National Medical Museum Reopens on 150th Anniversary
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
SILVER SPRING, Md. , May 22, 2012 Featuring artifacts from President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination including the bullet that killed him, and information on the progress of treating traumatic brain injuries, the National Museum of Health and Medicine officially reopened to the public on its 150th anniversary here yesterday.
The lead bullet removed from President Abraham Lincoln is part of an exhibit at the National Medical Museum in Silver Spring, Md. Also included are skull fragments, a small swatch of Lincoln’s hair and the probe that is thought to have located the assassin’s bullet. DOD photo by Terri Moon Cronk
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Defense Department-sponsored museum, once called the Army Medical Museum when it was housed at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., moved into its new building last year as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.
Twenty-five million medical objects, including human specimens and some of the first microscopes developed, are displayed at the museum.
The 20,000-square-foot museum draws the gamut of people from curiosity seekers to medical doctors and students, in addition to history buffs, said Tim Clarke, the museum’s deputy director for communications.
Museum offerings include displays that showcase specimens of anatomy and pathology, Civil War military medicine and methods for human identification.
The museum was established during the Civil War on May 21, 1862, when Army Surgeon General William A. Hammond ordered that military medical objects and specimens would be collected for future study. Since then, objects reaching as far back as the Revolutionary War have been added to the museum’s vast collection, Clarke said.
In the military medicine exhibit, 200-year-old surgical tools are featured, across the aisle from a large slab of concrete flooring taken from Trauma Bay II in Balad, Iraq. It was there that the medical facility saved 98 percent of wounded soldiers’ lives from 2003-07, more than any other single medical unit in Iraq.
“From doctors to nurses and patients, we’ve found people connect to that slab of flooring in ways we didn’t expect,” Clarke said. “They might have known someone who was there, or have another connection to it. It has an emotional effect on people who were saved there.”
Advances in military medicine include a collection of cryptic molds of facial reconstruction initiated during the Civil War. Other exhibits showcase techniques in wounded warrior rehabilitation, the growing technology of prostheses, and other advances in medical research.
A second large gallery houses the collection of military medical history and research from 1862 forward, including the Lincoln assassination and autopsy display.
Human specimens are preserved in paraffin and in formalin. Jars filled with various limbs and other body parts depict what gunshots can do to such parts as the lower spine, shoulder joint and limbs. The remains of bones collected from the Civil War Battle of Antietam are also on display.
An exhibit of microscopes –- one traced back to the 1600s from Paris –- show one that was used when a scientist first determined what became known as a cell.
The amputated leg of a 27-year-old man with elephantiasis in 1894, which stems from a parasite, is preserved in a large jar-like vat to show what the disease can do to humans. Another exhibit explains the beginnings of biomedical engineering from its beginnings to today’s advances in the science.
Specimens of brain tissue show changes from traumatic brain injury -- a signature wound from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the specimens are real, although some reproductions are made from molds, such as the reconstructed faces from the Civil War era, Clarke said.
The public also can peer through a window into a lab where they can watch staff members work on future exhibits. These exhibits change periodically to keep the displays supplied with new material. This year’s Civil War display is from 1862, Clarke explained, and will be followed by follow-on years of the war, beginning with 1863 next year.
The museum is open to the public and for tours, free of charge, every day, except Dec. 25. A Medical Museum Science Café meets once a month in Silver Spring and features a variety of topics, which are listed on the museum’s web site, Clarke said.