Or maaaaaaybe not!

If you’re hoping to visit the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM) this month, there are two things you need to know:

First, it’s only open on Saturdays through January 2014.

And second: When you leave, docents may be compelled to frisk you for stolen brains.

True story. Real brains.


As strange as it may seem, in the news today is a story about a man (name withheld from this forum but Google it if you’re curious) who allegedly stole human brain samples from the IMHM. The thief was arrested after a San Diego man, who bought some of the tissue online, (which, for me, begs the question: Whyyyy?) alerted authorities. The purchaser was suspicious about six jars of brain tissue he’d just bought on eBay for $600.

Our infamous historic-noggin-napper now faces theft and other charges. Supposedly, he’d broken into the Indiana Medical History Museum several times over the past year to procure jars of preserved human tissues, including brain samples, from long-dead psychiatric patients. According to the museum’s director, the tissues are from autopsies spanning from the 1890s to the 1940s. Thankfully, much of the material has been recovered.


The museum is located in the Pathology Building on the grounds of the former Central State Hospital (3045 West Vermont Street, to be exact). The 1895 building commissioned by George Edenharter (superintendent of the hospital from 1893-1923) and designed by architect Adolph Scherrer, is the oldest surviving pathology facility in the US and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building’s nineteen-rooms are equipped with three clinical laboratories, a photography lab, a 100-seat teaching amphitheater, an autopsy room and a medical library. The hospital officially closed for business in 1994.



Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday, 10:oo a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with tours on the hour (last tour beginning at 3:00 p.m.). On Wednesdays the museum accommodates groups of 10 or more by appointment only. Schedules are subject to change, so it’s best to call a-head. BRAINZZZ!

(Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)

The IMHM respectfully preserves remnants of early psychiatric medicine and artifacts of early “modern” medicine — and in these displays, you may enjoy viewing some items that seem… clumsy… by today’s standards. However, a cup-half-full attitude will have you feeling relieved that, for the most part, we’ve come a long way in the field of Medicine!


In the comment box below, tell us:

What are your best memories of this lesser-known Indianapolis treasure…?


What is your favorite best-kept Indy secret spot?

5 responses to “Friday Favorite: Good for What Ails You”

  1. d m shea says:

    One of my favorite “secret spots” still exists–but somehow it lost its bonding with me when Circle Center displacement caused it to be moved from its sheltered original site to its present spot–on the east side of former Ayres building on S. Meridian– mid-block south of Washington St. A bronze plaque people rush by without even seeing. Back in the 40’s. when I was taking alley short cuts from my job as a reporter at the Indianapolis Times I would cut down the alley separating the S. back side of Ayres from buildings across the alley-street (was it Pearl St.? Cannot remember.) It stayed put there when Ayres expanded south across the alley–now almost hidden from sight on a busy loading dock.

    Then, downtown became a giant construction hole- Circle Center rose–and in the melee it disappeared. Only to re-emerge after purists (including moi!) persistently questioned its disappearance. When finally found and re-installed, it was moved to its present more visible but less historic site. There it hangs today, reading:

    “HERE IN 1867

    Is this not truly one of the “best kept secrets” in our city? Its somewhat boastful, yet understated self-congratulatory back pat so intrigued me and later others I shared it with that a little group of us, including the then-head of the Indpls Chamber of Commerce put it on our little “see our city” tour–making it a point to walk visitors by it on our way to lunch at the Slippery Noodel (yes, that is how it was originally misspelled) Inn. A little more research (remember, I was an investigative reporter) revealed that Dr. Bobbs, 15 E. Washington had indeed opened a greatly distended gall bladder (clearly not his own) and first removed gall stones on the third floor of the Kiefer & Vinton drug store, located at 26 S. Meridian–which eventually became Ayres’ annex. (However, there is no truth to the smart aleck comment of one reporter that the relief on the patient’s face after the surgery gave birth to the slogan “the Ayres look”–some people have no reverence for historical accuracy.)

    Now, what late radio commentator Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story.”

    A little more history-delving reveals that there is a minor error in the plaque itself–that phrase “the first successful removal of gall stones in man.” ACTUALLY, it was NOT a man!) Women’s rights had not yet come–and yet today’s equal rights partisans have not gotten around to campaigning to give credit where credit is due by revealing that Dr. Bobb’s first gall bladderee was one Mrs. Z. Wiggins Bursworth of McCordsville–let us hope that in due time someone will put HER achievement on a bronze marker!!

    PS: I regret that after all these years I still have not found what the Z. stands for?

  2. Lisa Lorentz says:

    ‘@dmshea: Thanks for sharing! THAT is a fun little tidbit of history I’m going hunting for on a warmer day. And, your phrase “first gall bladderee,” is my favorite phrase of the month 🙂

    A little late night Googling revealed this entertaining source which is worth a gander, if only for it’s flourishy language. Enjoy.

  3. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    In 1867, when Dr. Bobbs removed her gallstones (reportedly, 40-50 of them!), the patient was still a single woman. Her maiden name was Mary Elizabeth Wiggins. She didn’t marry Ziba Burnworth until almost twelve years later, in 1879. Ziba Burnworth was a carriage maker. His business was located at 64 S. Delaware Street. For several years after their marriage, Ziba and Mary lived on Elm Street in what is now the North Square portion of the Fountain Square Neighborhood. The Burnworths then moved to northeast Lawrence Township, where they lived for the rest of their lives. McCordsville may have been the nearest town to their home, but they did not live in McCordsville. Ziba died in 1904, and Mary died in 1913. They are buried in Old Oaklandon Cemetery, north of Pendleton Pike and south of E. 75th Street, just west of the county line between Marion and Hancock Counties. Here’s a link to a photo of their headstone:

  4. Tom Davis says:

    Dr. Bobbs himself has a granite obelisk (or is it just a column) in the northern part of Section 7 in Crown Hill. I won’t be taking any pictures of it today, though if I’d paid more attention I could have yesterday afternoon when I was there for awhile.

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