Saturday, February 9, 2008

Little museum of friendly medical horrors...

(Vote vote vote! One week left!)

(It's about time to start the final project for the Museum Studies course... we need to pick an exhibition and dig deep into the background of how it came to be... interesting enough :) Here is the first scouting report...)

Just got back from the museum… it was an unusual experience… weird in a positive way. Judging from the information on their website, I was expecting something strictly arranged and accurately labeled, with white walls and… people?
Well, it started out with the taxi driver not even knowing what I was talking about… but we managed to find the place before we left the city completely. That’s a good start.
The door was locked; when I started making noise with the doorknob, I could see a lady appear on the other side of the small window, with utter shock on her face, and a wonder-like expression of surprise. I found out the reason soon enough: according to the guest book right next to the door, I was the first visitor in two weeks…
Good news is I had the whole place all for myself, and all the time in the world to wonder around. Bad news is, it turned out they were actually about to take the whole exhibition apart for good…
I started walking around in the first hall, looking at the showcases; I found them very interesting, and spent an awful lot of time reading the labels and the stories next to the objects; laughing out loud at the surgeon’s biography who was “the fastest man with a knife in England” (25 seconds for a leg amputation in 1846, no kidding) and getting somewhat sick watching all the horrible instruments the doctors used 200 years ago… ("Where would they stick that? *reads label* "WHAT?! Urgh, NO WAY!... Eeeew...")
And now comes the question, why on Earth did I choose this museum for a field trip. Well, I’ve always liked medical history (maybe because half of my family consists of doctors, and I grew up in my grandparents’ offices playing with medical stuff and writing “recipes” for the teddy bears) (no, no autopsy); I’m also writing my Archeology thesis on Roman medicine and surgery. And I needed to find a museum within Hartford - without a car I can’t get around so easily, and I know the final project would require a lot of time spent in the actual museum I choose… so this was the most interesting among all the museums listed on the Internet.
When I was finished with the first hall (that is, the most arranged and nicely done part of the exhibition), I moved through a narrow hallway (crammed with medical kits and bags and huge boxes with really old microscopes) to the Bicentennial Room. It was arranged in 1976 (from the collection of medical instruments between 1776 and 1976), and it shows the signs of the beginning stage of chaos. I was somewhat surprised to see many artifacts here and there without a glass case or any kind of protection (maybe because I was the once in a blue moon visitor from whom they should be protected – not that I’d touch them anyway). The clear concept of their arrangement was lost, themes were mixed up; the only coherent part was the case in the middle of the room, with 17th century manuscripts in it.
Moving to the next room, I found a couple of dentist’s chairs set up with all the cupboards and medical kits around (there was a green teddy bear and a plush frog sitting in one of them). It was even more crowded with stuff than the one before, and I needed quite a long time to look around and register every detail before moving on.
When I ran out of rooms, and accidentally walked on into an office that looked like a crossover between a library and a storeroom, I finally realized the exhibition was over… backing out of the office, I met two ladies who were very friendly and asked me if I’ve met George. When my answer was no, they led me back into the office (that turned out to be an actual storeroom which looked like a crossover between an office and a library…) and introduced me to a skeleton… turns out George was an actual human being… a long time ago… and was found in some other museum’s or society’s back room, and bought by someone who started the HMS.
After getting to know George, I got to know the living crew of the nice tiny chaotic museum – who soon informed me that they were about to take said place apart, sell and give away most of it, and transfer the rest to UConn. I was a bit disappointed… but when I told them about the project, they got more excited than me, and assured me that I was most welcome to dig into their archives and whatever I’m interested in, if I’m not bothered by the fact that the exhibition is being taken apart above my head… and I don’t think I am.
In the meantime a photographer broke down the door and strolled in with huge bags, and then came the next surprise: the museum has three gigantic volumes of a really old medical dictionary that used to belong to Mark Twain himself – he even wrote a short story based on them, and they are full of notes and newspaper clippings… fun part is, the Mark Twain House does not want them (he himself did not want them, that’s how they got passed down to a doctor who donated them to the Society). So the photographer came to take digital pictures of them, and then there was the four of us, chatting and turning the pages of the rare historical artifacts (i.e. the books) enjoying the fact that we were allowed to touch something Mark Twain touched too… they were really old, the books, Mr. Clemens says (writes) they were confiscated from a Southern physician in the Civil War. How cool is that.
Well, that’s it for now; I got business cards from the museum crew (except for George, who was quite reserved) and left the place, plans of invasion already forming in my head…

1 comment:

  1. So--Csenge, Have you been to the "Bodies Alive" exhibit that is in Hartford. It's only in Hartford for a short time but I think it is something that you would find interesting.