‘Dr. Mutter’s Marvels’ author hunkered down at Jefferson

Author Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz holds a copy of her new book Author Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz holds a copy of her new book “Dr. Mutter’s Marvels” in the archive of the Scott Memorial Library at Thomas Jefferson University. Credit: Charles Mostoller, Metro.

“Sure,” F. Michael Angelo, head archivist of the historic collections at Thomas Jefferson University, said in early 2010. He could get Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz a handsome portrait of Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter to use in her book.

“And would you be able to put it on a silk pillow so I can snuggle with it at night?” Aptowicz asked.

Angelo shook with laughter.

“Good,” Aptowicz said, “Because if you don’t get that joke it’s not gonna work.”

For five years, Aptowicz, a Somerton native, transcribed 19th Century letters and texts for hours in the collections room on the fourth floor of Scott Memorial Library — as well as other archives across the city — in her attempt to compile the first, complete biography of the man responsible for the contents of the Mutter Museum.

And — with help from her friend — the result was “Dr. Mutter’s Marvels.” Written in a nonfiction-novel format, the book weaves the backstory of Mutter, who grew into a well-respected surgeon and professor, against the evolution of modern medicine in the mid-1880s.

“There are two kinds of people who come in here,” Angelo said, “boring people and real people.”

“We would laugh a lot,” Aptowicz said.

The book, which Aptowicz said is being considered for a movie option, is slated for a Sept. 4 release.

Mutter, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, served as a professor at what is now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University for 15 years in the mid-1800s. In the book, Aptowicz presents Mutter as an exquisite surgeon as well as a pioneer. Mutter is considered one of the first city surgeons to work with early versions of anesthesia, and he also experimented with plastic sugery.

Aptowicz grew up near the Byberry Mansions and graduated from Central High School.She first visited the museum in the fourth grade, and the memory re-emerged when she needed an idea for a screenplay while an undergraduate at New York University. The screenplay, which earned her national recognition, was essentially the first draft of the Mutter book.

Aptowicz and Angelo will hold a discussion about the book on Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

J. Nathan Bazzel, museum spokesman, said in general the museum neither comments nor reviews books.

Critics wonder how Mutter came to own so many body parts, which he studied and then his students studied. And is it humane to now put them on display.

“People forget that it’s a science institution,” Aptowiczsaid. “He did it for study, and sometimes to rescue (the sick).”

Aptowicz said she is talking with some film studios in September and a movie deal could be in the works soon.

“All you need is the actors,” she said.

Follow Tommy Rowan on Twitter: @tommyrowan

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