On this date in 1881 U.S. President James A. Garfield died of wounds suffered during a shooting from a few months before. He holds the record for the second shortest presidency (just 200 days) and as one of four presidents to be assassinated. Garfield’s killer, Charles J. Guiteau, lives on…or should I say his brain lives on at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Another part of Guiteau’s brain as well as his bones sit alongside his victim’s backbone and a couple of ribs at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the museum sees the need for famous assassinations to stick together. Lincoln’s life mask and hands, the bullet fired from the pistol that ended his life, and pieces of his hair and skull are also part of the museum’s collection.
What’s most interesting about the National Museum of Health and Medicine is not the 5,000 skeletons and 8,000 preserved organs, but that it’s America’s oldest Cabinet of Curiosity, going back to 1862. It’s a national trove of plasticized bones, 25 million artifacts in total. One of the most popular exhibits is the preserved hairball of a 12-year old girl who compulsively ate her own hair. Sadly, this taxpayer-funded carnival freak show closed its doors this past April. Walter Reed Army Medical Center voted to close the museum and find a new home in suburban Bethesda by 2012. Let’s hope it reopens soon!