4 Unique Museums in Boston (and they’re Free!)
Looking for some of the more strange and unusual sites in Boston that you will not find in your average guide book? Not only are these 4 unique museums in Boston great sites, but with the exception of the Boston Athenaeum, which requires a small entrance fee of $10.00, they are free.
- The Warren Anatomical Museum
- Boston Athenaeum
- The Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)
- Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation
- Free Tours by Foot Boston
The Warren Anatomical Museum, founded in 1847 and started as the personal collection of Harvard Professor Dr. John Collins Warren, whose personal collection was made up of some 160 unusual anatomical specimens. It now boast of 15,000 piece collections. The museum is a bit small but there are always great exhibits on display.
One of the most popular finds here is the skull of Phineas Gage, a railroad worker who in 1848 had a 13 pound iron rod blown through his head. He actually lived 12 years after that but was never the same again as much of his brain’s frontal left lobe was destroyed in the accident. Also on display are skeletons of a pair of conjoined twins.
Admission to the Warren Anatomical Museum is free, and it is located at 10 Shattuck St, Boston, MA. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
The Ether Dome at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). A true hidden gem that many Bostonian do not even know about. Here in 1846 the first surgery using ether was performed to remove a tumor from a guy’s neck. This was the original operating theater of MGH (1811) and surgeons would work under the windowed dome for light.
There is an oil painting on display depicting the surgery. The portrait was completed in 2000 and shows 19th century surgeons preforming the operation. The doctors in the painting are current staff members from MGH who dressed up in 19th century garb and recreated the operation while the artist took photos and created the painting from the photos.
The Ether Dome is also home to Padihershef, a 3000 year Egyptian mummy brought to MGH in 1823 and is the first complete mummy brought to America. Upon his arrival he was put on display at Mr. Doggett’s Repository of Arts a 19th century art gallery that no longer exist, where hundreds of people paid .25 cents to see him. He later went on a tour of the United States where thousands of curious folk came to say hello to him.
There are also some scary medieval looking surgical tools on displayed in the Dome as well as the original sponge use to administer the either during the first surgery.
The Ether Dome is free and open every day during hospital visiting hours.
Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation includes exhibits which highlight the evolution of medicine and clinical practice over MGH’s storied history, and the second floor gallery houses exhibits, a space for programs, lectures and special events.
There is also a CT Scan of the Egyptian Mummy Padihershef, so you can see him from both the inside and the outside. The Rooftop Garden has more than 30 kinds of trees, shrubs, grasses, vines and ground covers along with grand views of Beacon Hill and State House dome. The Rooftop Garden is open year-round.
The museum is free and open Monday – Friday: 9 am to 5 pm and on Saturdays (April through October) 11 am to 5 pm
The Boston Athenaeum is a private Library in the city of Boston that has over 700,000 volumes of books, many rare and historical documents and a great collection of art works. Located at 10 1/2 Beacon St. (even the address is a bit odd), it houses among other things, a book that is bound in human skin! The skin of the late James Allen, the book is a narration of his life and bound in the man’s own skin. James, a convicted bank robber and murderer was executed in 1837 and requested that his skin be made to cover his autobiography and given to one of his victims John Fenno, Jr. who accused him of attempted murder as a tribute to the only man ever to stand up to him.
Some of its famous members included Nathaniel Hawthorne who reports that he encountered the ghost of the Reverend Dr. Harris, a Unitarian minister of the First Parish Church in Dorchester. According to lore Hawthorne would see the good Reverend reading the newspaper and the Reverend would nod at him when he looked up from his paper. Hawthorne was later informed by a friend that the Reverend had been dead for a year. One day while in the reading room the Reverend looked at Hawthorne with a sad, melancholy look of helplessness and that was the last time he ever saw him.
The Boston Athenaeum is open Tuesday 12pm-8pm and Wednesday – Saturday 10am-4pm. There is a $10 entrance fee for adults ($8 for students/seniors, free for those under 12)
There is a free tour on Wednesdays at 11am.
Don’t forget to check out our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours of Boston. There will be some quirky stuff, too, we promise!