If you’re planning a trip to DC, there’s a new museum you might want to check out. The National Museum of Crime and Punishment at 575 7th Street NW, right in the heart of the revitalized downtown area.
They lured me in with a summer special for Maryland, DC, and Virginia residents. If you arrive after 6 pm, when things are slow, you get in for $6. What a deal. Turns out, those hours were perfect because the best interactive exhibits weren’t crowded.
The museum starts with historic crime and punishment, and you might want to speed past the medieval torture devices to get to the more relevant modern exhibits. Although I did get a kick standing next to the bullet-riddled Ford where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down. And also my up close and personal inspection of the French guillotine.
If I got a chance to redesign the museum, I’d put in more interactive exhibits. A lot of the early material consists of pictures and explanations–like the strict rules for Sabbath behavior in colonial Massachusetts.
You can also look at pictures and read about such notorious episodes as the Lindbergh kidnapping, Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, Ted Kaczynski, Robert Morris (the kid who launched the worm that almost brought down the Internet) and serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jeffery Dahmer. But some exhibits feature mock-ups or props–like the luxury jail cell where Capone was incarcerated. You can also inspect a real electric chair and gas chamber (with explanations of how they were used.). Then on to lethal injection.
The farther you get, the more “good stuff” there is, like the makeshift weapons confiscated from U.S. prisons and a chilling lecture from a warden to new inmates. (Life as you knew it is over. You will have no privacy. You will obey all rules. If you’re good, you’ll get assigned a job where you can earn twelve cents an hour.) Then you can step inside a jail cell–and escape through a hole in the wall.
Other fun exhibits include a morgue, complete with a “body” on the autopsy table, the crime lab, the lineup, where you can join a crew of skuzzy looking guys. You can also see mug shots of famous people, including Frank Sinatra and Mel Gibson and guess who they are. Of course, there’s also that notorious shot of Nick Nolte.
The most fun stuff was near the end. I watched several people drive a police patrol simulator, then tried it myself. Since most of them ended up crashing or hitting pedestrians, I drove very cautiously. I never would have caught up with the speeder if he hadn’t stopped and waited for me. Next was the best of all, the FBI shooting scenarios, where you’re given a “gun,” then watch a scene unfold on a big screen. When a bad guy tries to shoot you, you try and nail him first. I’m glad to report that I killed him.
In the basement is the studio where they shoot America’s Most Wanted. You can tour the sets and get a friend to point a video camera at you. The picture’s shown on a big screen in the exhibit. But it’s in back of you, so you can’t check yourself out while you’re on camera.
All in all, a fun three hours if you’re into crime and punishment. And a lot to absorb in one visit. I’ll have to go back for more.
You can see the hours and prices for the museum at http://www.crimemuseum.org/purchase_online.html .