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Monday, August 23, 2010

Crime and Punishment Museum

I am on business travel yet again.  Fortunately I actually got to do the tourist thing for a few hours one day.  So what to do in those precious hours.  Naturally I picked the Crime and Punishment Museum in Washington D.C. and want to share the experience with all of you.   Enjoy this write up and if you have visited this museum, please share what your favorite part was.

You know this will be a different experience when the traffic ropes are handcuff chains.  Immediately inside there is the VW bug that belonged to Ted Bundy which he used in several of his murders. Yes, the actual vehicle - it was creepy to say the least.  A mock murder and crime scene are presented in one display that in conjuction with the $5 pamplet allow you to you move through several subsequent displays learning how the evidence is collected and processed to solve the crime.

It is laid out somewhat chronologically so you start with Medieval times, through marine crime and pirates - includes two women pirates (Anne Bonny and Mary Read), colonialism, the frontier and wild west, then the mobster 20's and 30's (Chicago and NY primarily), prison gangs and history of the Crips/Bloods and Nortenos and Surenos, gang tattoo display and finally computer hackers and identity thieves, including Frank Abagnale (check counterfeiter made into the movie Catch Me If You Can).  Bonnie and Clyde display and even a "Tommy" Gun display.  I liked the "Untouchables"display and facts about Elliot Ness.

There is a brief review of punishment methods in centuries past including some unusual implements of pain.  If you're squeamish, skip on through the medieval part without the reading because that is rather gruesome with the torture explainations.    The wild west and the frontier section was a favorite- you see all the big names: Billy the Kid, Butch and Sundance, Wyatt Earp. I tended to like this area more than I expected.

There is a display of different apparatuses used for carrying out the death penalty, from a gas chamber to an electric chair which is good for a writer to get a feel for these without having to witness them actually being used.  There is a police line-up demonstration and a police booking room where you can get fingerprinted. They have a CSI interactive room that completes the murder you started to solve but I confess I didn't get much time in this room with the crowd.

Here are a few details of the many displays are in the various sections: salem witch trials, famous bank robbers, famous serial killers, a full-scale prison cell (complete with hole in the wall for your daring escape), a replica of Al Capone's jail cell (photo to the right - which compared to a regular cell was plush), the Bonnie and Clyde car used in the movie, a mock safe that you try to crack the lock before time runs out, an actual electric chair and gas chamber complete with sound effects, the actual studio set from America's Most Wanted (in the basement - with a greenscreen setup where you can be one of AMW's "most wanted."), some interactive sets for police officer training (interactive high speed chase,  and police shooting with lazer bullets using a real Glock, ride in the cop car, ride the motorcycle, listen to interview clips, demo a lie detector) and a tribute to our fallen heros.

There are artifacts galore like Ted Bundy's court documents, tiles from Al Capone's bathroom, John Dillinger's death mask, even artwork from killers (art work by John Wayne Gacy and a birthday card sent from prison by none other than David Berkowitz-Son Of Sam). 

Give yourself enough time (2-3 hours) and remember you can't buy a meal there - but next door at District Chophouse is where I ate and it was busy but a good meal.  Tickets are $19.95 but you can save $2 by purchasing the tickets online.  There is a LOT of reading involved in this museum.  Take the metro if you can (Chinatown stop) because it is only a half block away.  Try to plan out which exhibits you really want to spend time on and which ones (if any) you'd rather just gloss over because you may get tired and rush through last bits that you may have wanted to see. 

The down sides are 1) a definite lack of "rest" benches and there are 2) several typos in the display texts.  Warning on taking young children - consider the level of maturity of your child and the sometimes graphic nature of the display topics (do you want your child seeing a gas chamber or an actual electric chair?)    The gift shop is not very extensive , but does have a few NCIS sweatshirts and hats and novelty items.  It has a lot of information if you are up for it.

Overall I enjoyed it, but if you are on a budget it could be pricey, particularly with a family.  I also went to the International Spy Museum, but that is for a later posting! 

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