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New Auburn museum exhibit highlights local medical history

Kirsten Wise is confident the Cayuga Museum of History & Art’s newest permanent exhibit is something everyone can connect to.

“Pioneer Physicians: The Infancy of Modern Medicine,” is relatable because “everyone has been to a doctor at some point in their life,” said Wise, the museum’s executive director.

The exhibit touches on topics like how people became doctors in the 1800s, the Civil War, childbirth, public health and more. It’s displayed in two rooms that were once a medical office for Dr. Sylvester Willard, who purchased the building in the 1840s. Then, in the early 1850s, Willard added a wing to the house. It included a small foyer, examination room and dispensary.

When creating the exhibit, the museum discovered and recovered an original ornate plaster ceiling that was once in the hallway of the medical practice, but had since been covered. Wise said discovering that ceiling helped make clear how the wing was originally built.

“It’d been our plan for a long time to do a permanent exhibit on 19th century medicine, so it lent itself to this area,” Wise said. “We thought, we have this great collection of 19th century medical things. Why not put a medical exhibit in the space where Dr. Willard was actually practicing?”

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