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The Soap Opera
The Mütter Museum is actively involved in ongoing research using 21st century technology to solve the 19th century mystery that is the Soap Lady. Dr. Joseph Leidy, known as the Father of American Vertebrate Paleontology, originally reported that she died of the Yellow Fever epidemic in 1792 and was buried at 4th and Arch Streets. The Yellow Fever epidemic victims were indeed buried at 4th and Arch, but they were buried in 1793. Everything Leidy believed about her time of death and interment were proven false by the original x-rays taken of her in 1986. These x-rays showed buttons and pins on her clothing which postdated her death at least until the 1830s, when these items were first manufactured in the United States.
Thanks to the radiology team from Quinnipiac University led by Jerry Conlogue and Ron Beckett, we have finally finished a new set of x-rays, done in both digital and print. As an initial result of these x-rays, we have revised her age from about 40 to significantly younger than 40, perhaps in her late 20s.
We are now working with Dr. Frederic Rieders of NMS Labs to conduct forensic analysis on the Soap Lady. We are hoping these tests will answer the following questions:
When did she die?
How did she die?
Why did she lose her teeth so early in life?
As part of the testing, NMS will run a toxicological analysis of her hair. They will also run trace and chemical analysis of her adipocere, the fatty substance that encases her body. We have also retrieved a piece of her fingernail, upon which NMS will conduct nutritional profiling, chemical composition, and hormonal evaluation.
This is an ongoing process which may take years. Every test yields new information and interpretations. When the analysis is complete, we hope to have a much clearer picture of the Soap Lady's life and death.