Did you know Chicago is home to the only museum specifically dedicated to medical surgery in North America? And that that museum is housed in one of the city's last remaining lakeshore mansions -- the only one of which is open to the public?
For the uninitiated, meet the International Museum of Surgical Science. Founded in 1954 by Dr. Max Thorek and the International College of Surgeons, the museum was initially built in 1917 as a home for Eleanor Robinson Countiss, the daughter of a wealthy executive at the Diamond Match Company.
Designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw to be styled after Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's Le Petit Trianon in Versailles, the sprawling mansion, located at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive just south of Lincoln Park, is packed with a mixture of art and artifacts that tell the story of the evolution of surgical practices from the early days of trepanation and bloodletting to more modern achievements in pain management, transplants and avoiding infections in surgery.
(Scroll down for a peek inside the museum.)
What was once Countiss' billiards room is now a library packed with a collection of over 5,000 rare medical texts and what once served as the mansion's kitchens are now a faux-pharmacy filled with bottles upon bottles of old tonics and medicines.
The museum is packed with treasures but remains something of a hidden Chicago gem. Kristen Vogt, the museum's manager of education and events, explained that many visitors during the recent Open House Chicago weekend said they had no idea the museum existed -- including many who lived just around the corner from the historic mansion.
Over that weekend, Vogt said the museum, which she describes as "a combination of art, science and history," received nearly 1,700 visits. On an average weekend, they see some 200 visitors.
The museum revels in its offbeat reputation but its appeal isn't as esoteric as it might seem. Lindsey Thieman, the museum's manager of exhibits and programs, told HuffPost during a recent visit the space as offering "something here to interest everyone, even if they're not interested in medicine" or the museum's undeniable morbid-creepy factor.
"Overall, the museum is a story of human ingenuity and discovery. … I think it gives people perspective on technology and medical progress," Thieman said. "One of the things we hear most often is it makes people grateful for modern healthcare but I always try to point out that many of the things we are currently using in health care in the future might be in a museum like this."
HuffPost recently got a special look around the museum:
The ancient practice of trephining -- i.e. drilling holes in -- skulls as practiced in prehistoric Peru was the inspiration for the IMSS' most recent artist in resident, Annie Heckman. The exhibition that resulted from Heckman's two years of work at the museum is now on display.
Trephination is considered to be the world's oldest form of surgery but the exact reason for performing the surgery has confounded researchers. Some believe the practice had a ritualistic motive, while others see it as a practice that was carried out by trained surgeons to treat battle-related injuries. Time magazine once took up the topic.
The Hall of Immortals on the museum's second floor was one of IMSS' first exhibits. It consists of life-size statues of a dozen pioneers of modern medicine, many of whom were not even doctors, Thieman noted.
Some of the "Immortals," though celebrated today for their contributions to modern medicine, were deemed dangerous or even insane in their time. Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis, who had pushed for doctors to wash their hands after delivering babies to help reduce infant mortality rates, was subsequently sent to an asylum, where he died in 1865.
Next to the Hall of Immortals is the Hall of Murals, which features large-scale paintings depicting some of the often-grisly pivotal moments in the history of modern medicine.
The museum has an iron lung (a.k.a. a negative pressure ventilator) on display. The iron lung was used to help treat polio during the height of the surge of polio cases in the 1950s and 1960s. This model (an Emerson) was still working until a few years ago.
A variety of hearing aides through the years.
A massive bladderstone, the passing of which for those unfortunate enough to endure it was compared to childbirth.
Shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were all the rage until about the 1970s, when awareness had spread about the dangers of radiation. Prior to that, however, they were thought to offer more accurate shoe-sizing.
Works in progress from the IMSS' current artist in residence, Vesna Jovanovic, a Chicago-based artist.
Highlights from the traveling "OUR BODY: The Universe Within" exhibition are on display at IMSS.
As part of the current "Anatomy in the Gallery" contemporary art exhibition, 3-D-printed skulls by Joshua Harker from the current show in the space.
An X-ray of a hand with a bullet wound.
A plaster cast of the death mask of Napoleon, which dates back to 1821.
A life-size bust of Maurice Tillet, a.k.a. the French Angel. Born in Russia and raised in France, Tillet was a professional wrestler diagnosed with acromegaly, a condition that causes bones to overgrow. Sculptor Louis Linck became friends with Tillet and created this bust of him. Tillet died in Chicago a recluse.
A primitive metal brace to treat scoliosis.
"Heroin, the other wonder drug." Did you know you could buy heroin from a Sears catalog at one point? Bayer discontinued its sale of the drug in 1913 and decided to promote aspirin instead.
Hendrick's Gin has created a new limited-edition quinine cordial. A bottle of Quinetum is on display next to old bottles of quinine, the alkaloid that was the first effective treatment for malaria.
A fetus and placenta preserved at 7-8 months.
"Walter White," as Vogt called him, watches over the museum's old-timey "pharmacy."
Treatments for whatever's ailing ya.
The body shown in motion.
The International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The museum is closed on Mondays. Admission runs $15 for adults; $10 for seniors, students or members of the military and $7 for children aged 4-13. Tuesdays are free.