hearse for the Pope to an exhibit on how to build a guillotine to the conjoined liver of Chang and Eng, the museums of America have a lot to offer when it comes to death, here is a list of must-sees…
Museum of Osteology; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Skeletons of primates, reptiles, marsupials, birds, humans and special sections on forensic pathology and the skeletons of Oklahoma wildlife. Perhaps more interesting, the museum is operated by Skulls Unlimited International, a company that cleans animal and human skulls and skeletons and ships them to collectors and museums around the world. “Ninety nine percent of the time we get complete carcasses, with the tissue still there—it looks like beef jerky,” said the director of production Jay Villemarette Jr. during an interview last year with Digital Dying. How does one go from carcass to skeleton? “First is the flensing stage,” explained Villemarette. “We remove as much tissue as we possibly can with a knife; the eyes, brains, guts, tongue and a lot of the bulky muscle tissue. The carcass then goes on a drying rack and from there will be introduced to the beetles.” The museum is open Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm, Saturday 11am to 5pm, Sunday 1pm to 5pm.
Indiana Medical History Museum; Indianapolis, Indiana – For starters, the museum is on the site of a century-old insane asylum. In the ‘Old Pathology Building’, opened in 1897, physicians studied the brains of deceased patients, many of whom were actually suffering from advanced stages of syphilis. Today, the museum features gruesome medical and autopsy equipment and a collection of some 80 human brains, mostly sliced in cross section and preserved in glass slides, with details on the various neurological injuries associated with them. Visits to the museum are arranged by guided tour only and must be scheduled in advance. Call 317-635-7329.
National Museum of Funeral History; Houston, Texas – There are hearses from the 1920s and 1930s, including a bullet proof Range Rover hearse for the Pope that dates back to the early 1980s and an artful Japanese hearse. A coffin exhibit features coffins made of ice and glass and a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s casket, as well as coffins from cultures across the world, such as the decorative coffins of the Caribbean and the fantasy coffins of Ghana. “I was actually quite surprised at the detail and thought that has gone into this museum,” wrote one Yelp reviewer. The museum is opened Monday to Fridays 10am to 4pm, Saturdays 10am to 5pm and Sundays 12pm to 5pm.
Other Great Reads: All you ever needed to know about planning a funeral
L.A. County Coroner Store; Los Angeles, California – That’s right, the same outfit that autopsied Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy and Michael Jackson has a store. Not necessarily a museum, but for their attention to detail they deserve to be on this list. The L.A. County Corner’s store sells L.A. County Coroner coffee mugs, BBQ aprons, sun catchers, dead body shaped note pads, car shades, party tape, party body bags, stuffed animals (“Freddy the Forensic Bear”) and T-shirts, tank tops and boxer shorts. Perhaps the most interesting item is a 3 hour and 40 minute DVD entitled “North Mission Road” featuring some of the offices cases: “Episode 8 – Christmas Surprise” – A piece of Christmas cheese is the key to solving the murder of a suburban woman. Visit the L.A. County Coroner’s store at 1104 North Mission Road in Los Angeles. They are open 8:30am to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Other Great Reads: Mummy found in suburban Los Angeles has communist roots
Museum of Death; Hollywood, California – The museum, run by artist provocateurs JD Healy and Cathee Shultz features Suicide Hall, the California Death Room and an exhibit devoted to execution equipment. “The California Death Room deals with death that happened in California, like the Black Dahlia murder and the Manson murder,” explained co-owner JD in a recent interview with Digital Dying. “Suicide Hall is everything from Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown to individual suicides like Kurt Cobain.” The museum has had exhibits about exotic weapons, how to build a neutron bomb, how to build a guillotine and how to build the little machine Dr. Kevorkian invented to kill people with. For one exhibit, JD built an actual hangman’s gallows. The museum is open Sunday to Friday 11am to 8pm, Saturday 11am to 10pm.
Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum; Brooklyn, New York – Hidden in an alley along an industrial canal in backwater Brooklyn you’ll find this wonderful little library and museum. There are coiled snakes in bell-shaped jars of formaldehyde, human skeletons, antiquated medical tools and dead animals dressed in adorable little outfits. Reads their website: “The library makes available a collection of curiosities, books, photographs, artworks, ephemera…” It’s open on Saturdays from 2-6pm. There’s also an excellent lecture and workshop series. For example, on Sunday January 12th there’s a class on squirrel taxidermy. And a few years back, your very own Digital Dying author gave a talk.
Mutter Museum; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – This world-famous medical history museum celebrated its 150-year anniversary last year. Aside from the requisite skeletons and medical devices are an impressive wax model collection featuring a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead, a woman known as the “Soap Lady”—her corpse famously turned to a soapy substance called adipocere—and a nine foot long human colon that contained over 40 pounds of fecal matter when removed from the remains of a man who appeared in a sideshow act called the Human Balloon. There’s also a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth and the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. “The goal of the Museum,” says the website, “is to help the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.” The museum is open seven days a week, 10am to 5pm.