Museums Put Terrorists, Mobsters and Convicts on Display

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This year, museums around the nation are turning crime and punishment and even terrorism into entertainment – and organizers are hoping the crowds will come knocking.

Next month, the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus will debut a museum exhibit that showcases "Old Sparky," a well-worn electric chair in which 312 men and three women were executed. The "Controversy: Piece You Don't Normally See" exhibit also contains a cage used in the late 1800s to restrain mental institution patients, as well as a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe from the 1920s.

"We think this exhibit will capture the public attention and public interest," Burt Logan, executive director of the Ohio Historical Society tells the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. "History has a good side, which we often remember, and another side that we don't often see."

Terrorists, Mobsters and Convicts on Display at U.S. Museums
Las Vegas Mob Experience

In Las Vegas, two organized crime museums are set to open this year. At the end of this month, the Tropicana Hotel and Casino will debut the "Las Vegas Mob Experience," a $24 million operation that includes over 1,000 mafia-related artifacts. Down the strip, a historic post office is being transformed into the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. Known as the "Mob Museum," the $42 million project is slated to open in December 2011.

"The Las Vegas Mob Experience neither glorifies nor vilifies the Mob, it simply presents a historically accurate view of what guests will decide are either a group of ruthless gangsters or ordinary individuals who lived extraordinary lives," explains Murder Inc., the organizers behind the Las Vegas Mob Experience, in a statement.

Terrorists, Mobsters and Convicts on Display at U.S. Museums
National Constitution Center / International Spy Museum

In Philadelphia, terrorism is on display at the National Constitution Center. The exhibit, titled "Spies, Traitors and Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America," displays terrorist-themed artifacts such as a rescuer's helmet from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, fragments of the planes that hit the World Trade Center, and a replica of the bomb thrown during Chicago's deadly Haymarket riot.

"The exhibit illustrates in a way that's very dramatic and visceral the challenges we face as a country from threats that often originate internally," David Eisner, National Constitution Center president and CEO tells the Associated Press. More than 80 domestic attacks are presented in the collection, which was pulled together to examine acts of revolution, sabotage, protest and subversion by militants, activists and spies from home and abroad.

Terrorists, Mobsters and Convicts on Display at U.S. Museums
National Museum of Crime and Punishment

Farther south in Washington DC, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment is quite possibly the culmination of modern interest in criminology. Inside the museum, walls have over 100 interactive exhibits, such as a crime lab, a simulated FBI shooting range, and a full-scale model police station. Visitors gape at artifacts such as the Volkswagen Bug that belonged to serial killer Ted Bundy; the stolen Ford V8 Bonnie and Clyde died in; and a lethal injection machine from a state prison in Delaware. Exhibits cover the DC sniper attacks, pirate attacks, and celebrity arrests.

But Americans aren't the only ones obsessed with mystery and macabre. London's small but scandalous Crime Museum puts the city's gruesome criminal past on display, showcasing items from the Jack the Ripper case and the "death masks" of people hanged at a local prison. Similarly, the Paris Police Museum has a collection of handcuffs, guillotines, old police uniforms, wanted posters and evidence from famous criminal cases.

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