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This Kansas doctor collected medical artifacts for decades. His 'very unusual collection' is for sale

A man wearing a purple shirt rests his hand on a glass cabinet.  Behind him are shelves full of antique pharmaceutical glass containers, a mannequin depicting an old-fashioned pharmacist and other items from an apothecary.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Dr. Bruce Hodges pauses in the apothecary exhibit inside Medicine’s Hall of Fame & Museum in Shawnee, Kansas, where all of the items are being auctioned off.

Medicine’s Hall of Fame & Museum in Shawnee, Kansas, is closed, and its thousands of items are up for auction.

Dr. Bruce Hodges, 90, began collecting medical memorabilia as a hobby about 55 years ago. It started, he says, “as one item here and one item there,” until he had a handful of items to fill a curio cabinet in his waiting room.

And he kept adding to it.

“It just kind of grew accidentally until I became a serious collector,” he says, “and I’ve accumulated over 5,000 artifacts.”

Those artifacts are now up for auction.

A skeleton hangs on a wall next to a medical depiction of the human body and it's various organs.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
A teaching skeleton built from human bones is among the thousands of items up for auction at the Medicine's Hall of Fame & Museum in Shawnee.

Hodges earned a medical degree from the University of Kansas and started practicing medicine in 1964. He and his wife, Cathy, who also has a medical background, served tours as medical missionaries in Africa, where he kept collecting.

Once his collection reached 1,000 to 2,000 items, Hodges says he started looking for a building.

Medicine’s Hall of Fame & Museum opened March 1, 2020, at the former site of the Johnson County Museum in Shawnee, Kansas, but closed a week later due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

In October, the museum closed for good due to low attendance and financial challenges.

A wooden box with purple felt lining holds various stainless steel surgical tools including a saw. There's a sign on the kit that reads "Civil War Battlefield Surgical Kit 1860's."
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Among some gruesome instruments inside the museum is a Civil War surgeon's kit, including an amputating saw.

Online bidding on the collection is open through Mayo Auction and Realty, of Belton, Missouri. In-person previews will take place Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Bidding on items will close on Monday, Nov. 7, Wednesday, Nov. 9, and Thursday, Nov. 10.

Auctioneer Robert Mayo says it’s a unique situation.

“You never see this vast of a collection sell all at once,” Mayo says. “In fact, you're never going to see this type of collection be sold ever again, because it's not one collection, it's multiple collections.”

The inventory is divided into four categories: antiquities, Africa and Egypt, Native America and apothecary.

Five glass bottles with various stoppers or screw-top lids are lined up side-by-side. Some are labeled with "Poison" warnings. One indicate a use for incontinence. Some show they once contained  strychnine sulfate, and hyoscine hydrobromide.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
A small cluster of bottles are among hundreds of apothecary display items for sale from the Medicine’s Hall of Fame & Museum in Shawnee.

“And so it does take a lot of work, for sure, to catalog it and present it to all the collectors across the country that are interested in bidding on the different types of items here,” says Mayo.

There’s a 1915 Ford Model T touring car, and a doctor’s saddle bag from the 1880s with original medications. Also included are two 1940s iron lungs, one designed for children, that were once staples in polio treatment.

“And it's very, very rare,” Hodges says of the pediatric iron lung. “Probably not another one outside of the Smithsonian Institution.”

A man wearing a purple shirt leans on a display box looking at a wooden carving. Behind him are many different African artifacts and sculptures.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Dr. Bruce Hodges talks about a Zambian wood carving that depicts a story of ancient medical practice.

Other items in the collection include an assortment of patent medicines, such as “miracle cures” or tonics for liver and kidney conditions, an early 1900s shrunken head from the Jivaro tribe of Ecuador and Peru, and an 1870s wood and rawhide medicine drum used by the Chippewa tribe.

Hodges says he’s disappointed the “gem of a museum” didn’t really take off as a tourist destination — he sunk his own money into the venture to keep it going.

“But finally (I) just ran out of capital to sustain it,” he says. “So, it’s on the auction block.”

Hodges and his wife recently downsized, and he says they just don’t have the space to keep any items from the collection. But he hopes that others, maybe even some budding collectors, will enjoy it.

“People would just be amazed at the collection. And it is quite a variety, if I do say so,” he says. “There’s just nothing like it in the area for a hundred miles — even beyond that. It is a very unusual collection.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.