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A Place That Very Few Sight-Seers Visit – A Group of Grinning Skeletons – Some Horrible Relics – Bones, Shot and Shell

Skulls and Bones: The Ghastly Collection in the Army Medical Museum

A place that very few sight-seers visit, a group of grinning skeletons, some horrible relics – bones, shot and shell.

[Washington Star]

There is one place in Washington that very few sightseers visit. It is a museum with a very extensive and novel collection, composed entirely of fragments of dead people, and it occupies the old Ford’s Theatre on Tenth Street, in which Lincoln met his tragic death. The once-gay theatre is now associated with skeletons and death. The first floor, where the pit was, is occupied by the clerical force of the medical department of the army. The dress circle contains the library and a few articulated skeletons, while the peanut gallery, where the street arabs used to assemble at night to applaud the acting and drop peanut hulls and orange peelings on the bald heads in the pit, is given up exclusively to the collection of fragments of men. There is seldom any body in the museum except the attendant.

At the entrance of the library, a group of skeletons stands grinning a sepulchral welcome, those in front standing in a careless attitude, “too naked to be ashamed.” Some have human hearts in them; some hold the lungs and liver. Others hold kidneys, spleens, eyes, noses, ears, or fingers of men who have been a long time dead. Among the spleens is that of Guiteau, which is a third larger than any of the rest. One case is devoted to arms and legs that have been amputated and show how nice and slick the surgeon’s knife and saw went through. Some of them are all lacerated and torn to pieces by gunshot wounds. Most of the exhibits are the scraps of men picked up off the battlefield. One heart has two big ounce bullets embedded in it. Another has a deep gash in it and, nearby, a dirk knife. Another case is devoted to horrible-looking hands and feet put up in glass jars. All are swelled up and lacerated. Some have the flesh torn away and the bone and sinews left, and a thumb reposes in a small bottle, while a little finger is crooked up in another. An eye torn from its socket by a musket ball is soaked in alcohol; odds and ends and all sorts of fragments of dead people are collected there, like the scraps for a crazy quilt.

But the chief part of the collection consists of small fragments of bones. There is the section of the basebone of Booth in a glass case not many feet from the spot where he shot Lincoln. There are all sorts of skulls with lead balls sticking in them, great big bones with fragments of iron shells crushing them into powder, joints broken apart by musket balls, and there are skulls, ribs, legs, and arms shattered and shivered by all sorts of missiles of war, and while those behind leer over their shoulders with an air of familiarity that is offensive to a person of delicate sensibilities.

Near the door is a sign and an index finger, which tells the visitor that the museum is upstairs, and these grinning, gibbering skeletons seem to feel a cynical satisfaction in directing the way to the upper room where are collected the relics of ruined men. One tall, fine-looking fellow stands with his foot on a skull. The rest stand with their toes turned in and their long, bony fingers spread out at their sides or twisted together with the grace of a dancing master. Some of them are young, spry, dandified skeletons, with head erect and polished white foreheads and a full set of pure white teeth, while others are hollow-chested, snaggletoothed, old creatures, and others again are black and shrivelled up, like witches’ imps, all have that offensive familiar grin, which seems to say that they hope to know you better later on.

Upstairs, there are rows of glass cases all the way around the wall, and close together from east to west across the room. There are large glass bottles, like preserving jars, and in some cases, the lead and the glass become welded together. There are over 9,000 specimens of bones fractured in curious ways by shot. There are plaster casts of different cuts of the human body that make the cases look like a butcher’s stall. Then there are more articulated skeletons. There is the great French skeleton, a giant in proportions, every bone as white as ivory, teeth all perfect like pearls, toes turned out, and palms of the hands extended with all the grace and suppleness of life.

“Look at those teeth,” said one of the attendants to the visitor. “He is proud of those teeth. None of the French skeletons have only one canine, and that’s because if Americans had a skeleton like that, they would wonder how it could have been like that. You can always tell a Frenchman by that. Yankees have none at all! Only half the teeth in half the jaw rotted away. They use too much tobacco and ruin their teeth. They wouldn’t chew so much. A Frenchman has a right to be proud of his skeleton. I should be ashamed to be a skeleton without teeth. That’s a mighty fine-looking woman there,” and he dusted the glass case that protected a set of delicately fashioned bones. “She’s French. See her teeth: like pearls. If you want to make a good skeleton, take care of your teeth.”

“These articulated skeletons are the only actors now on the stage that used to afford amusement to Abraham Lincoln, and their bony fingers point out the spot where he met his death.”

The article “Skulls and Bones: The Ghastly Collection in the Army Medical Museum” describes a museum in Washington D.C. that is dedicated to displaying fragments of dead people. While the description of the museum and its exhibits may be disturbing to some, it is important to note the thoroughness of the measurements and the professionals who were there as first-hand eyewitness accounts.

The article describes a collection of bones, shot, and shell fragments, many of which were picked up off the battlefield. There are also articulated skeletons and various organs, including a spleen from the assassin of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau. The article notes the precise nature of the exhibits, including the size of the spleen, the location of bullets in some of the hearts on display, and the types of injuries sustained by the bones and organs.

One interesting detail mentioned in the article is the frequency of above-average height among the skeletons. This may reflect the fact that taller individuals were more likely to be chosen for military service, or it may be due to other factors. Regardless, this observation adds a fascinating dimension to the museum’s collection.

Overall, the article highlights the importance of thoroughness in scientific measurements and the value of eyewitness accounts by professionals in their field. The museum in question may be unsettling to some, but it serves as a unique and informative reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought in wars throughout history. It is important to remember and honor their contributions, even if the relics left behind are unsettling to some.

  1. [Washington Star.]