The Mobile Medical Museum at 1664 Springhill Avenue is housed in the Vincent-Doan-Walsh house. This house is the oldest privately owned home from the 1800s that still stands in Mobile and has been the site of the museum since 2003. The Medical Museum was founded in 1962 by Dr. Samuel Eichold, II.
Daryn P. Glassbrook, Ph.D., Executive Director of the museum gave me a guided tour of this fascinating place. Tours are available by appointment. The museum welcomes approximately eleven hundred visitors each year which is significant for this specialized museum.
The temporary exhibit, “Orbit, Explorations of the Eye”, covering the centuries of ophthalmological practices began our tour. Entering the main gallery area, I was introduced to Howard the Leach, he harkens back to the very early days of medicine when blood-letting was thought to be a cure for some illnesses.
Moving onto Mobile’s medical past, we discussed Dr. Josiah Knott’s role in determining the cause of the yellow fever outbreak. I also learned about the formation of the Medical College of Alabama, founded in 1859 that would become Knott’s legacy.
Two large anatomical models, pre-dating the Civil War, one illustrating the Lymphatic system and one the Nervous system, dominate the main exhibit room. These models were most likely used for teaching at the Medical College. These colorful displays were brought over from Europe and how they survived the Civil War occupation is a mystery.
J. Marion Sims, the father of gynecology, has an unequaled story in the history of medical practice. Sims is responsible for the invention of several pieces of gynecological equipment but does have a less than stellar reputation. It is said that while treating his female patients, many of whom were female slaves in the 1840s, he did not use anesthesia during their treatment. Many thanks to those women who endured so much to help those who have benefited from the treatments he pioneered.
William Rankin, an engineer, and physicist was responsible for developing the first x-ray to be produced using cathode tubes in 1913. His first x-ray was that of his wife’s hand. He is considered the father of diagnostic radiology and was awarded the first Nobel Prize for Physics.
You would think you’d find skeletons in a medical museum. Here there are two both of which date back about 120 years. Both are of Asian heritage. They also have several human skulls that are used as teaching tools.
In the rear gallery of the museum is an Iron Lung which was used between the 1930s and 1950s during the polio epidemic. Although helpful in the patient’s treatment, it could not have been a comfortable experience to have been contained in one of these
Alongside the Iron Lung is a Heart-Lung machine that was used in the process of heart transplants. You can learn how both of these machines contribution to life-saving procedures.
In the garden, the museum is waiting for the installation of three new sculptures. An herb garden is featured where traditional medicinal herbs are grown.
The Mobile Medical Museum is a small unique museum with countless stories to tell. I encourage everyone to seek this out the museum to learn the stories of Mobile’s rich medical past. This museum adds a distinctive flavor to Mobile’s own unique history.