Cut It Off! An Amputation Demonstration - Atlas Obscura

Washington, D.C., District of Columbia

Cut It Off! An Amputation Demonstration

Watch as a skilled medical historian amputates a (model) leg using Civil War-era surgical tools at the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office.

Join us as we turn the Clara Barton Missing Soldiers Office into an impromptu operating theater!

We’ll watch as Jake Wynn, a Civil War medical historian from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, amputates a gel leg using authentic 19th-century tools and techniques. The leg, made from a forensic gel and simulated bone feels and sounds remarkably like the real thing.

Museum staff will also bring some bone saws, Minié balls, medical kits and other objects related to the history of amputation for us to view. They will be on hand to answer your questions about surgery in the pre-antiseptic, pre-antibiotic era in Washington’s Civil War hospitals. 

Wynn will also discuss the medical treatment administered to the tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom were escaping slavery, who arrived in Washington during the Civil War. They were housed in several “contraband camps” in the vicinity of the nation’s capital and the medical care they received differed significantly from that given to wounded and sick soldiers.

Our program will also include a brief tour of the Missing Soldiers Office and the story of how the building was saved from destruction in the 1990s—a tale that has its own ghostly climax.


  • Photographs are encouraged, but flash photography is not allowed.
  • This event is easily accessible via public transportation. It's a three-minute walk from the Archives/Navy Memorial station on Metro's yellow line and a nine-minute walk from Metro Center station on the red, orange, blue, and silver lines. 
  • For those choosing to drive, metered street parking is available but can be extremely difficult to find. If you plan to drive, please give yourself ample time to locate parking in the area around Capital One Arena. 
  • While not bloody, this event does focus on a gory and violent subject with realistic simulation. We recommend that no one under the age of 13 attend this event.  


Email Matt Blitz at

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