Cut It Off! An Amputation Demonstration - Atlas Obscura
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Washington, D.C.

Cut It Off! An Amputation Demonstration

Watch as a skilled medical historian amputates a (model) leg using Civil War-era surgical tools.

Join the Obscura Society as we get into the Halloween spirit & turn the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office into an impromptu operating theater!

We’ll watch a Civil War medical historian from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine amputate a gel leg using authentic 19th-century tools and techniques. The leg, made from a forensic gel and simulated bone, looks, feels, and even sounds (!) remarkably like the real thing.

Museum staff will also bring some bone saws, mine balls, medical kits and other objects related to the history of amputation for us to look at. They will be on hand to answer your questions about surgery in the pre-antiseptic, pre-antibiotic era. We will also find out how filmmakers and theater professionals use gel legs to simulate real looking amputations. Staff at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine served as historical consultants on PBS’s Mercy Street—a show that featured an intense amputation scene using this process.

Notes for this adventure:

- This location is easily accessible via bus and Metro’s red, yellow, and green lines. For more information on getting to the museum, click here.

- Metered street parking is available but can be extremely difficult to find. If you plan to drive, please give yourself ample time to locate parking in the area around the Verizon Center.

- Photographs are encouraged (but flash photography is not allowed).

- This adventure is PG (it’s gonna be gory). 

- A portion of the ticket sales will be donated to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

- Share photos on Twitter and Instagram with us @atlasobscura, and @ClaraBartonMSO using the hashtag #ObscuraSociety!

All ticket sales are final. Please direct any questions or concerns to Ashley Bowen-Murphy at