Month: January 2015

Things Get Weird at the Mutter Museum

Being an unabashed fan of all things weird and creepy, I’ve always wanted to visit the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, an internationally-renowned medical oddities museum that receives about 130,000 annual visitors and holds items such as Albert Einstein’s brain, a 139-skull collection and the tallest skeleton exhibit in America.

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

Unfortunately, I was under the false impression that I would never be able to visit in my young life due to the supposed fact that it was closed every Sunday and Monday, my and my male companion’s only off days due to our journalistic lifestyle. A prime example of why you cannot trust a boy to plan anything and an odd misunderstanding, he confused the Mutter Museum with the Mummers Museum of Philadelphia, which showcases “the tradition of Philadelphia mummery as a part of the celebration of America’s Bicentennial.” I have no idea what this means.

After working through this nonexistent obstacle, we headed to the Mutter Museum on a cold Sunday, named for Thomas Mutter who was a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and bequeathed 1,700 specimens to the College which became the core of the collection. Now sporting around 25,000 objects, the Museum enjoys international popularity and has been featured on various television programs.

One of the most immediately obvious permanent exhibits at the Mutter is the collection of 139 human skulls, all labeled nicely with their original owner’s name, method and time of death. In looking at the skulls, you realize that like an innocent fingerprint, no two are exactly alike.

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

If you begin your descent walking around the stuffed two-story museum, you’ll also probably quickly be drawn to some of the 1,300 wet exhibits, which hold body parts with some odd characteristics such as tumors, cysts and diseases like leprosy.

There are also several standout exhibits, such as the Mutter American Giant, who at 7’6″, is the tallest skeletal exhibit in America. Other malformed skeletons shown are the popular corset skeletons, which show how constrained corsets actually altered the skeletons of Victorian women and also damaged their internal organs. Plus, you can’t miss the eight-foot-long and 29″ circumference colon, which held 40 pounds of feces at the time of the original owner’s death and belonged to a man who was reported to go up to a month without a bowel movement.

Photo courtesy of RoadTrippers.com

Photo courtesy of RoadTrippers.com

During my visit, there were also two special exhibits going on, one being “Broken Bodies, Suffering Spirits: Injury, Death, and Healing in Civil War Philadelphia” which show what it was like to become wounded and be treated in the Civil War as well as what it was like to work as medical personnel in a time where medicine was obviously lacking. In this exhibit, popular Civil War-era medical myths are debunked, such as that there was no anesthetic (actually, only 3 percent of surgeries were performed without anesthetic) and patrons can also see what it would be like to have their arm amputated.

You’re probably reading this and thinking, “I’m so ready to donate my body to the Mutter Museum Philadelphians to gawk at for all of eternity.” Not so fast. The College must first decide that they need or want the donation and then the potential donor must finance their own harvesting and preparation, no cheap task.

Even if you choose just to be a visitor and not a donor, you won’t be disappointed on a lazy Sunday of what the world-famous Mutter Museum has to show. There’s no promises that it won’t follow you home with some nightmares, though.

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

Photo courtesy of MutterMuseum.org

 

THE MUMMER MUSEUM

Open daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

General admission $15

19 South 22nd Street, Philadelphia PA

(215) 563-3737

muttermuseum.org

How far did we travel for the holidays?

It’s a normal quarterly five-hour journey for Plainsboro resident Samuel Rosado to drive to New England to see his family for holidays and other special occasions, but that doesn’t mean that the trip has become any more pleasant.

“It is a struggle,” Rosado said. “The road trip through Connecticut isn’t fun, nor is the traffic. It can wear both myself and my car out if I do this too often. ”

Although he calls the trip a “chore,” he said that it is worth it for him in the end because he doesn’t get to see his family as often as he would like. Plus, he knows that “considering the traffic,” he isn’t alone in the holiday travel season — Christmas Eve to the Sunday following New Year’s Day this year.

Rosado is definitely not alone. The American Automobile Association (AAA) projects that 98.6 million Americans trekked more than 50 miles from home during the year-end holidays, an increase of 4 percent from last year. According to Sue Madden, specialist in Public and Government Affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic, this is a pretty significant upsurge — it’s the highest holiday travel volume on record (since 2001) and the highest growth rate since 2009.

So what brought about this dramatic increase in holiday travel, in which the average American went 275 miles?

“The biggest factor that impacts the amount of holiday travel is money,” Madden said. “Now, thankfully, the economy is picking up, unemployment rates have decreased, and low gas prices are giving folks extra cash in their pockets, making them more likely to put that money towards taking vacations that were out of reach in years past.”

More people traveled this holiday season than any other year on record.

More people traveled this holiday season than any other year on record.

The average price of gas in New Jersey during the holidays was $2.45 a gallon, 74 cents less than this time last year and the lowest level in five years. This has provided more disposable income for families, enabling them to set aside money for holiday travel.

The second reason for the surge in holiday travel is the calendar, said Cathleen Lewis, regional director of public affairs and government relations for AAA New Jersey Automobile Club. Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Thursdays, creating a longer holiday travel season — the longest since 2008. This enabled people to make a long weekend without taking multiple vacation days.

However, weather was one factor that wasn’t exactly on travelers’ sides. David Robinson, state climatologist at Rutgers University, said that rainfall hit 1 inch to 1.5 inches over most of the state for Dec. 23 and 24, although there was no snow or ice. He said that this led to several travel issues on the road and in the air.

Weather was one factor that led to about 790 traffic deaths and 84,200 injuries across America during the holiday travel season, according to the National Safety Council. Generally, the number of travel injuries and deaths increases 23 percent during the holidays. AAA came to the rescue of 1.1 million motorists from Christmas Eve to the weekend following New Year’s Day, with the primary reasons for breakdowns being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts.

To no surprise, visiting family and friends is the biggest reason that people travel during the holiday season, accounting for 43 percent of travel plans versus only 24 percent during the rest of the year.

Lindsey Guerra is another one of those people. She traveled 785 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Long Valley, New Jersey, for the holidays, a trip she makes about five times a year. Because the airport is about two hours from her home in Chattanooga and she is a recent college graduate, the trip is one expensive chore yet one she plans to make in the future.

“It’s an inconvenient trip for me, plus the last thing I want to spend my paycheck on is a flight home,” Guerra said. “However, I will make this trip in the future because my family and friends are here and they make all the travel nightmares worth it.”

Written for MyCentralJersey.com

What does the future of travel look like?

Throughout the last few winding weeks of 2014, travel lovers have been fantasizing about all of the enthralling destinations they will visit next year, prepping their calendars and their wallets.

Skyscanner.net, an international travel comparison search site, took travelers’ imaginations to new heights by publishing a report on what they deem to be the future of travel in 2024.

To no surprise, Skyscanner said that within 10 years, technology and personalization will advance our travel experiences by reinventing hotels and customer service, our desired destinations and how we book travel.

However, how will our Central Jersey tourism tools stack up against travel of the future? The Bernards Inn, the Central Jersey Convention & Visitors Bureau and Liberty Travel Succasunna weighed in on the report to share their plans for evolution and their views on the future of travel.

Skyscanner said that travelers will have “no need to encounter a single human being” for hotel stays. These hotel rooms of the future will be completely personalized through mobile devices, including being equipped with interactive walls that display high-definition images of our families and holographic personal trainers.

Although Joshua Barbee, director of sales at the Bernards Inn, believes it’s foreseeable for guests to not need to encounter one human being upon entering a hotel in 10 years, he believes that they will still want to, especially at upscale properties that differentiate themselves by elevating personalized service through interaction with a guest service agent.

The Bernards Inn is a historic Central Jersey hotel.

The Bernards Inn is a historic Central Jersey hotel.

“Can automation ever replace a welcoming smile and greeting from a guest service agent, concierge, bellman or housekeeping staff member when arriving at a property?” Barbee asked. “The importance of putting a ‘face’ to the property should never be overlooked or underestimated.”

Barbee said that the Bernards Inn also pays close attention to emerging technologies and looks to integrate them while maintaining the Inn’s “Old World charm, stylish sophistication and modern luxuries,” which will set the stage for the Inn’s future.

“It is important for any hotel and property to keep an eye on and plan for the future, especially in regards to emerging technology. Being complacent can leave one very vulnerable,” he said.

Barbee continued that the Inn ensures guests will easily find that the amenities they see at modern properties can also be found at the historical hotel, which keeps the property competitive with other hotel options.

According to Skyscanner, travelers will have no desire to head to the Jersey Shore for a weekend when underwater resorts, space travel and other “forbidden destinations” will be easily accessible and mainstream. Travelers will finally have the opportunity to venture to former troubled regions of the world, featuring unparalleled and brag-worthy experiences.

However, Lina Llona, president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that there are plenty of exceptional travel experiences in Central Jersey, as well, that will always be enjoyed by out-of-staters, even though many Jerseyans take them for granted.

At Duke Farms in Hillsborough, fields around the Farm Barn teem with colorful wildflowers and butterflies.

At Duke Farms in Hillsborough, fields around the Farm Barn teem with colorful wildflowers and butterflies.

Llona referenced a particular example she noticed recently during a meeting at Duke Farms. She said, “Many of us don’t think of Duke Farms as unique since the majority of us are very familiar with it, but an outsider wouldn’t know its history or the beauty of its gardens.”

She said she doesn’t believe that smaller-scale travel will ever be replaced by the wonder of faraway destinations because there is room for both, especially for Jerseyans who only have a few days to get away and don’t have the time to get on a plane.

As for out-of-staters, the Convention and Visitors Bureau knows that there are many who come for events such as Big Ten football games, so the Bureau wants to showcase other attractions that visitors can enjoy while they’re here.

“We want them to stay here, not just come here and then head back to New York City, because there are so many interesting sites right in our own backyards,” Llona said.

The ease of booking travel online has outplaced many travel agencies, but according to the future of travel report, it seems that travel agents are back in business — digital travel agents, that is. Skyscanner said that artificial intelligence devices will scan online searches and cross-reference vacation, food, travel and hotel searches while using predictive algorithms to make suggestions tailored to desired price range, peer and gender needs.

Competitive with Internet bookings, travel agencies such as Liberty Travel do not charge any fees to their clients, plus they have a price-match guarantee that matches any price customers find online. Deborah Geiger, Liberty Travel Succasunna travel consultant, said that booking on the Internet lacks several factors that travel agents possess, including personal customer service.

Northlandz in Flemington, the largest model train museum in the world, is an attraction that is unique to Central Jersey.

Northlandz in Flemington, the largest model train museum in the world, is an attraction that is unique to Central Jersey.

“As travel agents, we have been to these places that we are recommending to our customers,” she said. “We give personal feedback on what these resorts and beaches are like, plus we can make all of their stay, golf, spa and dinner reservations for them.”

Geiger also said that unlike an Internet booking, human travel agents are there for their customers before, after and during their trip, which comes into play when customers need to voice their grievances about a destination or when things go awry, such as during superstorm Sandy.

“During Sandy, we were there for our customers helping them rearrange their flights or arrange a stay if they were stuck so that they didn’t have to stay on an airline hotline for four or five hours,” she said. “Only a personal travel agent can do that for you.”

Although the future of travel is bright and full of innovation, emerging technologies and fresh destinations, it appears that there will always be a place for travel that is local, personal and traditional.

Jenna Intersimone’s “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” column appears Tuesdays. Her “Life Aboard The Traveling Circus” blog is at MyCentralJersey.com, as well asLifeAboardTheTravelingCircus.com. Tweet her at @JIntersimone or email her at JIntersimone@MyCentralJersey.com.

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 12/29/14