June 22, 2014

The Nutshell Rooms

As you may have realized, I am a big promoter of Baltimore and the myriad things that it has to offer. There are little and big treasures all around, if only you know where to look. In this case, it was to the OCME – the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner! My goal was to visit the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. IMG_0803

These fascinating Nutshell Studies were created in the 1940’s by Francis Glessner Lee, an heiress to the International Harvester Fortune. IMG_0805She had wanted to attend university to study law, but was not allowed. She learned how to knit and sew and other domestic pursuits. Through a friend of her brother’s, she came to be interested in early forensic medicine, but realized that police officers and coroners didn’t take the time to “read” a crime scene, and often destroyed any remaining clues. IMG_0828

Mrs. Lee’s brother’s friend was on the faculty of Harvard University, and Mrs. Lee created the center for legal medicine, donated thousands of medical books, and endowed a chair for legal medicine. She also created the Harvard Associates in Police Science. When the legal medicine department closed in the early 1960’s, the Nutshells came to Baltimore with a professor who was joining Maryland’s Medical Examiner’s office.

Mrs. Lee was convinced that if you could read the clues, you could solve the crime and began recreating crime scenes, on a scale of one inch to one foot. Her first Nutshell, an old barn, took three months to build. She used weathered wood from an old barn and cut each of the shingles on the roof. IMG_0814

The detail on these is incredible. She knit a tiny blanket on straight pins.

She fashioned a tiny teddy bear from the knitting. IMG_0812x

All labels, fabrics, furniture, accessories and every single thing in each room were created by hand. One one wall, there’s a calendar, but she didn’t have just the one month printed, she had the subsequent six months behind it. IMG_0832

The lights work, the doors open, the rooms beyond have as much detail as the main rooms. IMG_0826IMG_0810IMG_0816IMG_0815There is a story which accompanies each Nutshell Study, and in reading it, you can pick up some clues, but must hunt for others.IMG_0822 IMG_0821

 

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The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are open to the public on a very limited basis. IMG_0847

This is one of the reasons I love Baltimore!

To read more about the Nutshell Studies, please click here.

24 comments:

  1. This is fantastic! What a woman - I prefer this dollhouse version of NCIS Meg. I reckon they should give you keys to the city soon!

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    1. I can barely watch NCIS because it freaks me out, but this was fine. Mind, I didn't go to the morgue part of it.

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  2. Meg - There is a wonderful book about this subject, "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" by Corinne May Botz. Susan

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    1. I've heard about the book. Also an article in Slate a few weeks ago.

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  3. Manu many years ago, I worked in a dollhouse store at the Inner Harbor. I always heard about the Nutshell Rooms but have never visited them.

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  4. This is fascinating. By the way, I've been reading more about H. Clark since you wrote about the auction of her belongings. She was equally fascinating, although in an entirely different way. Off to learn more about the Nutshell Studies and Ms. Lee. Thank you.

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    1. There are two recent books about Ms. Clark that are on my reading list for summer.

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  5. So jealous! I wrote about the Corinne May Botz's book a while back. Director Guillermo del Toro optioned the rights to the book and was looking to develop a show for HBO.

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    1. Oh... I will have to look for that on your blog.

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    2. http://lucindaville.blogspot.com/2012/10/nutshell-studies.html

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  6. Miss Meggie: Do you know the rest of the stories - how the people died? Wow!! After seeing the nutshells & hearing the stories, I'm really intrigued. You find the most amazing things!!! - Miss M.A.

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    1. My understanding is that each of these cases is actually a combination of a few cases, but the main thing is the observational aspect of them.

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  7. wow, what a woman she was + love the nutshells. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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  8. So interesting! Now I wish I knew Who Dunnit!?!?

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    1. Not sure that there is any who dunnit!

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  9. How incredible and I do love a murder mystery!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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  10. I love this! I've been wanting to see the miniature Thorne Rooms at The Art Institute in Chicago since I read about them a year or so ago. May have to get my miniature fix closer to home. I just reread Dorothy Sayers "Clouds of Witness". I think from reading John Curran's afterword that Dorothy Sayer and Francis Glessner Lee would have had a lot in common.

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    1. See the reference to the book on Francis Glessner Lee above. I am ordering it!

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  11. Do you suppose the phrase "in a nutshell..." has anything to do with this woman??

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  12. I am a graduate student of Forensic Studies at Stevenson University. Students are charged with writing a rather extensive research paper on some topic in forensics. My topic was the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and their potential influence on the use of technology and current/future evidence presentation. I have visited the Nutshells on several occasions and was so inspired that I recently attended the Harvard Associates in Police Science seminar started by Frances Glessner Lee. While each Nutshell does have an explanation of the unexplained death, the majority of the "solutions" are not released publicly as they are still part of the seminar experience (to find the clues that could determine if the death was a murder, an accident or a suicide).

    Captain Lee is/was an amazing woman and the Nutshells, nicely photographed here on your blog, are even more astounding in person.

    Even though I am a bit late getting on this blog-wagon, thanks for the post about one of my new favorite topics.
    P.S. It was my professor that pointed me in your direction. So thanks to her as well.

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