Go There: Xavier Torres Museum of Prosthetic and Orthotic Devices

Go There is a feature in which our writers tell you about tourist attractions and other places of interest around the city.

Have you ever been tempted to try on someone else’s glasses to see how the world looks through their eyes? Did you ever contemplate if – given only two options – you’d rather become deaf, or go blind? Have you ever considered what it would be like to walk a mile in another man’s shoes – if you had only one leg? All these questions and many others can be answered at the Xavier Torres Museum of Prosthetic and Orthotic Devices, at 1212 Algonquin Avenue, three blocks north of Essen Blvd.

From a wooden leg worn out through heavy use by the pirate Samuel ‘Deadlegs’ Darling, to the hearing aid Calvin Coolidge often used to ignore polite conversation, to the eyeglasses donned by Emperor Hirohito during the signing of the Japanese surrender in WWII, the most famous sensory-, ambulatory- and dexterity- enhancing devices from the last 250 years are on display. The oldest item in the collection is a set of wooden teeth, reputedly the first pair ever worn by the nation’s first president, George Washington, in 1757. The newest item is a prosthetic hand last used by Matthew Scott, recipient of the world’s first successful hand transplant in 1999.

Replicas and recreations of nearly every item on display are available in the interactive area of the museum (as well as for sale in the gift shop). Have you ever wondered why General Washington’s portraits always look so sour? Try on a facsimile of his teeth, and see how much you feel like smiling! Did you ever marvel at the fortitude of Franklin Roosevelt, leading the nation through both depression and global conflict while barely able to stand? Try on a replica of his leg braces, and recreate his famous walk to the podium at the 1924 Democratic Convention, with the aid of a computer-generated green-screen background. Put both arms behind your back, and step into a harness with the prosthetic limbs of Academy Award winner Harold Russell, while you perform alongside Dana Andrews in a scene from The Best Years of Our Lives. The museum maintains a database of over 2,200 scenes from which to choose.

You’ll never look at the world the same way again, especially after you’ve perused the Gettysburg Address with Abraham Lincoln’s reading glasses. So run, don’t walk, to the Xavier Torres Museum of Prosthetic and Orthotic Devices, now featuring the digitally enhanced version of Tod Browning’s Freaks at the adjacent Max Cleland IMAX Theater.
– D. Andrews

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