Obscura Society DC: From Bullets to Brains - Atlas Obscura
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Silver Spring

Obscura Society DC: From Bullets to Brains

Join the Obscura Society DC for a deep dive into the amazing collections of the National Museum of Health and Medicine

Founded as the Army Medical Museum, the Department of Defense's National Museum of Health and Medicine dates back to the American Civil War.

The first curator, U.S. Army Maj. John H. Brinton, personally visited many of the eastern battlefields to collect anatomical specimens for display. In his memoirs, Maj. Brinton explained that, “many and many a putrid heap [of bodies] have I had dug out of trenches where they had been buried” to build the museum’s collections. No macabre project, he emphasized that the museum, "was 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.”

The NMHM collection has since expanded to include a broad range of pathological and anatomical specimens, archival materials, and technological objects. Notable items in the collection include the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln, the dental tools of American revolutionary Paul Revere, the spleen of President James A. Garfield’s assassin Charles Guiteau, hundreds of different kinds of Civil War-era bullets, and much more.

Our day begins when the NMHM’s collections staff show us some objects that are not ordinarily on display. These promise to be unique and fascinating! Then, we take a brief guided tour of the museum’s collections where we will view an exhibit on traumatic brain injury, the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln, and prosthetics used from the Civil War to today. Guests will then have time to explore the museum on their own and speak with the docents on-hand.

Notes for this adventure:

-Cameras and pictures are allowed but no flash photography is permitted.

-All ages welcome. That said, we’ll be looking at some anatomical and pathological specimens in a preserving liquid. 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.

Any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Ashley Bowen-Murphy at ashley.bowen-murphy@atlasobscura.com or Matt Blitz at matt@atlasobscura.com.