Research Trip — MUSEUM OF DEATH

The Museum of Death is something that’s been on Becca’s destination wish-list for a while now … and how could any mother like me in good conscience refuse when the chance finally presented? After all, we took her on a walking Jack the Ripper tour in London. Besides, we made this trip to attend Carrie: The Musical, so, thematically, hey, it all seemed to fit (okay, we’re also going to Knotts, but, shut up).

Anyway! After some disagreements between downloaded directions, the map, and her phone’s GPS whatever thingie, we somehow made it through the freeway chaos (I hate city driving) and found the place.

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From the front, it’s discreet enough, foliage-shrouded, though with a metal gate entrance to the patio. The side wall to the parking lot, however, is MUSEUM OF DEATH and HOLLYWOOD painted in red, black, and white skulls motif. Excellent.

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In the patio, amid various plants, is a guillotine. Other items of interest pervade the place. There are taxidermied animal heads and bones in every spare nook and corner, not that there are many spare nooks and corners because the rest is taken up with exhibits, tools, coffins, pictures, and hosts of strange morbidities.

The entrance is small, the gift shop to one side and the admissions counter to the other. There’s also a free-roving mellow and friendly resident dog. Photos, sadly, are not allowed to be taken inside, which crushed Becca’s hopes of selfie-ing her way through the museum.

A middle-aged frumpy gal like me perhaps not fitting the appearance of their usual demographic, I was given a cautionary speech with disclaimers about the graphic and disturbing nature of the exhibits. Told ‘em I was a horror writer, so I could handle it, and if I couldn’t, the shame was all on me. They accepted that, and, in we went.

Printed on the back of the ticket:

WARNING-WARNING-WARNING-WARNING
The MOD may cause headaches, seizures, epilepsy, PTSD, appetite loss, double vision, divorce, and many other problems. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

What follows is a self-guided ramble through a maze of little interconnected rooms and corridors, each with its own sub-theme to the exhibits and displays. There’s a room of autopsy and embalming stuff, for instance (with educational video of the actual thing). Another of funerary gear, including several patent applications to deter graverobbing or assuage fears of premature burials, and promotional stuff from various morticians and funeral homes.

There’s a room wallpapered in letters, notes, artwork by and articles on some of the most famous and heinous serial killers (deep-down creepycrazy shit here, for real). Gacy’s clown shoes. Eesh! Video clips of interviews. The Black Dahlia case gets a whole section, and so does Manson. Oddly, amid all that, even Hitler comes off almost as an afterthought.

Executions are featured, with an electric chair, a photographic gallery of hangings and beheadings. Suicides and suicide cults also get their share of attention – Heaven’s Gate, Jim Jones. There’s an entire large room dedicated to G.G. Allin. More autopsy photos, including some purported of JFK that the government claims don’t exist, and a death-table shot of Marilyn Monroe.

There are accident and crime scene photos in all their stark, gory detail. Car crashes, the perils of drunk driving going back to the 1940s but we still never learn. Particularly memorable was the poor guy who died in his garage when his lawnmower fell on his head, and a severely screwed-up case in which a chick and her lover murdered her husband, then took pics of themselves posing naked and doing weird things with the body (and body parts).

Speaking of nudity, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people might, while going through the museum, be more shocked and offended by that than by the death. I mean yes, here’s a dismembered body all hacked and mutilated … but OMG GENITALS now this has gone TOO FAR. That, however, is its own rant for another time.

Of course, that said, I’m also not sure what it says about us, that after several rooms of such atrocities, and stuff like Victorian dead baby portraits, we both went sadface “awww” when we came to another taxidermy display featuring pets. Like, Liberace’s cat, no kidding. Peoples’ dogs. Other animals, too, but it was the pets that got us right in our sentimental marshmallow souls.

Yet, at the same time, the collection of animal skulls and vertebrae was REALLY REALLY COOL. From the tiniest snake and bird skulls all the way up to an elephant, and freakiest of all a male giraffe with neckbones like WHOA, I mean, you knew they’d have to have some serious neckbones but giraffes look weird enough with their flesh and skin on … they are downright WTF.

Just so much to see … so much to think about … death in its inevitable mess, its revulsion and grief and horror … the hideous damn things we do to each other, as if natural causes weren’t bad enough … the mortality … in the end, we’re all just cold meat …

Nobody during our visit gave what the staff like to call “a falling ovation.” No CPR was required. We came out awed, humbled, impressed, wowed, and weirded out … but okay. And many dollars poorer, because, hey, gift shop!

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I would maybe not recommend it as a family-fun outing if your family is at all normal. Or a nice romantic couples’ date-night. But then, given the kinds of people I tend to know, hey! It was great mother-daughter day for us, which we followed up with a gluttonous binge at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor.

I guess that’s just how we roll.

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