Curator of the Mütter Museum. Former osteologist at Harvard. Current professor of forensic anthropology at Widener. Member of the Vidocq Society. Mistress of puns.

My Proof: Here's a photo from my office of some Mütter knickknacks and a jar of skin.

Thank you for your amazing questions! I have to go prep for some new segments of "Guess What's on the Curator's Desk." Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and come see us in person!

Comments: 428 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

carpisxxx176 karma

the first time i went to your museum i was on a date with a pre med student. when we were staring at the wall of skulls the one that stuck out was the man who tried to kill himself by cutting his own throat. she explained to me that he most likely failed because he tilted his head back his trachea became hard as a rock and wouldnt have been able to cut through it with just a knife and the correct way would be to tilt his head forward. learning about that was so creepily awesome.

thanks for being a great first date spot.

muttermuseum130 karma

I hope you married that girl! And that skull is the one who is my favorite.

carpisxxx61 karma

Haha didn't marry her, but my current gf of 3 years and I have been to the museum multiple times!

muttermuseum223 karma

You should have you wedding here! We do host them, you know.

multile137 karma

Is that jar of skin from this person, who posted on reddit a little while back that she peels her skin off and donates it to the museum?

muttermuseum126 karma

That's her!

muttermuseum101 karma

Hello everyone and thank you for coming! We'll be getting started in just a moment. Feel free to ask me anything about things that are icky, gooey, sticky, tumor-y, boney, death-y...bring it!

muttermuseum110 karma

Just so you all know, I just saw our exhibits manager walk by with a human head. Let's get started!

I_AM_A_IDIOT_AMA65 karma

Is the human head ok?

sidlessnancy43 karma

Is the exhibits manager ok?

muttermuseum87 karma

No to the first one, yes to the second.

Salacious-92 karma

What is the most important item that you think is missing from your museum? What would be your "dream" acquisition?

firegal17 karma

That's a great question.

muttermuseum169 karma

haven’t yet bottled a human soul in a specimen jar, but I keep trying!

One of the things I’m actively trying to collect are specimens that reflect 20th and 21st century health issues. For example, I don’t have a smoker’s lung. I just got some diabetic feet, which is great. I’d like to get more artificial joints. One thing I’d love, but they are very expensive, is one of those high tech bionic artificial limbs.

Janet_Coquette92 karma

I just want to say that I have been to your museum, and it is awesome.

muttermuseum203 karma

Mom, get off reddit already!

BigCat900081 karma

What's your favorite bone?

muttermuseum390 karma

Heh heh heh

Hoosier_Ham81 karma

Does the Mütter risk legitimizing, trivializing, or glamorizing dermatillomania through the publicity it's granted to the young woman who sent you the jars?

muttermuseum161 karma

Good question! The reason I accepted the skin is it's a physical manifestation of a mental condition. It's very hard to get "specimens" that adequately illustrate mental disorders. I consider this a valuable teaching tool to educate the public about this condition. All I want to do is bring it to light, tell it like it is, and show what it can do, and it's all with her consent.

slickwizardhat68 karma

What are the legalities and red tape you have to follow in order to run a museum like this? I will actually be going to this Museum on Tuesday. I am very excited.

muttermuseum100 karma

You'll have to ask my lawyer. And he's really expensive, so be brief.

In terms of museum acquisition, we are very careful to make sure we have all the necessary provenance/paperwork/needed documentation.

MorganSaysThings64 karma

So excited that you're here! Just visited for the first time a few months ago, and noticed that there isn't a lot of explanation of the medical conditions causing the deformities in some of the specimens on display. Is that by design (i.e., are you hoping visitors will research the info on their own time)?

muttermuseum127 karma

Great question! Originally the labels were written for doctor or medical students who visited the museum. Now we get over 138,000 visitors through our doors, most of whom have no medical background. We are now in the process of rewriting these labels to provide more information.

firegal60 karma

Obligatory question: What's the one thing in your collection that's made you go "ewwwww".

muttermuseum177 karma

An anal tattoo device. It’s a device used to literally tattoo or inject powdered mercury around the anal sphincter to relieve hemorrhoids. I have no idea if it worked, and my boss wasn’t willing to let me test it on him.

loobyloo14260 karma

I love your museum. I took my pre-teen and a friend and must tell you that the wax models of the effects of Syphilis, and the skulls with the caries from Syphilis are WAY more effective safe sex education than any abstinence program. They were horrified.

My question is what's the latest finding on the soap lady? Did she die of yellow fever?

muttermuseum98 karma

No, we are fairly confident she did not die of Yellow Fever.

I also think the syphilis models are effective too, but that's one of the reasons I'm no longer allowed to give tours to schoolchildren.

gray-shoes60 karma

What item has affected you most profoundly on a personal level?

muttermuseum201 karma

We have a 3mm kidney stone extracted from yours truly. That was pretty darn personal.

Hoosier_Ham59 karma

I heard that you have the hips of your communications director. Your CEO just had his knee replaced. Clearly, the Mütter exacts a terrible toll on its caretakers.

Ms. Dhody, if you had to put a part of yourself in a specimen jar in the Museum, what would it be and why?

muttermuseum79 karma

When you work here, all items removed from your body legally belong to me. Okay, not really. But I wish!

ebbycalvinlaloosh54 karma

The jar of skin on your desk has ruined egg noodle casserole for me forever. Not even remotely joking.

muttermuseum114 karma

You are welcome. Too many carbs, anyway.

adeft53 karma

Your museum is one of the nicest things in Philly, thanks for doing what you do. How plausible would it be to take parts of your exhibit on tour (ala the human bodies exhibit)? It's really a one of a kind collection that more people should see.

muttermuseum69 karma

We've been asked. We've explored and continue to explore the options. Needless to say, our collection poses unique challenges in terms of transport. And they get homesick!

strudelsticks48 karma

Have you ever turned away specimens that for whatever reason didn't make the cut?

Also, is it hard to preserve the especially gooey pieces, or does the usual preservation process work?

muttermuseum155 karma

I will turn away any human specimen with an unknown provenance (origin). Without knowing where they came from and documentation for proof, there’s no way to know they weren’t stolen or acquired on the black market, and i won’t accept them.

Once a well meaning person dropped off Peruvian mummy chunks taken decades ago before restrictions were imposed. It was well intentioned, but we cannot accept things like that, and they were graciously returned.

Also, Peruvian mummy chunks would make a great band name.

t3rrapins41 karma

What do you feel is the most intriguing function of the human body?

muttermuseum91 karma

As a new mom I think creating new life from two little bits of genetic goo. Pretty cool!

BigCat900039 karma

As a member of the Vidocq Society have you helped to solve any mysteries? What are you currently working on?

muttermuseum53 karma

I am a relatively new member to the Vidocq and I don’t think any of the cases I’ve consulted on have been solved. Since these cases are now active I’m not at liberty to share details.

starrfucker37 karma

What is the oldest artifact(are they called artifacts?) in the museum?

What is your favorite item?

"mistress of puns" thats hilarious.

muttermuseum66 karma

Asking me my favorite item is like asking me my favorite child! Oh wait, I do have a favorite child. He's my only child.

I don’t like to play favorites and they change all the time, but I am partial to Harry Eastlack, whose skeleton we have on display. Read about him here:

I also really like Geza, one of the Hrytl Skulls. My husband and I actually adopted him. You can adopt one too!

muttermuseum56 karma

Forgot the first part!

The oldest non-biological specimen is a 7th century Assyrian medical tablet. The oldest biological specimen is probably one of Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter’s originals, probably over 200 years old. He collected things like a wet specimen of a tumor on a thumb.

Olivesareawesome35 karma

Hi Ms. Dhody! I love the Mutter Museum, and as a Philly resident I visit it often. Your museum is one of the main reasons I studied physical anthropology!

Do you have any advice for a college grad trying to professionally enter the museum field in Philly or anywhere else?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

muttermuseum110 karma

Bribery is an underutilized tactic. We love dark chocolate!

It’s all about making connections. People don’t like working for free, but interning is really the best way to get a foot in the door. Work at a museum as an intern, make yourself indispensible, and just might find them making a position for you.

True story: Our collections manager came here as a volunteer, and he became so valuable that he’s now chained to the desk, not allowed to leave. He gets regular food and water, though.

TheRagingDingleberry29 karma

Is there anything that is "too strange" and is unlikely to ever be displayed?

muttermuseum34 karma

If so, I haven't found it yet!

letsgogetem28 karma

Hi, Anna. Love the museum, but why is it always so cold in there? Brr!

muttermuseum138 karma

Life sucks. Get a sweater. :)

Kitty_Cat_Lover28 karma

I was at your museum a few years ago and I was fascinated by the conjoined twins exhibit and the fetus's in jars. I was wondering, how does one ethically acquire such things? Were they donated? Do you ever have run ins with relatives years later?

muttermuseum37 karma

The vast majority of our fetal specimens were acquired over 75 years ago. Any new specimens acquired during my time here have all donated with the proper documentation and consent.

Anonymoustard26 karma

What is your opinion of the Bodies exhibit which has toured the USA in the last few years?

muttermuseum47 karma

My personal response is "meh"

naynaymarie25 karma

I've always been fascinated by the fact that the dwarf skeleton on display belonged to a prostitute. The stories behind the specimens are just as intriguing as the specimens themselves.

What is your favorite item that is on display in the museum, as well what what's your favorite that isn't on display and why?

muttermuseum78 karma

We don't actually know she was a prostitute. We know only that she gave birth in a brothel.

My favorite item NOT on display is my husband's gallbladder. I'm working on preserving it. And you know what? That was the LAST time he insulted my cooking.

hexagonalshit23 karma


muttermuseum51 karma

It is finished! We have a new exhibit on Civil War medicine. You should come see it!

cmyk300022 karma

I heard about your museum after reading Stiff and just want to say I hope I can come visit someday. (I live on the west coast). It seems like a fascinating place!

muttermuseum35 karma

Mary Roach is the best, and you should read her latest, Gulp!

sidlessnancy20 karma

What is the protocol for donating body parts? Where do you get them from? Has anyone willed you their own parts?

muttermuseum43 karma

We have a significant amount of primary donations. These are living individuals who have donated parts of their own body. For example, we have femoral heads from hip transplants, kidney stones, pieces of skin cancer, the picked skin in jars, and the aforementioned gallbladder.

We can't accept full body donations at this time, though we often get inquiries.

glych19 karma

I remember visiting and hearing there is a way to commission getting access to the medical library upstairs for research in science and art. What are the steps of this process?

muttermuseum22 karma

Absolutely! You can schedule an appointment. More info here:

CatsSayMoo17 karma

How do you become to be a museum curator? What made you want to do it?

muttermuseum32 karma

I started coming to the Mutter when I was seven years old. I grew up going to museums all over Philadelphia. I started out as an archeologist, moved to physical/forensic anthropology, did human rights work in Peru, and in 2004 I answered an ad for an assistant collections manager at the Mutter, and I've been here ever since.

What made me want to do it? Former director Gretchen Worden's joy and enthusiasm about the museum inspired me. You should look for clips of her on Letterman back in the day with items from the museum.

iheart45s17 karma

Last time I was there the catalogue of things pulled out of offices was gone. Is it back/coming back? That's my favorite.

muttermuseum49 karma

Where's my stapler?

hexagonalshit15 karma


muttermuseum27 karma

I never do. That's one of the reasons we have security guards!

thedevilsdictionary14 karma

What other collections do you believe are up to the same high standards as the Mütter? Have you seen the bottled freaks at Kunstkamera in St Petersburg? If so what do you think will become of Peter the Great's specimens? After nearly 300 years the items in the jar tend to get really sinister looking. Is there any way to lessen these effects?

muttermuseum13 karma

There are great medical museums around the world, and we hope you'll visit them.

maple_bacon_pancakes14 karma

Do you have any funny or interesting stories of how you may have acquired some of the items in your museum? What's your favorite story/ history about one?

muttermuseum15 karma

There's no time! There's so many. Every one is amazing. The jar of skin is obviously an interesting story.

lesassypancake12 karma

Had to make an account just to reply to this!! The Mütter Museum is something I really hope to visit one day after seeing it on TV as a kid (I get all bubbly and giggly whenever it re-airs). I'm not sure if you were asked this before but what was it like when you first stepped into the Museum? What did you initially think and what drove you to work there?

muttermuseum13 karma

Awww! Thanks for creating an account just for this.

I first came here when I was around seven. My first thought was {sound of angels singing} "This is where I belong!" I guess I am just fascinated by the human body and how it works, and especially how it doesn't always work. I'm very very lucky to work in such at such an amazing place.

nightgolf11 karma

Why does the museum not allow photos? Why not just prohibit usage of flash?

muttermuseum69 karma

There have been too many complaints from the specimens.

IWatchWormsHaveSex10 karma

Do you do any kind of outreach for local school kids?

muttermuseum19 karma

Oh gosh yes. We have school groups and guided tours. We also have a department under The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, who is our parent organization, that is specifically geared toward education of youth. You can see it here:

muttermuseum10 karma

Okay, I have time for only a few more questions!

stumblecow8 karma

What's the ding-dong situation there?

muttermuseum84 karma

We are from Philly. We prefer Tastycakes.