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Dr. Linn's Museum of Anatomy

Museums of curiosities were very popular in the 19th century. These museums encompassed all sorts of exhibits, and sometimes live performances, but most included anatomical specimens and figures in wax, often depicting grotesque deformities and maladies. P.T. Barnum's museum in New York  eventually evolved into his circus.

Dr. Linn's Museum of Anatomy was located in Buffalo during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was right on Main Street, just down the block from the city's finest hotel. I'm fairly sure the sign in the photo at right is for Dr. Linn's. It's actually a different part of the photo that I use as the background.

Museums like Dr. Linn's included a variety of exhibits of animals and humans. But they were usually intended to provide clients for the proprietor's medical practice, which explains why there was an emphasis on diseases of men, particularly venereal diseases. Many of the exhibits were used to illustrate the consequences of leaving such cases untreated. After putting the fear of God into their patrons, placards or ushers would make them aware that an experienced doctor was on hand for immediate treatment. Perhaps the anonymity was part of the attraction for patients not wanting to consult the family physician.

The image at left is the cover of Dr. Linn's catalog from 1896 that was sold in an auction a while back. The seller noted that there was "an emphasis on sex organs and diseases, although there are insects, a pterodactyl, shellfish, snakes, etc., and engravings of George Washington." Another description of one of these museums is found in an 1873 medical journal and quoted in Michael Sappol's excellent article "Morbid curiosity: The Decline and Fall of the Popular Anatomical Museum":

It was a collection of anatomical models and dissections, with representations of skin and venereal diseases, most improper for public exhibition, and calculated to excite the morbid curiosity of the young together with its peculiar forms of hypochondria. Vile pamphlets were on hand to induce those having or fearing disease to consult the proprietor. The harm which this single establishment must have done cannot be calculated.

As Sappol explains, the museums provided "plenty of models and specimens of vaginas, penises, breasts, and partly dissected (and therefore unclothed) females." At a time when social norms forbade nudity, science was often used as a means to titillate. Here is an interesting wax model of this kind featured at the Morbid Anatomy blog:


Though mainly intended for a male clientele, Dr. Linn's also provided separate hours for ladies on Friday afternoons, when female ushers took the places of the men. But how many women were willing to enter a place like this in the middle of the shopping district?

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