CSI: Civil War

Posted: June 13, 2007

Nothing can match the Mutter Museum's sheer volume of bodily curiosities, but the wonderful little Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Museum, a block from the El tracks in Frankford, more than holds its own for the quality of its quease-factor artifacts.

One display case contains both a patch of skin removed from President James Garfield's back during his autopsy, sealed in a delicate jar, and a darkened sliver of fabric that's evocatively labeled as "a fragment of Lincoln's Bloody Pillowcase." An accompanying note elaborates that "Abraham Lincoln's head rested on this deathbed pillowcase at the house across from Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865."

Another case, whose contents revolve slowly, includes bullets removed from Battle of Gettysburg soldiers plus a fragment of a comrade's leg bone that shows signs of amputation.

The museum also houses Civil War battlefield drums, swords, lances, guns and ammo, including sinister explosive shells of grape shot that were fired from canons to achieve maximum carnage. In addition, there are tree stumps embedded with canon balls, a Union colonel's uniform, Confederate money, a Victorian funeral wreath, and the taxidermied head of an army mule. Because those Victorians collected everything, some Revolutionary War-era artifacts have slipped in, including a fabric sample from John Paul Jones' breeches and a patch of floral material from Madame Lafayette's cloak.

The collection is housed in just a few small rooms. It's open to the public from noon to 5 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month and from noon to 4 p.m. most Tuesdays (but call before you go on a Tuesday because the volunteers who work the museum can't always cover the full four hours.) Mark your calendar. It's worth the wait. *

GAR Civil War Museum, 4278 Griscom St., (215) 289-6484. Also open by appointment for group visits.

- Becky Batcha

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