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Medical history rolls through Marshalltown library

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS – Life in the Arena Mobile Health and Medical Museum historian Eddy Weiss, second from right, shows a Marshalltown High School class scalpel and blood-letting tools from the late 18th century. His 17-year-old son Jonathan Weiss, right, is the mobile museum’s curato

From blood-letting tools to historic nursing equipment to medicines laced with cocaine and heroin, there is a lot to learn from the Life in the Arena (LITA) Mobile Health and Medicine History Museum.

The museum came to the Marshalltown Public Library Sunday and Monday, with 17-year-old curator Jonathon Weiss of Eldora and his father, Eddy Weiss, as guides to the history on display.

“We haven’t come as far as you would think,” Jonathon said of American medicine since the 18th century.

The father and son work as emergency responders, including after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017.

Prior to that, Jonathon said he collected World War II artifacts for a personal collection. After Harvey, he acquired a collection of Cold War artifacts.

“That took my World War II war theme to the medical side of things, and from there it just kind of branched out in both directions with research and projects and everything,” Jonathon said.

Life in the Arena is a non-profit focused on support for emergency responders and sponsors the Mobile Health and Medical Museum.

The collection features a total of 3,800 pieces, though the Weisses said they match the display size to the venues they visit.

Eddy Weiss said the duo has traveled 80,000 total miles this year to collect and display museum pieces.

“We know we’ve got some pretty cool pieces that other people don’t have. We look for the unique and the weird,” he said.

Eddy said he enjoys researching and sharing about the history of pharmaceuticals in America and said there has been less progress in that area than is commonly believed.

“We are doing the same thing to ourselves that we did then; more side-effects than cures,” he said.

He also said it is sobering and heartbreaking to learn about the number of children who have died because of pandemics, epidemics and poor medicine practices. For example, cigarettes were given to children age 7 and older to treat colds, and cocaine was used to soothe an upset baby.

“The other growing display is the nurse one,” Eddy said. “Nursing was so revered and such a special, special thing but I don’t think people see it like that anymore.”

Among those to tour the museum Monday was a group of Marshalltown High School Extended Learning Program students.

“So far, it’s been really interesting,” said sophomore Erin Stanley.

She said it was surprising to learn about some historic medical treatments.

Freshman Jason Strand said much of the information on display Monday was new and engaging.

“I actually did not know almost anything about medical history before now, so I’m learning a lot,” he said.

One thing that struck Jason was the amount of historic medicines with what are considered in modern times to be illegal drugs.

While Jonathon has done a lot in his young life, he said he wants to keep moving forward. The museum is set to move to a permanent location near Waco, Texas and he plans to join United States Customs and Border Patrol’s tactical medicine program.

Eddy said the museum will continue to have traveling exhibits from the new Texas base.

For more information, visit http://www.litamedmuseum.org/

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Contact Adam Sodders at

641-753-6611 or

asodders@timesrepublican.com