#ZoomMW! Focus on Forensics

bloodsp2For today’s Museum Week post, we #Zoom in on the forensic collection of John George Spenzer–with the help of research assistant Elizabeth Fregaso. What she has discovered about our erstwhile toxicologist attests to the power of minutia, not only in solving crimes, but also in the day-to-day life of Cleveland’s “Sherlock.”

Elizabeth Fregaso, Case Western Reserve University

spenzer_cane_5x7-5Born in 1864, Spenzer (fellow with the cane) had quite the drive to achieve, even from a young age. Though he was born in the United States, he moved to Germany at 15 years old, when American law at the time deemed him too young to obtain his degree. He completed his education abroad and, from there, he moved to Cleveland and became a professor at what is now Case Western Reserve University. It was while here that he became known as “Cleveland’s Sherlock Holmes”, having a hand in multiple sensational criminal trials. Among his achievements were providing definitive evidence in the 1916 trial of Josh Kiser as well as identifying toxic chemicals in the Cuyahoga River that led directly to federal efforts to understand pollution during an age when many companies were permitted to use rivers as industrial waste dumps.

The majority of the Spenzer collection that I interacted with was composed of notes on various topics relevant to Spenzer’s known areas of expertise: medical jurisprudence and forensic investigation. All the material were contained in printed-slides-3_8x5binder upon forest-green binder and on paper so thin it could have been used for tracing. Most of the copied articles were excerpted from published textbooks; the one he favored most seemed to be Eduard Von Hofmann’s Atlas of Legal Medicine. Apparently, Spenzer was a man on a mission to catalogue everything that piqued his curiosity, a continual quest to hone his skills and build on his professional knowledge. There must have been about 100 pages per binder per subject, and there were even accompanying illustrations. In watercolor.

Title Page_cropPretty impressive, eh?

Well, clearly he thought so too, because he went a long way in convincing his readers (or maybe just convincing himself) that he was striving for nothing less than perfection. Check this out: in many of the binders and positioned before all the content, there was a manufacturer’s tag clipped in the very front firmly attesting to the “mechanical perfection” of the binders.

As for the content itself: Spenzer collected miscellanea on a variety of topics that today would be intimately familiar to any forensic scientist. Fingerprinting, ballistics, hangings, drownings, electrocution… just a handful of the subjects he collected materials on. Though I haven’t cataloged it yet, there was an entire binder on the infamous Rasor trial. A sensational case for its time, Guy Rasor was accused of murdering his lover, Ora Lee. It was a case in which Spenzer was personally involved as an expert witness – and enjoyed making the ‘expert’ part known, especially. Take a look at this exchange, which I transcribed from a photo I took in order to use as a reaction image whenever I thought a friend was wrong about something in a text conversation:

SPENZER: A heart-shaped piece was cut out of the right-hand pocket.

ATTORNEY: And by whom?

SPENZER: By myself. From this point below and posterior to the left-hand pocket a rhombohedral piece was removed.

JUDGE: Will you put it in United States, Doctor?

SPENZER: A rhombohedral, your Honor, is a certain, definite shape, like a square is a shape, or a rectangle.

ATTORNEY: The trouble is we don’t understand that, Doctor.

SPENZER: A faulty education.

I’m definitely no Sherlock Holmes, but I’ll go out on a limb here and deduce from this particular exchange that Spenzer could be a bit of a Holmesian know-it-all when he wanted to be.

I did get to catalogue an entire binder on the Crippen trial, a case in which Spenzer was not directly involved. You wouldn’t think it though; from the sheer amount of materials he collected on this trial’s proceedings, he was certainly an interested third party. Doctor Harvey Crippen is accused of murdering his then-wife Cora and disposing of her body in the basement. The two expert witnesses in the case are entirely at odds about what the chemical evidence means. In fact, much of the transcript Spenzer had on record was argument on each scientist’s methodology, as the judge and attorneys attempted to figure out how two radically different conclusions could be reached from the same evidence.

bloodspThis binder stood out to me. Unlike the other binders, it wasn’t just a collection of useful and interesting tidbits. It was one of only two I had gone through – the other being “The Forensic Detection of Blood” — that appeared to be set up as a textbook, complete with a table of contents, multiple sources, and original commentary. Of course, much of this commentary was thinly veiled criticisms of the investigators involved and laments on how, if it were him on the case, he would have done things differently. But the main idea is that much of the language was directed at a third party, as if someone were meant to read these notes in the future as instructive exercises on chemical toxicology, and its limits. It would seem not all of the work was private; some of it was meant as a field guide for future generations of forensic scientists.

A last feature of note: nearly every entry had hand drawn ink and watercolor illustrations accompanying them – save for those with parent articles that had none. These illustrations came in either color or in black and white, but were always copied meticulously from the source material. In my opinion, the most charming of these illustrations wOhio-vs-Murray7x5ere the ones on the spines of each binder, indications of the specific binder’s subject materials. With little touches like that, beginning an impressive new tome always gave me the definite feel of cracking open an actual textbook.

A name commonly showed up alongside these illustrations: “Louis Karnosh”, about whom surprisingly little can be found on Google, besides that he was a practicing MD in the Cleveland area around Spenzer’s time and was 44 by the time of the 1940 census. It’s fairly reasonable to assume that he was involved in the reproduction of these images somehow – possibly Spenzer did the lineart and Karnosh supplied the watercolors? In any case, there’s no confirmation on what role he played exactly, but the pictures are quite detailed and, despite showing graphic images of violent crimes, are rather beautiful. However Dr. “Louis Karnosh” of Cleveland was involved, he deserves a little bit of the limelight.

Speaking of the limelight, it is here that we may be witness to a rare expression of humility on the part of our good Dr. Spenzer: deferring a portion of his personal, work-related project onto someone with known skill that he considered worthy of inclusion in his Perfection Collection. As anxious as he was to make his own expertise known – and not without good reason, of course — he was not above acknowledging the skill and expertise of others. […] See the original post here.

…As Elizabeth aptly points out, our friend Dr. Spenzer understood the value of detail in both his life and his work. The archive remains an incredible treasure that we continue to unpack!

 

Embracing Digital History: How Medicine Became Modern

It’s #FutureMW for Museum Week! Where do we hope to go in the future? The Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum, in collaboration with design partners and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, presents: How Medicine Became Modern, an innovative new way to explore the artifacts, people, and stories behind the great innovations of our age!

What was it like to be sick 50 years ago? 150 years ago?
What medical innovations most changed American lives?
How did Cleveland rise to importance as a medical city?
In other words:
How did we get here?

Museums nationally and internationally are reaching new audiences—while retaining and engaging present ones—through the medium of digital technology. The Philadelphia Museum of Art presented inter-actives for Treasures of Korea; the Field Museum of Chicago showcased a 3D exhibit about Tyrannosaurus bones; the British Museum of London installed 3D touch-activated Explorer Tables allowing virtual autopsy of a mummy. More locally, the Cleveland Museum of Art opened the award-winning Gallery One.

Now, the Dittrick Museum embarks on a project to make history come to life through a 10ft by 4ft interactive digital wall–a place where visitors can “handle” artifacts (rotating BC-Logo_LGand zooming), and more importantly, a place to engage with the human stories behind them. Partnering with Zenith Systems and Bluecadet, and supported by NEH’s Museums Libraries & Cultural Organizations grant, How Medicine Became Modern will go live in 2017!

Exhibit Details:

  • 6Free-standing 10ftx4ft wall in the main gallery
  • Ability to zoom, rotate, interact with artifacts
  • Links to the stories behind artifacts/Access to interactive game-play
  • Four lenses into medical history:

HMBM

 Want to hear more?

How would something like this work? Why would a museum want to take part in digital mediums? The 225th anniversary of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library (also the parent body of the Mütter Museum) asked these very questions in 2013. The answer? Museums and libraries must see new ways of engaging the public–and of building community. As I say in an essay for H-Sci-Med-Tech, History—far from being lost in the past—is by these means coming out to meet new friends. The story of medicine’s past offers something valuable to medicine’s future, a new way of interfacing between worlds that is both physical and digital, then and now. We enter the story through these public spaces, and through digital mediums, medical collections around the world are beginning to reach beyond them as well. What we see is a convergence of exhibit, interaction, and digital outreach.


A Practical Example from the Project:

L0057592 Fowler's phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s (1811-96) detailed system of phrenology is shown on this phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye relates to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear. Fowler’s system, based on his thirty years of research throughout the world, was just one of many. He was an American phrenologist who led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s. In 1860, Fowler emigrated with his family to the United Kingdom and set upon an ambitious lecture tour. In 1887, Fowler set up the British Phrenological Society, which finally disbanded in 1967. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom made: 1879-1896 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Fowler’s phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18
 Science Museum, London.

The history of medicine offers much more than static displays or old tech. Each object, from a cast of Joseph Lister’s hand to a full-scale working x-ray machine, tells a tale of personal tragedy and triumph, of success and failure, of hopes and dreams.

Take, for instance, the phrenology bust. Sleek, smooth–replicas are attractive enough to show up on end-tables and mantle pieces. But what’s the story? It’s about Diagnosing by the Bump!

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. Does that make sense? What might our own phrenological assessment look like? The digital display allows the viewer to see a chart with interactive sections of the brain. Why not do your own “reading”?

William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies
William Cowper. 1737. The anatomy of humane bodies

But that’s not the only story. Phrenology resonated with the American Dream. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) arrived to begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? It fit the “American Dream” idea of rising from nothing, emphasizing the ability to train the mind and attain social mobility. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today. One of Cleveland’s own doctors had his “head examined”—Jared Potter Kirtland. On the other hand, phrenology and it’s sister pseudoscience physiognomy had a dark side; they privileged one race, one class, and one sex. Not exactly a “dream” of equality. (And for the record, Kirtland did not apparently agree with the reading; the booklet has his marginal notes!) The digital display offers the visitor a window in time; they can see the images and texts (and hand written notes!) while learning about larger ethical dilemmas.

Phrenology was later abandoned and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. The take-away? Through digital means, the visitor doesn’t just see the bust in a cabinet. Instead, he or she can look at it closely, from all angles, and then walk through time.

Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy
Johann Heinrich Oesterreicher. 1879. Atlas of human anatomy

Better yet, the visitor can walk through the body—through anatomies and flip books of fugitive sheets (where each layer reveals more of the anatomy underneath). So much of our fragile history remains out of reach for visitors–but digital humanities/history projects can do much more than show the item itself. It can open up that artifact as a window into another time, another place.

We look forward with great anticipation to bringing this digital history/digital humanities project to life–the human story behind medical history: “How Medicine Became Modern.”

ABOUT THE BLOGGER
Brandy Schillace, PhD, works as Research Associate and Public Engagement Fellow for Dittrick Museum. She is also a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, lecturer, blogger, and the managing editor of a medical anthropology journal, Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. View her recent TEDx talk on the history of medicine and “steampunk,” featuring artifacts from the museum!

Secrets! The curious history of the Chamberlen forceps

It’s #MuseumWeek, where museums around the world take to Twitter in a behind-the-scenes look at collections! Today’s theme concerns secrets; join on here, on Twitter and on Instagram, to see what the buzz is about! #secretsMW

Chamberlen forceps.
Chamberlen forceps

Secret Instruments of Medicine!
In 1569, a family of Huguenots (members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France) fled religious persecution and settled in England. Their surname name was Chamberlen, and this enterprising family forever changed the world of obstetrics. Described by Bryan Hibbard as bold, undaunted, and even unethical and “rogue”-like, [1] the Chamberlens made as many enemies as friends, particularly in the practice of medicine. But they were hard-working, too, innovative and creative. Sometime in the late 16th  century, Peter the elder invented an unusual device for the purpose of delivering children alive even during difficult labors. The hinged, spoon-like instrument would later be called forceps–but for the next several decades, they were known largely as “the secret.”

Spratt Forceps
Spratt Forceps

Why? In an age before patents were employed by doctors or instrument makers, the family had every reason to protect their mystery device! They carried something with them that could mean life to both mother and child, and they might have done a bit of show-boating to distract the public (while marketing their services) [see our previous post]. They drove to births in closed or curtained carriages, and it is rumored that they  carried “the secret” in an enormous, gold-covered box that required at least two people to carry it.

Victorian Obstetric Set
Victorian Obstetric Set

[2] It has also been recorded that patients were blind-folded and that everyone else was required to leave the room during the delivery. They even employed noisemakers and clappers to keep anyone from eave-dropping on the goings on through the adjoining door!

A family member, Hugh Chamberlen, eventually sold the secret for much needed funds–though the design had already been leaked; forceps appeared in various parts of the European continent and England, eventually making it to America and serving as a preferred tool in the early twentieth century before falling out of favor. At the Dittrick, we have a large collection of forceps; for an instrument with a singular purpose, they are surprisingly diverse!

More secrets? Breeding Rabbits’ and the Power of Instruments

Instruments played a part in uncovering at least one more ‘secret’ of birth… In 1727, Mary Toft mimicked birth pangs and contractions and fooled many into believing she had given birth to a brood of baby rabbits. The case was finally overturned by surgeon Sir Richard Manningham, who threatened to cut her open in a live vivisection. Toft confessed to the hoax–(who wouldn’t?) While Manningham’s threat was probably an empty one, it is useful case study for two reasons; first, Toft—as an uneducated woman—was thought incapable of fooling the medical men (who presumably “knew” more about birth than she). Second, Manningham’s threats were of a particularly surgical kind. The mystery of female anatomy would be rendered plain through the surgeon’s instruments.

One way or another, instrumentation had been part of how 18th c male surgeons protected their interests, for only a surgeon could wield instruments, and only those wielding instruments could be considered surgeons. The fact that only man-midwives could use forceps helped to build their practice. The rise of the man-midwife and the rise of forceps tend to go together.

[1] Hibbard, Bryan. The Obstetrician’s Armamentarium. (San Anselmo: Norman Publishing, 2000).