Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fascinating Artifacts

Walter Reed Army Hospital--the original building.
Behind it is the newer Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

One of more than 15 display cases chronicling the history and development
of the microscope--the pathologist's best friend.

Death mask and hand casts of President Abraham Lincoln,
as well as artifacts related to his assassination.

Last week, I posted a bit about prosthetics and the young men and women who rehabilitate at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This week, I wanted to show you a little more from the National Museum of Health and Medicine at WRAMC. The museum was founded in 1862 "to study and improve medical conditions during the American Civil War." As I mentioned previously, the museum is open to the public and houses exhibits not only on advances in medicine as a result of breakthroughs on the field of war and post-war care, but also historical artifacts from pivotal moments in American history.

For example, there is a display case that contains the bullet from the gun of John Wilkes Booth that killed President Abraham Lincoln, as well as Mr. Lincoln's death mask and casts of his hands at the time he died. There is the shattered leg bone of General Daniel E. Sickles who was wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg. Legend has it that after the war, Gen. Sickles would ride up to Walter Reed to visit his leg. Sickles was also the first person to employ an insanity defense during his trial for the murder of Francis Scott Key's son, Philip Barton Key. He was acquitted. The museum also features more then 15 cases detailing the evolution of the microscope--an important tool in the diagnosis of disease and evaluation of criminal evidence.

If you're looking for something unusual to see in D.C., the museum at Walter Reed is a definite must-see! Please note: Flash photography is not allowed in the museum, so make sure you take a tripod along if you're going to take pictures. And, if you're interested in venturing a little further afield, take a Saturday or Sunday and drive up to Philadelphia for the day and visit the Mutter Museum.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 3/08


Tim Clarke, Jr. said...

Thanks for the wonderful profile! You can also find us online at

Tim Clarke, Jr. said...

With apologies, I meant to make sure the complete URL made it into the previous comment: the Museum is also available online at


Tim Clarke, Jr.
Public Affairs Officer
National Museum of Health and Medicine

D.C. Confidential said...

Tim: You're welcome! I really enjoyed visiting and will likely be back again in the very near future. Thanks for leaving an additional link to the Museum here.

Be sure to check it out, folks!

Fénix - Bostonscapes said...

I really wish I were in D.C. right now. What a wonderful thing to see! Thanks for the preview. :)

D.C. Confidential said...

Fenix: Come on down!

The Artful Eye said...

I don't believe I've ever seen a hospital with such architectural character. I'll have to make a point of visiting next time I'm in D.C.

D.C. Confidential said...

AE: That's the original building. The modern building behind it is a dog. I should take a picture and post it one day.

The military is currently building a new Walter Reed National Medical Center on the grounds of the Bethesda Naval Medical Center up in Maryland and is slated to open in 2011.

What will happen with this prime piece of real estate and its buildings is anyone's guess. I'm hoping some insightful private developers with a knack for historic preservation will pick it up and turn it into live/work spaces with some retail. More than likely, though, they'll tear it all down and put in a bunch of condos and a Wal-Mart.

Anonymous said...

It's supposed to be divided between the State Department and the government's landlord, the GSA.

d.c. confidential said...

Anon.: Good to know. I was hoping it would be developed into something that would enliven the Georgia Avenue corridor. I wonder what State will do with it? No doubt convert it to a satellite office of their downtown headquarters.

Anonymous said...

It's a nice little story, but please note that the museum does NOT have Lincoln's death mask. On display are copies by sculptor Avarel Fairbanks of Abraham Lincoln's LIFE mask and hands made by Leonard Volk in 1860.
Steven Solomon
Public Affairs Officer, 2000-2007
National Museum of Health and Medicine

d.c. confidential said...

Steve: Thank you for that clarification. I took these pictures in early March (around the 3rd or 4th) and didn't post them or the information until the 24th, so I was going from memory. I appreciate you taking the time to correct this misinformation.

Anonymous said...

I'm retired to Tampa now, so I have the time to devote to such matters...

J.M. Tewkesbury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.C. Confidential said...

Steven: Niiiiiice. Tampa's a lovely city. I've only ever been there on business, but I enjoyed it much more than Orlando.