“Mortui Vivos Docent; The Dead Teach the Living.” So said Dr. John Collins Warren.
Like many medical men of his day, Dr. Warren collected anatomical and pathological specimens to help in his studies. After his retirement in 1847, he left his excellent collection of unusual anatomical and pathological specimens to Harvard University. While the collection is said to contain some 15,000 specimens, only a handful are on display to the public. Exhibited in four rather uninspired display cases on the Fifth floor of the Countway Library are a few incredible specimens.
Included in the museum is the phrenological collection of Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, with a cast of Spurzheim’s own skull, the Dr. W. T. G. Morton ether inhaler used in the first ether-assisted surgery, a pair of conjoined fetal skeletons, papier-maché anatomical models of eyes by Azoux, and a beautiful Beauchene, or “exploded” skull.
Without question, the most well-known, and perhaps most curious, item in the collection is the skull of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who had a 13-pound tamping iron blown through his head, and lived to tell the tale. Gage’s altered personality after the incident helped doctors begin to understand the localized nature of personality and identity.
Obscura Day location: April 9, 2011.