For years Lucian Freud (see: Madness) maintained a conspicuous privacy, fueling the rumors about women and gambling and models, which in the end really had little or nothing to do with his work. But he always understood the uses of mystery for aiding his reputation.
We have an insatiable appetite for life’s mysteries, be they cagey celebrities or medical marvels. Mystery is a hook draws us in and keeps us there, rapt, breathless, irrational. The girl you’ve never met but sits across from you every day on the train is far more interesting the girl you chat with every day in geometry class, who in turn is far more interesting than your sister.
In Philadelphia, the Mutter Museum has been engaging viewers for nearly 200 years. What makes its allure endure? A 19th century collection of medical specimens that’s more carnival novelty than academic science, the Mutter takes the how’d-they-do-that factor to a whole new level.
There you will find a man’s colon grown to 5 times its normal size; the deformed skeleton of a woman who’d worn her corset too tightly; a plaster cast of America’s first Siamese twins; and the bladder stones of Chief Justice John Marshall. The exhibit pictured here is a laryngologist’s collection of objects removed from the throats of gagging patients. It turns out a lot of people accidentally swallow safety pins.
Humanity remains unfathomable. And it’s those delicious mysteries that keep us coming back for more.