- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The National Museum of Health and Medicine will have to find a new home if the Pentagon gets its wish, taking human brains, deformed fetuses, a large hairball and skulls bearing bullet holes to its new location.

The Defense Department recommended this month that the 113-acre campus of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington be consolidated into a larger facility in Bethesda.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine, which has been located on the medical center campus since 1971, also would move to the Bethesda site if Congress agrees.

It would be the museum’s 10th move since it was founded by the U.S. Surgeon General in 1862 with a directive to military officers “to collect and to forward to the office of the Surgeon General all specimens of morbid anatomy, surgical or medical, which may be regarded as valuable; together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed, and such other matters as may prove of interest in the study of military medicine or surgery.”

Each year, more than 50,000 tourists, scholars, soldiers and school groups come to see exhibits of the damage war can do to the human body, as well as displays showing abnormalities caused by diseases or genetic defects.

“The exhibits are very outspoken,” said Towanna Parker, spokeswoman for the medical center, who said her favorite exhibit was infant twins conjoined at the abdomen and preserved in a solution of formalin.

“It left a lasting impression,” she said.

A current exhibit shows pictures of live humans with cutaway images of their bones and internal organs as they pose or make various movements.

The museum is funded by the Defense Department’s Office of Health Affairs and by grants and donations. Although it has about 25 million artifacts in its collection, less than 1 percent are on display.

One of the more haunting exhibits is a plaster cast of Abraham Lincoln’s face, along with the assassin’s bullet that killed him and a bloody bandage a doctor used in a hopeless effort to treat the 16th president.

On a recent day, a teacher quizzed a group of children about which parts of a man’s anatomy they were viewing on a video screen showing the inside of his body.

“It’s a great learning tool,” Steven Solomon, the museum’s spokesman, said about the “visible human project.”

For each part of anatomy or medical equipment displayed, the museum staff can recount personal stories of pain, anger or death.

Photographs show searchers crawling on hands and knees as they look for body parts in a field near Shanksville, Pa., where an airplane crashed after it was hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001

After DNA tests, “They came up with forty-four distinct human remains,” Mr. Solomon said.

In one glass booth rests a skull with a hole just above the nose, where the victim was struck by a bullet during the Civil War Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

Nearby are dental instruments used by American patriot Paul Revere, who was among the first dentists to identify a corpse from dental records. He identified the remains of Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren, who was killed in 1775 during the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill.

One of the museum’s colorful characters was Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, whose shattered right leg bone is displayed in a glass case. He sent it to the museum after a cannonball hit his legat Gettysburg, requiring amputation.

During a career that included a term in Congress and an ambassadorship to Spain, Gen. Sickles would return to the museum on the anniversary of his amputation.

“He would come to visit the leg bone,” Mr. Solomon said.

Deformed fetuses in glass jars show the tragedy of misaligned genes. In another room, spinal columns twisted by scoliosis demonstrate what must have been a lifetime of back pain.

Other displays are more hopeful, showing medical advances such as the C-Leg, a $50,000 computerized artificial leg that moves like a real leg.

Anyone who wants to take away mementos can visit the gift shop, where lapel pins are sold with images of a large hairball taken from a woman’s stomach.

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