Located in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Indiana Medical History Museum aims to collect, preserve, and present the vast medical history of Indiana. The museum hopes to become the foremost institution for interpreting and preserving medical history for future generations. Visitors will experience a wide variety of exhibits and programs, where they can gain a better understanding and appreciation for health care, both its past and its future.
The building which houses the Indiana Medical History Museum was originally Indiana’s Central State Hospital for the mentally ill. The building was constructed in 1895 and is a two-story brick building containing a teaching amphitheater, research facilities, a morgue, an anatomical museum, an autopsy room, a library, and a photography room.
Neurology and psychiatry were taught here from 1900 to 1908 when the building was home to the Central College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Medical College of Indiana. Syphilis was the most commonly researched disease in this building during the 1920s and 1930s because the disease was so prevalent among the mentally ill patients.
Most scientific psychiatric facilities were closed in the United States by the 1940s, but Central State Hospital was still operating in 1955. The conditions of the hospital were poor and it was eventually torn down in the 1960s. However, the old pathology building was still in excellent condition and the records have been well-maintained. This is where the Indiana Medical History Museum was founded in 1984.
The museum is a non-profit that collects various objects and relics related to life of mental patients, medical practices, and scientific psychiatry. There are currently 15,000 objects related to medical history. There is currently a gallery with rotating themes, which was opened in 1990.
The Doctor’s Office: This exhibit contains the office of Dr. Marion Scheetz of Lewisville, Indiana. The entire office is intact and was donated by his family. This exhibit is meant to show what it was like to be a doctor prior to World War II – when a doctor did everything for his patients, from treating common colds to delivering babies.
The Medical Plant Garden: This garden features more than 90 different medicinal plants, over half of which were used by the Native Americans. A wide variety of plants, trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs are contained in this garden and all serve a medicinal purpose. The garden is maintained by the Purdue Master Gardeners of Marion County.
Leaving Home: This exhibit explores the final years of Indiana’s Central State Hospital, which closed in 1994 after scandals regarding patient neglect. The hospital was built in the 1840s to treat people with mental illnesses. The sources for this exhibit are two patient-produced newsletters, which provide a rich narrative into their experiences at the hospital during this era. This exhibit was on display from November 10, 2016 to March 31, 2017.
Central State Time Capsule: This exhibit displays the contents of a time capsule dating back to 1958. The capsule was found in the Bahr Treatment Center, which resides on the former Central State Hospital grounds. Objects including photos, newspaper clippings, and building plans, all of which were contained in the capsule. This exhibit is on display for the foreseeable future.
Indiana: Intersections of Mass Incarceration and Mental Illness: This exhibit tells the history of mental hospitals, from their founding in the early 1800s to the current process of developing proper institutions that truly care for the mentally ill. The purpose of this exhibit it to educate visitors regarding the current system of caring for the mentally ill and how much this can be improved. This exhibit is on display from April 11, 2017, until May 31, 2017.
Wizard’s Academy: This annual event is designed for children grades 3-6 to experience what it is like to be a wizard! The week before Halloween, attendees can dress up as wizards and perform experiments, play with exotic creatures, and explore the magic of science.
Voices from Central State: This annual event features a patient’s perspective on life at the Central State Hospital. Every year, the Voices’ project is different and features various mediums to help visitors understand what life in a mental institution was like. From theatrical performances and panel discussions to displays of original artwork – each project is sure to both entertain and educate.
Back to: Indianapolis, Indiana
Indiana Medical History Museum, 3045 Vermont Street, Indianapolis, IN 46222, Phone: 317-635-7329