8 Days: Spirits on 22nd Street
Those who visit Philadelphia’s College of Physicians on 22nd near Market tend to go for the exhibits of skulls, tumors and miscellaneous wet specimens. Since the start of this countdown for The Gross Clinic, visitors also encounter one of Eakins’ “Men of Medicine.” The College recently brought out its portrait of Dr. William Thomson and hung it in the front hall.
Eakins painted Thomson portrait in 1907, shortly before the doctor’s death. On his lap is an opthalmoscope, the non-invasive instrument Thomson pioneered in the diagnosis many ocular diseases, but also brain tumors. Thomson graduated Jefferson the year before Gross returned to head up its surgery department and the two became close colleagues. Gross turned to Thomson for chapters on the diseases of the eye for the fifth edition of his monumental, two-volume A System of Surgery in 1872.
And all these years later, Gross and Thomson are still close. Literally. If you follow around Thomson’s right hand you’ll be in an antique-filled alcove. Look up at the pair of massive, walnut-paneled doors. Above, in the entablature, are carved the words: “Gross Library.” On the door the words are carved again, this time gilded, too.
Inside, just as Dr. Gross intended, are his thousands of books. There, in buckram and leather is J.P. Vincent’s Observations of Surgical Practice; Brigham’s Surgical Cases; Stimson’s Treatise on Dislocation; Stanley on The Bones; Sharpe on Injuries to the Head and La Syphilis from 1873. Over the hearth is a portrait of the Gross and a case holding his engraved, gold-tipped walking stick.
The place is full of books; it is also full of spirits. ‘Twixt the two, here’s full context for the painting across town whose future hangs in the balance.