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.
These fascinating Nutshell Studies were created in the 1940’s by Francis Glessner Lee, an heiress to the International Harvester Fortune. She 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.
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.
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.
The lights work, the doors open, the rooms beyond have as much detail as the main rooms. There is a story which accompanies each Nutshell Study, and in reading it, you can pick up some clues, but must hunt for others.
This is one of the reasons I love Baltimore!
To read more about the Nutshell Studies, please click here.