A set of drawers in Philadelphia's Mütter Museum of human pathology contains some very curious artifacts: thousands of objects, from umbrella tips to diminutive opera glasses, that have been extracted from the human body. They were swallowed or inhaled (sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose) and later removed by Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a man who dedicated much of his life to removing odd objects from people's insides. The collection is a remarkable testament to the strangeness of the human experience — and our ability to swallow.
In her new book, “Swallow,” Mary Cappello uncovers the stories behind those objects, and the peculiar life story of Chevalier himself. Cappello is a professor at the University of Rhode Island and the author of the bestselling book “Awkward,” a meditation on uncomfortableness. Here, she packs her story with surprising imagery and extravagant lyricism, taking a highly literary approach to the subject — meandering from Chevalier's biography to the odd story of early 1920s women who compulsively ingested pieces of hardware.