US Museum Will Stop Displaying Soldier's Skull

Australian soldier's skull will be returned and reunited with his body
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 4, 2017 8:21 AM CDT
US Museum Will Stop Displaying Soldier's Skull
This July 12, 1999, file photo shows a portion of the two floors of the Mutter Museum, a medical museum in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy, File)

Private Thomas Hurdis' death in October 1917 was a grisly one. The Australian soldier was shot in the face with lead bullets during the Battle of Passchendaele in France, blinding the 27-year-old and destroying parts of his jaw and sinuses. Philadelphia ophthalmologist WT Shoemaker tended to the soldier, who bled to death five days after sustaining the injuries after he tore out the bandages that were packed into his cheek. His body was interred in a military cemetery in Le Tréport, France; his skull wasn't, until now. The Guardian reports the skull had for nearly a century been in the possession of the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which says the British government donated it two years after Hurdis' death "for study by military doctors conducting reconstructive surgery on soldiers."

While Australia acknowledged the museum obtained the skull in a manner "entirely consistent with the applicable laws and protocols," it requested that it be repatriated, and the museum announced Tuesday it will oblige. reports US and British armies have permitted skulls of dead soldiers to be used for medical education so long as the soldier wasn't identified. But once the Guardian in late September raised the question of the soldier's identity, a British military forum used details regarding the location, timing, and position of the soldier's wounds to conclude the skull likely belonged to Hurdis. The AP reports the museum was founded in 1863 and displays such oddities as the body of a woman "who essentially turned to soap" and a tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland. (The remains of 23 WWI soldiers may be slumbering here.)

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