Leiden, my current port of call, is known for both its university and its museums. Possibly the weirdest one in town is the Boerhaave. Located in a 16th century nunnery turned plague hospital turned mental asylum, this museum is devoted entirely to medical curiosities and old experimental equipment from Leiden University. Curious to get a glimpse at a 100+ year old baby’s arm, an operating theater or downright sadistic medical equipment from the Victorian age? Then this is the place for you.
Wednesday Addams would definitely love this joint. On a recent, rainy Saturday when I stopped by, the Boerhaave was relatively vacant. Looking at centuries-old medical equipment with descriptions like “Breast Amputation Blade, 1875” definitely puts a person in a macabre mood. Along the way, Latin phrases constantly remind visitors of their own mortality. The not-so shiny, happy parables include “pulvis et umbra sumus” (we are but dust and shadow), “vita brevis” (life is short) and, my personally favorite, “memento mori” – (remember, you must die). Aw, c’mon. Do I hafta? Gee whiz….
I should also note that the museum is named for Herman Boerhaave, a 17th century Dutch humanist, physician and botanist. His legacy includes “Boerhaave Syndrome,” which, like most syndromes you Do Not Want to Get. It’s a rupture of the esophageal wall caused by excessive vomiting. I bet you could have gone your entire life without knowing that little factoid. Aren’t you glad you clicked over here to read this post instead of heading over to Facebook to look at your friends’ baby photos? I do aim to please Happy to be of service! And now I shall take a small bow…
After roaming the museum’s dusty corridors and pursuing 400 years worth of scary medical bric-a-brac, I was definitely up for the Boerhaave’s (now closed, sadly) exhibit: “Circus Boerhaave.” Located inside of a gallery decorated to look like a turn-of-the-century carnival, the exhibit featured a series of odd, mechanical creations housed inside a series of tents. The brainchild of Designer and Art Director Saskia Meulendijks, it was equal parts enchanting and creepy. At the entrance, a sign greeted visitors with this stern message:
“Warning: Children Left Unattended Will Be Sold to the Circus.”
Among the darkly-humored displays was a piece called “Poisoned Milk,” which featured a mechanical cat slowly succumbing to the effects of, well…yeah. Click the YouTube clip above to see it in action. Others featured in the exhibit included an elaborate jungle scene, an intricately detailed, brass dragon, a man eating a bathtub full of spaghetti and a lion tamer cheating death over and over again. But the strangest and eeriest among them was called “The Dream.” I don’t want to blow this one for you with a description. Watch the clip below and prepare for a surprise.
Yeah, I know. Eeeeeeeeeep!
To get a look at other exhibits in the musuem, including those featured in the Boerhaave Circus, check out the slideshow below….if you dare. Hmmmmawahahahhaa!!!