Aus­tralia seeks sol­dier’s skull from Philly mu­seum

The Republican Herald - - LOCAL/STATE - By Kris­ten De Groot

PHILADEL­PHIA — An Aus­tralian politi­cian is push­ing for a Philadel­phia med­i­cal mu­seum to re­turn the skull of an un­known Aus­tralian sol­dier who was shot in World War I and died days later.

Lynda Voltz, a mem­ber of the Aus­tralian La­bor Party and a min­is­ter for vet­er­ans’ af­fairs, said hav­ing the sol­dier’s re­mains at the Mut­ter Mu­seum is a trav­esty. She said in a Face­book post on Fri­day she plans to talk to the U.S. con­sul gen­eral when she re­turns from Bel­gium, where she at­tended a World War I cen­te­nary re­mem­brance.

“The U.S. gov­ern­ment needs to take a good hard look at this case — and help us re­store dig­nity and honor to a fallen ally, as soon as pos­si­ble,” she wrote.

A mes­sage seek­ing ad­di­tional com­ment from her wasn’t im­me­di­ately re­turned Fri­day.

The skull hasn’t been on dis­play for a long time, mu­seum spokes­woman Gillian Ladley said. It had been part of the mu­seum’s on­line in­ter­ac­tive site but has since been re­moved.

The mu­seum is in talks with the Aus­tralian Army about the skull, but Ladley couldn’t say where those talks stood or whether the skull will be re­turned.

The con­tro­versy was first re­ported on Mon­day by The Guardian news­pa­per, which in­cluded the mu­seum’s on­line de­scrip­tion of the sol­dier’s death.

The sol­dier was wounded at the Bat­tle of Poly­gon Wood, near Ypres, Bel­gium, on Sep. 28, 1917, but he sur­vived his in­juries, in­clud­ing those from a bul­let that is lodged and still vis­i­ble near the left eye socket.

The sol­dier was treated by a Philadel­phia oph­thal­mol­o­gist in France. How­ever, dis­ori­ented five days af­ter he was wounded, he pulled off his ban­dages and bled to death, the text said.

It’s un­clear how the mu­seum ob­tained the skull, but Ladley said the mu­seum doesn’t have the rest of the sol­dier’s re­mains.

Voltz said she wants the re­mains re­turned to Aus­tralia or buried with the sol­dier’s com­rades at Bel­gium’s Poly­gon Wood Ceme­tery.

The mu­seum hasn’t re­ceived re­quests to re­turn spec­i­mens other than those re­lated to the Na­tive Amer­i­can Graves and Pro­tec­tion and Repa­tri­a­tion Act, and it has al­ways com­plied with those re­quests, Ladley said.

“This is be­ing treated with the high­est re­gard to pro­to­col and prece­dent for such spec­i­mens,” the mu­seum said in a state­ment this week.

The Mut­ter is known around the world for its col­lec­tion of or­gans pre­served in jars, de­formed skele­tons and life­like wax casts of shock­ing med­i­cal mal­adies. It was founded in 1863 by The Col­lege of Physi­cians, which still op­er­ates it.

The stated mis­sion of the mu­seum is to help the pub­lic “un­der­stand the mys­ter­ies and beauty of the hu­man body and to ap­pre­ci­ate the his­tory of di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment of dis­ease.”

Ex­hibits in­clude an 8-foot­long hu­man mega­colon, the body of a woman who es­sen­tially turned to soap and slides of Al­bert Ein­stein’s brain.

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