Broken Hearts and Broken Bones - Atlas Obscura

Silver Spring, Maryland

Broken Hearts and Broken Bones

Join us as we explore the wonderful and unique collections at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Take a close look at bullets, brains, bones, and more at the incredible National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Founded as the Army Medical Museum, the institution—which now belongs to the Department of Defense—dates back to the American Civil War. The museum's first curator, U.S. Army Major John H. Brinton, personally visited many of the eastern battlefields to collect anatomical specimens for display. In his memoirs, Major Brinton explained that, in order to build the museum's collections, “many and many a putrid heap [of bodies] have I had dug out of trenches where they had been buried."

Our day here will begin with a brief guided tour of the museum’s collections where we will view the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln and prostheses used from the Civil War to today. Museum docents will provide a hands-on interaction with plastinated (real!) human organs. Then guests will have time to explore the museum on their own and speak with the docents on-hand.

Brinton emphasized that the museum was no macabre project—"not for the collection of curiosities, but for the accumulation of objects and data of lasting scientific interest, which might in the future serve to instruct generations of students.”


  • Cameras and pictures are allowed but no flash photography is permitted.
  • All ages welcome. That said, we’ll be looking at real anatomical and pathological specimens. Visitor discretion is advised.
  • The museum is accessible from both the Silver Spring and Forest Glen stations on Metro's Red Line. For more information, check out WMATA's website.
  • Parking is free in the lot outside of the museum.
  • Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

If you have any questions, please contact Ashley Bowen-Murphy at

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