At Museum of Health and Medicine, gross anatomy prompts shock and awe

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Formerly located on the National Mall, the museum was once a popular tourist attraction, drawing as many as half a million visitors a year in the 1960s.

In 1971, however, the museum was displaced by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and moved to a basement location at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where annual attendance fell to about 50,000.

Though the museum moved to its new $12 million building in September, much of its collection remains stored in an off-site warehouse. Items currently not on display include a piece of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebrae, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s gallstones, the skeleton of the first monkey astronaut and the brain of presidential assassin Charles Guiteau, who shot President James Garfield.

To complete its relocation, the museum will close to the public in January before permanently reopening in May. Mr. Clarke said the museum plans to celebrate its 150th anniversary with special events and larger, revamped displays.

One thing that won’t change: a human skeleton that greets visitors in the building’s lobby, under glass and primed for inspection.

Not coincidentally, Ms. Schierkolk wears her work identification card on a black-and-red neck lariat that features a skull motif.

“Once you become immersed in our collections, you take them with you wherever you go,” she said with a laugh.

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