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The Macabre -- A List of some Grim Places Worth Seeking Out

8 Apr 2013  Seeing More than the 10 Ten Sites a Guide Book Sends You To
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Not all of history is pretty. Not every tourist site is a feel good adventure. Here are some places that are grim but worth exploring.

  • 1. Mutter Museum
    Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    This Victorian feeling museum in Philadelphia is a real stomach turner. It's full of medical oddities and strange deformities. There's the "soap woman" there are two-headed boys there are all sorts of things grotesque and fantastic. It's tucked away in the College of Physicians on 19 South 22nd Street. The style has a classic 1800's feel it's on two levels with nice wood and apart from just the gawkery there are some genuine historical items that might be of note. For the presidential enthusiast there's a tumor removed from Grover Cleveland, Tissue samples taken from John Wilkes Booth, and even part of the brain of Charles J. Guiteau the assassin of President Garfield. So if your looking for something odd in the great city of Brotherly Love go forth and be grossed out.

  • 2. Cappuchin Crypt
    Museum and Crypt of Capuchins, Rome, Lazio

    Off of the Piazzo Barberini under the Church of Santa Maria della Concezionne di Cappucchini lies a crypt. This isn't your typical vault, but rather a small collection of rooms whose decoration is made of the bones of the dead. It's a grim reminder of the briefness of life and an odd memorial to a religion that focuses on the world to come. It's easy to miss, but it's worth your time. The bones are arranged into intricate patterns and some rooms focus on a particular bone. It's hard to fathom how many people's remains were used to create this art, but it's definitely an indelible and unforgettable detour. Rome may the be the eternal city but this crypt reminds people how short a life time is.

  • 3. Ulysses S. Grant Cottage
    Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, Wilton, New York

    What happens when a presidential site sits on the grounds of a prison? Well security is tight and photographs are subject to inspection by guards, but also a strange story presents itself. U.S. Grant was dying of throat cancer so he went to seek the fresh air of the Adirondacks in New York State. He was given a cottage at a wellness spa resort. It was private and the air was nice. It was here he finished his memoirs and here he would die. The cottage is kept as it was on the day he died. His pipe still on the side table, his medicine (morphine and cocaine) still on a shelf. The clock was stopped by his son and there are memorial floral wreaths preserved in the corner. It's an eerie tomb more interesting and fascinating than the "real" Grant's tomb in New York City. How did this hotel become a prison? Well first it was a rehab and then as the Rockefeller Drug Laws came into being they needed a place to put people. So this historic site became a prison. But don't let that scare you away, seeing the last days of Grant is well worth the trip.

  • 4. Majdanek State Museum
    Majdanek National Museum, Lublin, Lublin Province

    The Holocaust is one of humanities great tragedies and visiting a concentration camp may not seem like a good idea on a vacation. But it's important to bear witness to history and to understand the loss and pain that was felt. I could have put any of the camps on this list and I have visited several, but Majdanek is less well known and worth talking about. Majdanek is kept very close to how it was when it was in operation in fact I was told when I was there it could technically up and running in 48 hours. That's chilling, but it's also a very real and unvarnished look at the reality of a death camp. The most powerful memorial is the mausoleum, which is just a large open circular stone monument with the ashes of those killed at the camp. The ashes were collected and put here as a reminder of the human cost. Majdanek also has some interesting monuments one is a column made by prisoners to celebrate a Nazi victory. The irony of forcing these prisoners to create something to celebrate their captors is beyond words. There are also some modern works of art like the abstract memorial at the entrance gate which are powerful and worth seeing. These sites are important and while they might not be on the top of anyone's must see list of Poland, it's important to see history and be confronted with hard truths.

  • 5. The Bog Bodies in the National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology
    National Museum of Ireland - Archaeology, Dublin

    They look so fresh. In fact when these Bronze Age bodies were first found they thought they were recent murder victims. However, they were ritualistic murder victims from the 5th Century CE. It's an amazing and grim window into the past. To see the actual faces of those who lived so long ago. They're akin to mummies in a way but the odd way the peat kept the bodies sort of dried out but also blackened and their hair turned bright orange. I heartily recommend making time between visiting the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Plant to visit the National Museum it's full of fascinating treasures including these bodies, and you really should travel out to New Grange and see what these people built so many many centuries ago.