A Disturbingly Informative Trip to the Woodlands Cemetery

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate specimens to attendees of the Halloween Family Fun Day event at the Woodlands Cemetery

On October 21, students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program traveled to the Woodlands to give visitors a small glimpse into the interesting and surprising specimens and objects in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s vast collection. Longtime readers will recall the Woodlands is a common field trip location for students in the Karabots Program and representatives of the Mütter Museum, including Karabots students, have participated in numerous events hosted by the Woodlands.

A group photo of students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program in the Hamilton mansion at the Woodlands Cemetery

Established as the country home of Philadelphia socialite William Hamilton, the Woodlands became an active cemetery in 1840; it is the final resting place of numerous noteworthy Philadelphians, including several Fellows of the College of Physicians, such as Silas Weir Mitchell, John Ashhurst, and William Williams Keen, and the founder of the Campbells Soup Company among other notables. It is also the site of the largest grave marker in the United States, an 84-foot tall obelisk constructed for famous dentist and Penn Dental school founder Thomas Wiltberger Evans.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program demonstrate specimens to attendees of the Halloween Family Fun Day event at the Woodlands Cemetery

Our students were on-site as part of the Woodlands annual Halloween Family Fun Day, where visitors come to the historic rural cemetery to take part in fun activities. Visitors of all ages came dressed in costumes for Halloween and there was even a pet costume contest in which a dog dressed as a pumpkin took the grand prize. Our students spent the afternoon in the Hamilton Mansion demonstrating “Mini Mütter,” a sampling of the unique items on display at the Mütter Museum. The Junior Fellows displayed such items as anatomical models, replicas of bones and museum specimens (such as an arm with smallpox and a foot with elephantiasis), preserved brain slides, and a collection of Civil War medical tools. Several students even led anatomy-themed games, challenging visitors to identify bones, label pieces of the heart, and demonstrate using different parts of their brain. Our students acted as great ambassadors for the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, showed off their knowledge, and honed their public speaking skills. Just as important, they introduced people young and old to the amazing collections available at the Mütter Museum and offered insights into medicine and human anatomy.

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The Karabots Junior Fellows Go Into the Woodlands

Jim Mundy delivers a tour for youth from the Karabots Junior Fellows Program at the Woodlands Cemetery

March was a month for the Karabots Junior Fellows to learn about science, culture, and careers connected to death and dying through a variety of lessons, activities, and guest speakers. They learned about hospice and palliative care from Miguel Paniagua, Medical Advisor for the National Board of Medical Examiners and recently-inducted Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. They also got a glimpse into the world of funeral direction, courtesy of Tony Moore, Director of Funeral Service Education for Northampton Community College. Along the way, they also gained a greater understanding of cultural interpretations of death and how funeral practices are tied to different cultural beliefs about what happens after one dies. They concluded their month with a trip to the Woodlands. Established as the country home of Philadelphia socialite William Hamilton, the Woodlands became an active cemetery in 1840; it is the final resting place of numerous noteworthy Philadelphians, including several famous College Fellows, such as Silas Weir Mitchell, John Ashhurst, and William Williams Keen, and the founder of the Campbells Soup Company among other notables. It is also the site of the largest grave marker in the United States, an 84-foot tall obelisk constructed for famous dentist and Penn Dental school founder Thomas Wiltberger Evans.

Various headstones, grave markers, and obelisks at the Woodlands Cemetery

Jim Mundy, chair of the Woodlands Board of Directors, took the Fellows on a tour of the site, including William Hamilton’s mansion, America’s earliest example of a Federal style home. Afterwards, the Fellows broke into groups to explore the cemetery grounds and search for notable “residents.” Even for students reticent at the thought of exploring a cemetery, the trip proved interesting. We are thankful for the staff at the Woodlands for making it possible.

Jim Mundy delivers a tour for the Karabots Junior Fellows outside the William Hamilton mansion at the Woodlands Cemetery