#19 Indiana Medical History Museum

My name Ange Bolton is and I would like to adopt the Indiana Medical History Museum.

Indiana Medical History Museum (Photograph by Ange Bolton)

Indiana Medical History Museum (Photograph by Ange Bolton)


Tell us a bit more about yourself

I am a marketing/administrator at the Johnson County Museum in Franklin, IN. My promotions experience comes from working in public broadcasting; my museum experience comes from previously once volunteering at the Indiana Medical History Museum.

Tell us a bit more about your adopted museum
The Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis is the only remaining building of Central State Hospital, once the largest mental health facility in the state. The museum is housed in the old Pathology Building, in which research was done as to the physical causes of mental illness. It served as a teaching and research facility from the late 19th century through about the 1950s, at which time the building was essentially closed up. Since the 1990s it has been a museum about the history of medical research in the state. It’s fascinating and more than a little creepy (in a really fun way)—in one area they have a collection of actual human brains in jars, each with a little story about the medical history of its former
owner. As you can imagine, the fans of paranormal try to find ghosts in the hallways and on the grounds (despite rumours, there is no real evidence the patients were mistreated at Central State), but the staff steadfastly focus on the historical. The lovely 19th century building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Why have you chosen to adopt this museum?
When I first moved to Indianapolis, I came for a visit; by the end of the tour, I was completely smitten with the absorbing collection and building, and soon began volunteering. I spent most Saturdays for over 3 years photographing their artifacts, doing data entry, and helping with special events until I got a job over a year ago working weekends. There are no full-time employees at IMHM, but everyone there is dedicated and completely in love with the museum, and their enthusiasm is really evident to visitors. They are almost completely self-funded by memberships, donations, and some grants; they get no money from the state or local government or corporations. That said, they still manage to do a wide variety of programs year-round for all ages and interests, and offer tours 4 days a week.

Why would you recommend people visit?
The Medical History Museum is one of the oldest existing pathology labs in the country, and offers a fascinating look at the way medicine used to be. It stands as a testament to a group of doctors who strived to offer a more humane way to treat the mentally ill, as well as do research to seek causes and possible cures. I can’t imagine anyone walking away bored from this museum experience—it’s an unusual and compelling collection, a wonderful building, their medical herbal garden is run by volunteer Master Gardeners and provides a quiet sanctuary. And most of all, the docents really try to tailor-make tours to the interests of the visitors and focus on the more interesting aspects of the collection. The artifacts are not staged or brought from outside sources– these pieces actually once were used by doctors at this actual facility. It is a rare glimpse directly into the past, almost like a time capsule you can walk through.

How would you sum up your museum in three words?
Unique, underappreciated, engrossing (although with the brains in jars, maybe en-gross-ing is more accurate?)

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