Mütter Museum sleepover on January 17

Everyone knows that there’s no such thing as ghosts, but many of us have experienced a moment of doubt. For those who’d like to get their haunt on, there couldn’t be a better place than the Mütter Museum, with its ghastly array of skulls, skeletons, and pickled body parts. And there couldn’t be a better time than the annual sleepover, held this year on January 17.

The event starts with an orientation in the Hutchinson Alcove. Thomas Eakins’s magnificent portrait of Dr. William Thomson hangs like sentry outside the room. Every secret meeting place must have a guardian spirit, and it’s all the better if it’s connected to local genius. The Mütter Museum reeks of local genius and its intellectual ferment; I’d go so far as to say that it reeks of local genius’s psychic ferment.

The orientation will be presented by J Nathan Bazzel, who first dreamed up the event. He’s the Director of Communications, though he may be communicating above his pay-grade, into the arc of the afterlife. After the orientation, the group moves to the galleries, which serve as sleeping quarters. An ordinary transformation occurs, as guests change into pajamas.

Next, there is a procession to the Thomson Gallery, with its oddly beautiful “paintings” in blood on the walls, where guests will watch the movie The Sixth Sense, by Philadelphia auteur M. Night Shyamalan. It’s about a local kid who sees dead people. It’s a warm-up to a séance that doesn’t take suspended disbelief, but rather crazy enthusiasm. The séance will be conducted in the intimacy of the Gross Library by the perfectly warped magician Francis Menotti. He’ll summon Dr. Gross from the afterlife to make a guest appearance amongst the psychically charged few.

Following that is the flashlight tour through the normally off-limits recesses of the building. This means that locked cabinets will be opened, for those who dare. Guests who are driven to go further can participate in a period of free exploration afterward. This is the moment of decision: what is the very last horror or medical triumph one must see before beddy-bye and drifting into a dream?

In the morning, if it comes, there is a gourmet breakfast.

I admit to putting all of my irrational instincts into art. The riddles of art have enough mystery for me, and I don’t think about spooks. All the same, I believe that great artists create in a twilight between unconscious and conscious. I believe, too, that they channel genius from something outside themselves. What could that something be? It’s a good question to address in an overnight experiment at the Mütter Museum amongst pals in pajamas.

You can’t take it too seriously. That’s the nature of muses. But whimsy plays best against a backdrop of gravitas. The College of Physicians, in which the Mütter Museum is housed, has the high seriousness that begs for lighthearted fun. Laughter is the best medicine.


Sleepover at the Mütter Museum, The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, 19 S. 22nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19103. Friday, January 17, 2014, 6:30pm - Saturday, January 18, 2014 9am. Tickets $200. Information here.

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