Death Cast of 'Siamese Twins' Chang and Eng Bunker (The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)
List Words : Graeme Green | 26 October

Morbid Curiosities - 5 of the world's most macabre locations

Halloween isn’t all about Trick or Treating. 5 collectors of morbid curiosities tell us about the gruesome museums, haunted sites and macabre markets from around the world that make even their skin crawl

1: The Mütter Museum, Philadelphia, USA

Chosen by Dani Deveroux (

Hyrtl Skull Collection (The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

A Philadelphia landmark, the Mütter Museum is America’s finest museum of medical history. Its beautifully preserved collections of anatomical specimens, models and instruments are displayed in a 19th century ‘cabinet of museum curiosities’ setting.  

The Mütter offers incredible exhibits, but the back of the museum offers some truly odd specimens, housed in two rooms that are for private tours only. The Bone Room offers racks upon rolling racks of bones. There is an extremely large phallic bone that no amount of testing has yet to prove what species it comes from.

Albert Einstein's brain (The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia)

Contorted skeletal remains of every age are out for study.  Dehydrated fetal remains are disturbingly beautiful and simply fascinating. The Chill Room is chilled to a low temperature to properly prepare and preserve human wet specimens in thick glass jars. You will see diseases, disorders and malformations of organs, tissues and babies that you simply never imagined existed.

You have to request a private tour of the back rooms. If approved, it will be scheduled for no more than four people. Ask for Marcy.


2: Capuchin catacombs, Palermo, Italy

Chosen by Evan Michelson (

Mummies in the catacombs' 'male corridor' (Sicily Mummy Project)

I had spent decades dreaming about the Capuchin catacombs at Palermo, Italy before I actually had a chance to visit just a few years ago. My imagination had been fired by old photographs, engravings and paintings of the place, some of which made it into my private collection. By the time I finally had a chance to walk those dusty, sunken corridors, whose walls are hung with the forlornly expressive, mummified bodies of men, women and children, all dressed in their Sunday best, I felt that I was amongst old friends.

Mummy of Antonino Prestigiamo, a peasant who died in 1844 (Sicily Mummy Project)

This singularly eerie place of silence and slow decay stands as a testament to the artful madness that consciousness inflicts upon the human animal. From the friars in their vestments to the ladies in their colourful brocades to the babies in their delicate muslins, all of humanity is on display in all its frail and transitory glory, a visceral reminder that life is but a short burst in between eternities.


3: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, USA

Chosen by Donna Marian (

Sunset over Gettysburg (Dreamstime)

The suffering, torment and death still lingers here. It blankets every inch of the Gettysburg battlefield over a century and a half later. Ghostly apparitions of deceased soldiers are still fighting a never-ending battle. Flesh from dead and dying horses and humans lay on the battlefield for weeks after those three horrific days in July. The vultures still return yearly looking for a ghoulish nosh.

As I stand on the graves of the Unknowns, I wonder which one would be my long-lost 3rd Great Uncle. He left Ireland during the Potato Famine and enlisted as a paid soldier in America’s Civil War. He would send a few dollars home to his family, so they could survive. He ‘mustered in’ in 1863, but never ‘mustered out’. He went missing at Gettysburg.

Graveyard at Gettysburg (Dreamstime)

I feel the heaviness in the air as I stand near The Irish Brigade Memorial. I have photographs of a misty apparition surrounding me. I believe the past is reaching out to me every time visit.


4: Flea market in Saint Ouen, Paris, France

Chosen by Ryan Matthews (

Stall at flea market in Saint Ouen(Paris Tourist Office / Marc Bertrand)

The flea market in Saint Ouen is a place I never omit when visiting Paris. Its vast array of unique antiques and oddities are enough to keep one busy for an entire weekend. There are several vendors within the market we tend to frequent. Whether it’s an anatomical wax figure, scientific instruments, paintings, or an antiquarian book, we always leave with something to add to our collection.

Many of the early cased surgical instrument sets that I collect were originally made in France during the 18th & 19th centuries. On our last trip, in April 2015, I was able to obtain one of my rarest amputation sets to date, complete with provenance from the surgeon who once owned it.


5: Turda Salt Mine, Romania

Chosen by Paul Gambino (

Turda Salt Mine (Dreamstime)

Take me to a haunted cemetery, a deserted insane asylum or a museum of human oddities and I won’t lose a minute of sleep. However, have me descend over 350 feet straight down into an abandoned 17th century salt mine and then ask me to enjoy myself on a mini amusement park that’s floating on a lake of green-black water and my skin crawls. 

That’s what you get at the Turda Salt Mine in Turda, Romania. It just creeps me out to be that far below the surface of the earth in what is basically a narrow 375-year-old man-made hole filled with water, which has then been transformed into a ‘happy place’ via a Ferris wheel, crazy golf and pingpong tables, among other amusement park attractions.

The book Morbid Curiosities: Collections of the Uncommon and the Bizarre by Paul Gambino, featuring all the above collectors, is published by Laurence King (£19.95) and available on Amazon.

For more, see

Main image: Death Cast of 'Siamese Twins' Chang and Eng Bunker (The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia). Photo with No 4: medical anatomical skull (Ryan Matthews).


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