You Have a Bird and… What is That?

Cholera is Cuddly_Apparently (2)Last week, my three-year-old daughter took to school two recent favorites from her toy collection. Her teacher said, “oh, you have a bird and… what is that?”

My husband answered matter-of-factly: “Cholera.”

To which the teacher replied: “Cholera. Well, it’s lovely.”

Our daughter refers to it as “Collie,” the cuddly cholera microbe she picked up at the Mütter Museum.

Yes, that Mütter Museum, the one discussed in Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s book, Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine.* The Museum began with a donation from Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter in the mid-19th Century, and has grown since then to be one of the world’s greatest collections of anatomical specimens, antiquated surgical tools, and other medical curios.

It is my daughter’s favorite museum, which she visits frequently now that her Spanish class is one block away. Her favorite exhibits include the “soap lady,” whose remains are encased with a fatty substance called adipocere, and the Hyrtl skull collection, which includes brief comments on how each of the 139 people lived and died. (See here for more information on these exhibits).

It’s a quiet place, where people walk slowly from case to case, until my daughter asks in her high-pitched voice, “How did that person die? Why does that skeleton look sad?” Then everyone turns to look at the crazy parents who brought their small child to such a morbid museum.** They wonder why we would do such a thing. Well, the answer is that we take her there because the Mütter Museum provides a fascinating and important look at the human body and various medical conditions, and we don’t want our children to be afraid of or squeamish about those topics.

Right now, I’m pretty sure my youngest child will be a medical provider, a horror writer, or both. Remember her ghost stories?


*For my thoughts on Aptowicz’s book, see Dr. Mutter’s Marvels: A True Tale?

**Admission is free for children under six.

***For more information about the cuddly cholera, see here.


    1. My daughter is now asking for all the microbes! I think I’ll give her E.coli and chickenpox (and maybe a few others) for Christmas. That sounds really perverse, doesn’t it?! 😉

  1. I’ve been to the Mütter Museum. I went there as part of Anatomy and Physiology in high school. I remember the soap lady vividly. It has great exhibits in my opinion and I am a little sad there’s no museum like that near me now. I think both my kids would love it.

    1. Thanks! I highly recommend visiting it if you’re ever in Philadelphia. My favorite part is the Hyrtl skull collection. I could spend at least a solid hour (or more) looking at it.

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