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Indiana Medical History Museum

Furthermore …

The brains behind series of Indianapolis thefts

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Now that brain that you gave me. Was it Hans Delbruck’s?

Igor: (after a pause) No.

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Ah! Very good. Would you mind telling me whose brain I DID put in?

Igor: Then you won’t be angry?

Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.

– Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman

in “Young Frankenstein,” 1974

If the story were simply that a man faces charges for breaking into a medical history museum, stealing jars of brain tissue and selling them online, well, no one would likely raise an eyebrow. This is, after all, 2014, and we’ve almost ceased to be surprised by the bizarre things people do.

But what makes it – so far at least – the story of the year, is this: The jars of brain tissue were from long-dead psychiatric patients at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis.

That institution, whose name was later toned down to the more marketing-friendly Central State Hospital, closed in 1994. Most of the 160-acre campus is gone now, but the hospital’s old pathology building has become the Indiana Medical History Museum.

The nonprofit facility offers tours to medical students and the public, but along with original equipment, labs, classrooms and furniture, it maintains an extensive collection of … brains in jars. With their original labels.

And what do most people say when they enter the lab where the brains are displayed?

“Abby Normal!” according to Executive Director Mary Ellen Hennessey Nottage. For anyone who has never seen “Young Frankenstein,” that was Igor’s reply to Dr. Frankenstein’s inquiry about whose brain Igor had stolen and allowed to be implanted into Frankenstein’s monster.

Actually, Nottage continued, “these are invaluable, irreplaceable tissues.” The brain matter, in fact, has been used by the IU Medical School for a recent research project, and there may be future scientific uses for the material as well.

The revelation that a 21-year-old man repeatedly broke into the museum, stole brains and had them sold on eBay was shocking to the museum staff. “We’re still astounded that it happened,” Nottage said.

The suspect was turned in by a man in San Diego who noticed the museum’s label on a jar of brains he had purchased. Why did he want them?

“That’s puzzled us a great deal,” Nottage said. “We’re now finding out that there were other buyers. …

“This is pure speculation,” she said, “but there seems to be a current trend of interest in macabre things.”

Fortunately, most of the brains have been returned. And there is a “silver lining,” as Nottage puts it. Lots of people are hearing, for the first time, about a place in Indianapolis that will be on their tour list the next time they visit the capital city. Eat your heart out, Mel Brooks. Wait! … Let’s rephrase that.

Test of politicians’ sense, priorities

Degrading. Unnecessary. A clear waste of taxpayers’ money. Now opponents can add one more word to the list of reasons why the Indiana legislature should reject proposals to require drug testing for those who receive public aid.


U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled Tuesday that Florida’s law requiring welfare applicants to undergo drug tests violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable government searches and seizures.

Scriven noted that there was no evidence that Floridians who seek help from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families used drugs any more frequently than the general population. But even if such evidence existed, she said, the idea of taking constitutional protections away from a certain economic class of people would be unacceptable.

On purely practical grounds, testing programs in other states have caught few drug offenders. Usually penny-conscious legislators have seemed willing to ignore the woeful cost-to-benefits model on this proposal. Are they also willing to flout the Constitution? We’ll know soon enough.

Sales tax equity restored

With holiday buying out of the way, online shoppers won’t be so bothered by news that mega-retailer Amazon is now collecting Indiana sales tax. For the year ahead, however, they should consider that a local vendor now is in a better position to compete.

Effective Wednesday, Indiana, Nevada and Tennessee joined 16 other states where sales tax will be collected on Amazon purchases. Online shoppers were technically required to report purchases on their state income tax forms, but only 1 percent of Indiana taxpayers have done so. One study placed the state’s tax-revenue loss at $77 million.

Amazon was able to resist efforts to collect sales tax with a deal former Gov. Mitch Daniels brokered. The agreement to begin collecting state sales tax in 2014 was prompted by a lawsuit filed by Indianapolis-based shopping mall company Simon Property Group. Amazon opposes the patchwork of state sales tax laws but has supported congressional efforts to establish nationwide online sales tax rules.

In the meantime, brick-and-mortar retailers now have a more level playing field on which to compete. Of course, they might want to get busy producing their own drones.