In the latest installment of our conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Caleb Laster, collections manager at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, discusses the museum’s new medical exhibit, ‘Discovering Treatments.’ The exhibit includes a Civil War-era medical kit, skeletal unicyclist and an anatomical model named Astrid.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

Alexis Allison: So Caleb, the ‘Discovering Treatments’ exhibit opened in September. Can you just tell us a little bit about the exhibit?

Caleb Laster: The overarching narrative of it is looking at how our knowledge of medicine and surgery has really progressed through the years. At the core is the museum’s collection, so taking items that we had and displaying them in a way that tells that story, but also allows people to see objects that they might not have seen in a really long time, if ever, because our collection is so big. We wanted to bring those out. 

We are telling this story of, here’s where we started with our medicine, especially Western medicine, and from there, going into how it’s gotten to what we think of medicine today. And so just giving a good idea of that transition period where we went from thinking about the humors and things like that, into going, ‘Oh, well, no, there are these germs that we need to start paying attention to and learning how they interact with our bodies.’ 

If you go:

What: Discovering Treatments: The Path to Modern Medicine exhibit

When: 
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday
Noon–5 p.m. Sunday

Where:
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
1600 Gendy St.
Fort Worth, TX 76107

Cost: 
General admission to the museum differs depending on your age.
Senior (age 65+): $14
Adult (age 12–64): $16
Junior (age 3–11): $12
Child (age 0–2): Free

Allison: I didn’t know so much of the exhibit was already housed in the museum. What was the impetus for bringing it all together?

Laster: So coming off of COVID, we wanted to start bringing out some of our collection. Through some surveying and things like that, we knew that people really enjoyed medical history, and the museum in the past has had a hall of medicine. So we said, well, let’s bring out some of those things and even more of what we had as well. 

Allison: Can you tell us about some of the pieces in the exhibit that you’re excited for visitors to see? 

Laster: So, very excited about people being able to see Astrid, the (Transparent Woman). She’s from Germany, one of only two made. People will remember her because she lights up when you press certain buttons.

I’m also really excited for people to see some of our smaller items. We have them in these drawers that open and close. You can look very closely at them. One of my favorite things to look at is the medicine bottles: the ingredients that were in them — or they claimed to have in them, because a lot of these are just kind of hokey, snake-oil-salesman type of things. And so you’ll look at some of them, and they’ll have mercury and phosphoric acid and things like that.

So there’s a lot of fun, wacky, but very interesting and very important pieces of history that you can see from the smaller items as well. I like to think that being able to see them up close is a really great way for people to discover more about this part of history.

Allison: I’m glad you brought up Astrid. Could you tell us what she is? 

Laster: Think like a mannequin made out of plastic, clear skin and inside her you can see all of the organs and veins in a human body, specifically a female human body. In her current form, you can see the circulatory system, the nervous system, various systems like that. But it’s just a way to fully see the whole human body and all of the organs within it and how they kind of interact — a very great three-dimensional version of anatomy, basically.

Allison: I also saw online that there’s a skeleton on a unicycle, and I’m wondering, why is the skeleton on the unicycle? And how do you put a skeleton on a unicycle?

Laster: Unfortunately, I can’t answer how you put it on there — that skeleton on the unicycle has been a part of the museum since I’ve started here. It used to be in another part of our museum, a place that we call Innovation Studios. But as a fun, interactive piece, basically, that draws people in, and it shows the way the bones move when you’re doing that sort of motion. So that was really much more of a fun, exciting, interactive piece to put on. But I can’t take credit for actually putting the skeleton on a unicycle — that was done by someone much more talented than me.

Allison: I’m wondering, what is something that you have learned from this exhibit personally?

Laster: I’ve learned a lot more about our collection, for sure: We have hundreds of thousands of objects. You’re always discovering new things that you wouldn’t expect to find. We have a lot of things from the Civil War, which I find pretty incredible. We have a medicine kit from that era, several letters from a physician in the Confederate army during the Civil War, talking about treatments and establishing ambulances. Seeing that part of the collection is really fascinating.

And then overall, I think I just learned about the process and the time it has taken for us to get where we are in terms of our medical knowledge, how there’s been a lot of this back and forth of learning, like, ‘Oh, germs exist,’ but then it took them more time to discover how those germs interacted and how we needed to treat and respond to that information. And so there’s this kind of back-and-forth discussion between discovering and practicing, which I think is really the heart of what this exhibit looks at.

Allison: How long will the exhibit be open?

Laster: The great thing is that, because it’s part of our permanent collection, there’s no end date as of yet. It can stay up as long as we need it to. Right now it will be up through the end of the year as planned. We will make sure that people know if and when it closes. There’s still plenty of time to come see it.

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at alexis.allison@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis Allison

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....