It was my idea to go, and a focus of our trip to Philadelphia, the four of us, two young couples obsessed with greasy food and silly movies, arcana and the kitsch and trash. "They have," I said "SKULLS there. And GROVER CLEVELAND'S TUMOR. Can you handle it?"
It was everything I could have wanted in a museum full of skulls. It was small and a little dusty, specimens were kept in old-fashioned cabinets that lined the wall. It was gothic and delicious and symptoms of ravaging disease and deformity were everywhere, thrilling me. That's what syphillis does? Wow. Would you divorce me if I grew a horn like that? It was touching, too - the exhibit on Siamese Twins, on their recognizable reality and love for each other, their conjuncture hardly seeming a hardship, at least in these histories sketched out on poster board, behind those same old-fashioned glass cabinet doors. Maybe it was true, or just issued as a corrective, but in any case.
The giant colon downstairs terrified me - a swollen black eel the size of a man - to have that inside of you would be to know demonic possession. The ribcage of a boy woven through with overzealous bones, the babies in jars.
It sounds funny, it is funny! Babies in jars! The punchline of an intentionally tasteless joke that you'd tell on a first date in order to suss out whether this was someone you could spend your life with or not, whether they, too, love tasteless jokes. Babies in jars! And that's what they were. They floated in honey-colored fluid just like they had in the womb - their skin was waxy and dull, but they had petal-like feet like as live babies do, and smooth little noses. Some were twins, but instead of manifesting the loving symbiosis I read about upstairs each had been joined to the other in such a way that she had prevented her from ever taking even a first mewling gulp of air, some had been killed by forceps, or just born wrong. Babies used to die all the time, I remembered, an effort to steel myself in solidarity with history. I sought out the foeti in various stages of development and looked carefully at the very earliest, in which I could discern no human feature.