Friday, August 31, 2007

Encountering old friends for the first time

The specimens that museum employees come to regard as familiar and even as old friends were once seen by each person for the first time. The first time I visited the Army Medical Museum it meant a trip with my father to the national mall, where the museum resided in an old red brick building (now creatively known as "the Old Red Brick") on a hot, hot, damp Washington Saturday. Deserted weekend streets. But I remember expansive black and white floors, greenery moving slightly to the whir of an old pedestal fan, and sunlit staircases graced with huge black and white photos of explosions and the casualties of war. Upstairs were rooms of cases with jars of specimens. The leg, some brains, and dozens of microscopes etched into my own brain, which must have been very young indeed. I see them now everyday, and if that first memory of seeing them is not a fresh one, it certainly is a vivid one, and it evokes wonder without fail.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A museum famed for the specimens it does not have

I work in a museum that receives visitors hoping to see things we don't have and have never had. They leave always having seen something even more spectacular than the item they asked about. But I wonder whether they wish they had seen the imaginary, and whether we should show it to them. The posts that follow are stories of life and death in a medical museum, and the artifacts and specimens that punctuate those stories.