There’s more than war in the Defense Department’s refreshed and relocated National Museum of Health and Medicine, which will celebrate its grand reopening in Silver Spring on Monday.
The arthritic skeleton of Peter Cluckey sits in its wooden chair, as it has for decades, a macabre but longtime feature of the 150-year-old museum of medical oddities and scientific history.
The right forearm of Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz, which was cut off after his execution for war crimes, is on display in a container of preservative.
And the eerie-looking head and neck of an unidentified man, with the skin peeled away, reveals the tangle of muscle and sinew beneath, like the bundled wiring of an electrical device.
But much of the famous museum is about the impact of war and medicine’s valiant struggle to understand and repair its damage.
The museum had been located for 40 years at a hard-to-reach site on the campus of Northwest Washington’s old Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
With the hospital’s recent relocation to Bethesda, the museum last year moved to a modern, new building adjacent to the Army’s Fort Detrick/Forest Glen Annex, on Linden Lane in Silver Spring.
It reopened temporarily in the fall but had been closed since January as new exhibits and galleries were prepared. Now fully accessible to the public, it is set for a VIP reopening ceremony and open house Monday — the sesquicentennial date of its founding. Admission is free.
“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” said Tim Clarke Jr., the museum’s deputy director for communications. “We get to celebrate our anniversary
. . .
while removing some of the barriers that might have been in place before. And do so with brand-new exhibits.”
The museum has 25 million artifacts, Clarke said, including the world’s largest collection of microscopes, a soldier’s notebook that stopped a bullet and a metal breastplate that failed to.
Many more objects are on display than before, and some are probably being seen publicly for the first time, he said.
On Wednesday, as a skeleton rested on an examining table in a state-of-the-art conservation lab, museum officials previewed the new exhibits.
The Army Medical Museum was founded May 21, 1862, a year into the Civil War, when Surgeon General William A. Hammond directed Union doctors to gather “specimens of morbid anatomy
. . .
together with projectiles and foreign bodies removed.”
There was no shortage of material.
Surgeons shipped amputated legs, feet and arms, cleanly sawed off at one end, often with bullets embedded in the bone. Specimens were sent in from the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg.