Statue of John Marshall outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Philadelphia is an amazing city to visit. There are lots of important historic sites to tour, museums to explore, and plenty of great restaurants to try.
But if you want to get off the beaten path and explore a quirky legal attraction, head to the Mütter Museum.
Getting to the 40 lb. Colon
Hidden deep in the depths of this medical collection and owned by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia are kidney stones pulled from the body of Chief Justice John Marshall.
I was first told about the Mütter Museum by a fellow Wisconsin lawyer whose sister got married next to the museum’s 40-pound colon. I was intrigued, if a little grossed out, so I added it to my if-I-ever-visit-Philly-bucket-list. Fast forward a few years, and I found myself living in New Jersey, about an hour’s drive from downtown Philadelphia.
My first few trips to the City of Brotherly Love were filled with all the mainstream attractions. I ran up the steps of the art museum, shed a few tears at Independence Hall, and decided cheesesteak is overrated. After doing everything on the “must-do” list I started exploring more obscure sites — cue the Mütter.
I didn’t do a lot of research before heading to the museum. I knew I wanted to see the colon, and I had read somewhere else that they also had slides of Einstein’s brain on display. So, I was completely overwhelmed by the number and quality of exhibits on display.
After spending several hours looking at skeletons and pickled body parts, I struck up a conversation with a museum staffer. They asked if I was a doctor – apparently a lot of the museum’s visitors are medical professionals – and I informed them I was an attorney. Their eyes lit up.
They asked if I had seen Marshall’s kidney stones.
They lead me to an out-of-way case in the back room of the bottom level of the museum. There, in a glass jar, are several kidney stones Chief Justice John Marshall traveled to Philadelphia to have removed while serving on the court.
It was weird and gross, but also kind of awesome to see something that illustrates just how human the heroes of the founding generation are.
The museum does not allow photography, so I have no Instagram-worthy proof that I actually saw Marshall’s kidney stones, but you can see them in Google’s Arts & Culture archive. They are also featured in a short YouTube video produced by the Mütter Museum.
If you want to see the stones in person, I recommend calling ahead to make sure they haven’t been loaned out to another institution, and asking a staff member to show you where they are.
This is the first in a new series of blog posts on legal tourist destinations that members of the Nonresident Lawyers Division have visited. If you would like to contribute an article, please reach out to Emily Kelchen, the head of the NRLD’s communications committee.