31 Days of Halloween: On Atlas Obscura this month, every day is Halloween. Stop by the blog every day this month for true tales of the unquiet dead. Come for the severed heads, stay for the book bound in human skin. Every story is true, and each one is a real place you can visit. We dare you.
When the undead masses rise and the zombie apocalypse is upon us, our first priority will be finding a good zombie-proof stronghold, but a pantry full of delicious, zombie-ready brains may be worth a detour.
Tucked below the Yale medical school library an unusual collection sits ready and waiting for this dreaded day: The Cushing Brain Collection. Assembled by the brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Harvey Cushing, the room resembles something out of your favorite Frankenstein film, the walls lined with hundreds of softly glowing jars containing the grey matter of the good doctor’s former patients.
Marked with faded labels, the tumor-ridden brains once provided insight that allowed Cushing to advance the science of tumor detection, diagnosis, and surgery. His techniques, developed in the first part of the 20th century, still inform brain surgery today, and many were still in use until the 1970s, when MRI and scanning technology finally replaced them.
After Cushing’s death in 1939, his macabre collection was donated to Yale. Surprisingly, the university had no plans for a giant brain collection, and promptly deep-sixed the jars into whatever dark corners they could find. By the 1970s the collection had fallen badly into disrepair, and by the 1990s had become the stuff of legend, with medical students making a pilgrimage to the basement to visit the brains as a sort of rite of passage.
Just last year, the collection finally found a new home in the purpose built room below the medical library. The collection has been restored, the jars repaired and liquids replenished, and placed into tidy rows on shelves, like so many pickled zombie snacks, just waiting…
CUSHING BRAIN COLLECTION, Yale, New Haven, CT