Museum Minute Vol. 2 – National Museum of Health and Medicine

surgical instruments

Museum Minute is written by Elle O’Flaherty. Elle lives in Mt. Pleasant and previously wrote about the Hillwood Estate.

Situated on the grounds of Walter Reed Ft. Detrick, the National Museum of Health and Medicine is a strange jumble of anatomical oddities and battlefield medicine.  The small, free museum houses slides of Einstein’s brain, the bullet that killed Lincoln, a surgically removed hairball, skeletons of all types, an elephantiasis sufferer’s leg, and more Civil War era bone cutting saws than you can shake a stump at.  In addition to loads and loads of the macabre, right now they have an exhibit on traumatic brain injuries which covers both war related and civilian injuries, including the controversy of concussions in professional sports.


NMHM only takes an hour or two to explore, but the ability to say “you’ll never believe what I saw this weekend” is worth it alone.  The museum is suitable for hardy kids and adults alike, but be warned that there is a large viewing window tucked in the back where staff carry out their work on weekdays.  All of their work.  The museum also has virtual exhibits that’ll give you conversational fodder without even hauling your keister to Forest Glen.

14 Comment

  • Love this place, and the new building is much better than the space it occupied at Walter Reed. Worth a visit if you like the macabre, medical oddities and medical history. I regularly encourage visitors to check it out. It’s a smaller version of the Mutter Museum in Philly or Hunterarian Museum in London. At any rate, it is prefect for those non-squeamish friends or family that have visited DC many times and might want to check out something different.

  • shaybee

    I worked here for a summer 2 years ago. It’s SO awesome, if you aren’t squeamish. I haven’t been up to see it since it left Walter Reed, but I really need to go visit 🙂

  • PS This article is not up-to-date:

    “Situated on the grounds of Walter Reed”

    This museum moved to Silver Spring some time ago.

    • Technically its still on Walter Reed, just not the downtown hospital campus that’s off of Georgia Ave (now closed). Walter Reed encompasses a number of military medical facilities in the DC area.

  • mtpgal

    Oops, I meant Ft. Detrick. Thanks to all for the correction, Walter Reed is the old location.

    • It’s at Fort Detrick Annex in Silver Spring, not at Fort Detrick in Fredericksburg.
      Don’t want people going all that way and not being able to see the hairball!!

  • This place is worth the visit just for the uniqueness. I went there on a school trip in middle school (about 20 years ago) and they accidently showed our class an autopsy film instead of the historical welcome video. Awesome!

  • I visited this several months ago. It was smaller than I expected, but totally worth a stop. Fascinating displays. There was one display – and I can’t even remember what it was now; something about facial injuries, I think – that did leave me very uncomfortable, and I’m not really all that squeamish. I immediately added it to my list of places to take visiting friends and family.

  • This is one of my favorite museums ever. Is there a way to get to the new location without driving?

    • shaybee

      I believe it is within walking distance of both teh Silver Spring and Forest Glen metro stations. Forest Glen is closer. I’m sure there is also a Ride On bus that stops somewhere in the area!

      Per their website:
      The Silver Spring station is approximately 2 miles from NMHM. From the station, walk north on Second Street, across 16th Street, to the intersection of Linden Lane/Seminary Road. Turn left and stay straight on Linden Lane. Cross the train tracks and NMHM is on the left.

      The Forest Glen station is approximately 1 mile from NMHM. From the station, walk south on Georgia Avenue using the pedestrian bridge over the Capital Beltway. Turn right onto Seminary Road and stay on right side through the next light, proceeding onto Linden Lane. Cross the train tracks and NMHM is on the left.

    • If you don’t want to walk from a metro station, there’s a bus stop right in front of it. No idea which bus or where it comes from, but it does suggest a bus option.

    • It’s actually very accessible by bike. Check the maps first, but basically, you can take the Capitol Crescent Trail all the way to its end (maybe the 0.3 mile marker?) and get off in the neighborhood. You’ll want to follow your Google Maps in from there, but simply enough, it’s a right on Brookeville Rd. and then a left on Warren Street and then a left on Linden Lane. All told, maybe 3/4 mile once you leave the trail.

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