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Dark Destinations > Locations - M > The Museum of Death


 
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Availability: Open to the Public
Filed Under: Infamous Crimes > Serial Killers
Museums/Libraries/Exhibitions
Added By: Tom G
Added On: August 26, 2008 - 09:25 PM UTC
Last Modified: June 07, 2009 - 05:16 PM UTC
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6031 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028, USA (Los Angeles, California)
 
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The Museum of Death
This macabre museum in Los Angeles, California is dedicated to the topic of death. Inside, visitors to the museum will discover crime scene photos from famous murders, items from the death industry, artifacts from an infamous mass suicide, artwork created by infamous killers and more. A visit to the Museum of Death will possibly leave a visitor shocked, disturbed and hopefully grateful to be alive. This, apparently, is the aim of the museum's founders, married couple J.D. Healy and Cathee Shultz.

Gallows humor with a pinch of whimsy is needed to keep the grotesque imagery waiting within from becoming overwhelmingly morbid. The effect for some will likely be cathartic... if a bit tacky; like symbolically showing acceptance of death by eating a pastel-colored sugar skull during a celebration of Dia de los Muertos. For others the effect will likely be shock and revulsion. These latter people probably should know better than to walk into a place called The Museum of Death.

History
The museum's origin stems from the Rita Dean Gallery; an art gallery founded in San Diego by Shultz and Healy in 1988. The gallery was no stranger to controversy and macabre subject matter. Shows with erotic or other shocking themes led to confrontations with both conservatives and local law enforcement. In one instance the ACLU even had to step in to protect the gallery's freedom of speech after police forced the gallery to remove a photo on display in their annual erotic art show. The gallery also held one of the first serial killer art shows in 1992.

In the early 1990s the gallery relocated to a building that had formerly housed a mortuary. In 1995 J.D. Healy was inspired to create the Museum of Death. The gallery had recently held one of its serial killer art shows as well as a show featuring exotic weaponry (including execution devices). Drawing inspiration from the recent shows, Healy created the first Museum of Death as a display in the basement that had housed the former mortuary. The Museum of Death opened to the public on June 1, 1995.

The display proved immensely popular and brought in so much business that the Museum of Death took on a life of its own and grew from a display in a gallery into a full museum in its own right. Controversy and other factors have led to the museum relocating a number of times. In summer of 2008, the museum moved to its most recent location on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Criminal Art & Memorabilia
The Museum of Death features artwork created by infamous criminals and individuals. Here you will find self-portraits of serial killer John Wayne Gacy as his alter ego, Pogo the Clown. Visitors will also see artwork and letters from serial killers Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez and Lawrence Bittaker as well as spree killer Douglas Gretzler. This aspect of the Museum of Death stems directly from the serial killer art shows the original art gallery used to hold.

The museum has a baseball signed by Charles Manson in its possession as well as a yarn doll he constructed. There are also letters from serial killer Otis Toole and Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz, among many others. The museum is also in possession of a doll that once belonged to cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Jonestown and Heaven's Gate
The Museum of Death features displays pertaining to the mass suicides of both the Heaven's Gate and the Peoples Temple cults.

The Peoples Temple was a religious cult founded by Jim Jones in the 1950s. In the 1970s Jones led a mass suicide of his cult members after having a US Congressman and his entourage murdered at a nearby airport. The suicide took place at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana. This communal project is more infamously known as "Jonestown." Congressman Leo Ryan had been investigating claims of abuse being reported by former members who had fled the cult. Ryan and four others were assassinated as they attempted to leave Guyana following a visit to Jonestown. Jones then ordered the members of his cult to commit suicide by drinking poisoned Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died in the incident. Nearly one third of them were children whose cult member parents gave them poison.

The Jonestown display includes a card signed by Jim Jones himself, People's Temple propaganda and a recording of Jones speaking.

The Heaven's Gate Cult was a group of UFO worshippers led by founder Marshall Applewhite. The cult committed mass suicide in 1997. Inspired by the astronomical visit of the Hale-Bopp comet to Earth's vicinity, Applewhite led 38 other cult members to end their lives along with him. They consumed a mixture of Phenobarbital and alcohol and then covered their heads with plastic bags to induce suffocation. Their bodies were discovered lying on bunk beds with purple sheets covering their heads and torsos. All of them were dressed identically in black with the same brand of Nike sneakers and arm bands declaring themselves to be "Heaven's Gate Away Team." Two more cult members would commit suicide within a year's time of the mass suicide.

The Museum of Death acquired a bunk bed from the Heaven's Gate compound along with other items that were auctioned off by police. These items have been arranged into a display recreating how the scene must have appeared to authorities discovering the bodies back in March of 1997. Mannequins dressed in black, with Nike sneakers on their feet, rest on a bunk bed. Purple sheets bearing the emblem of the Heaven's Gate cult are draped over them. Nearby sit Heaven's Gate cult literature, bottles of barbiturates and vodka.

The Culture and Business of Death
A variety of exhibits at the Museum of Death display death and funeral traditions for cultures around the world, as well as items used in mortuary practices. Promotional items given out by funeral homes are featured in one exhibit. The items include calendars, rain gauges, combs, ice tongs and more. Other exhibits display more familiar aspects of coroner/mortician work; body bags, coffins, caskets, autopsy equipment and an embalming table dating back to the 1800s are all to be found among the many items exhibited.

Also on display is a Laotian bier (a stand upon which a coffin or corpse rests) that was used during a funeral procession for a monk in San Diego. The bier is 22 feet long and 7 feet in height. It was originally intended to be burned along with the monk's remains. However, California laws prohibited this from happening and the bier was donated to the museum instead of being cremated.

Mell Kilpatrick
Guests of the museum are also treated to a collection of photographs by the late Mell Kilpatrick (1902-1962). Kilpatrick was a photographer who some will know from his photodocumentation of the construction of Disneyland theme park. His work also included taking photos for insurance companies and the Santa Ana Register. Some of this work was collected together for the book Car Crashes & Other Sad Stories. It is this latter photography of car crashes and crime scenes that visitors to the museum will find on display.

The Black Dahlia
There is a display dealing with the infamous Black Dahlia murder. In winter of 1947, the body of Elizabeth "Black Dahlia" Short was discovered in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. Short had been cut in half at the abdomen and her face sliced to widen her mouth all the way to her ears. The murder has remained unsolved and has led to many theories and fiction about her death. Most recently in 2006, director Brian DePalma brought the story to film in the movie Black Dahlia (2006).

Other Displays/Exhibits
There are more exhibits in the museum of both permanent and temporary nature. Past exhibits have included ones dealing with cannibalism and necrophilia that were alternately titled "Pleased to Eat You" and "Love You to Death." Some of the exhibits current as of this writing go by names such as Hollywood Babylon, Blood Alley, Suicide Hall and the Specimen Closet.

Other items on display include an electric chair, a guillotine, items related to the Manson Family murders, Andrew Cunanan's crimes, and more lighthearted items such as one of shrunken head model kits that Vincent Price hawked back in the 1970s.

Events
The Museum of Death has been known to host events in the past such as a "Black Dahlia Beauty Pageant" and "Black Dahlia Birthday Bash." It is best to check with the Museum of Death through their MySpace page or by calling them to find out about any potential upcoming events. The museum's phone number is (323) 466-8011.

Museum of Death in Media
The Museum of Death is the subject for director Dan Lund's documentary Death Becomes Them. The documentary, released in 2004, is billed as the "World's Only All Singing...All Dying...Musical Documentary!" Death Becomes Them features musical numbers with a singing undertaker intercut with documentary footage of Healy, Shultz and their macabre museum. The documentary is available on DVD.

The TV show Ripley's Believe It or Not featured a visit to the Museum of Death in an episode that originally aired on February 14, 2001.

Mastering Lab
The current (final?) resting spot for the Museum of Death is in the former studio of The Mastering Lab. The Mastering Lab still operates, but at a new location. It was here, in this former studio that Pink Floyd recorded their classic album The Wall. Many other famous recording artists have cut albums within these walls; among them names such as Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Neil Young.

The studio is still set up for recording and it is possible with the creative folks associated with the Museum of Death that music will be recorded here once again.

Gift Shop
The Museum of Death has a gift shop for anyone wanting souvenirs of their visit. Items for sale in the gift shop include hats, T-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, postcards and posters.

Chaos Gallery
Attached to the new Museum of Death is the Chaos Gallery. It is the newest art gallery to be opened by Healy and Shultz. The Chaos Gallery is named for Cathee and JD's pet pig, Chaos, who passed away in October of 2007. Chaos himself will be presiding over the gallery and museum... in more than one place! Current plans are to have both a taxidermed Chaos on display as well as his skeleton displayed separately. The Chaos Gallery carries on J.D. and Cathee's tradition of exhibiting art that is dark in nature; the exhibits for June of 2009 are "Creepy Dolls" and "Attack of the Rexi Dolls", both show an array of dolls designed to shock and disturb.

All Creatures Dead and Freakish
Chaos joins Lady, an afghan dog who was also a cherished pet who died in 1971. Lady was likewise preserved through taxidermy. She has greeted museum customers for years.

Cathee and JD will also have live pets on the premises as well. Also to be found on site are Chang and Eng, a pair of conjoined twin turtles named for the conjoined twins from Thailand (formerly Siam) whose fame led to the misnomer "Siamese twins" being used in describing all conjoined twins. The liver and death cast of the original Chang and Eng can be seen at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, PA. Cathee Shultz has been known for collecting and displaying freaks of the animal world in the past and it is possible that Chang and Eng (the turtles) are a return to this form of sideshow entertainment.

Visiting the Museum of Death
Anyone planning a visit to the Museum of Death or the Chaos Gallery should visit the official Web site listed below (see below). The museum is not for the faint of heart, so be forewarned. Otherwise you may find yourself numbering among the many who have collapsed in a faint while paying the museum a visit.
 
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Related Sites
Museum of Death
The official Web site for the Museum of Death.
MySpace: Museum of Death
The Museum of Death's page at MySpace.
Salon: Museum of Death
Salon.com's article on the closing of an earlier incarnation of the Museum of Death.
ThinkQuest: Museum of Death
An interview with Museum of Death's Cathee Shultz at ThinkQuest.org.
 
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See Also on TheCabinet.com
Blog: Museum of Death to Re-open at a New Location (09/20/08)
Blog: Are You a Dark Traveler? (03/08/09)
Blog: The Dark Destinations Top 50 for Spring 2009 (05/24/09)
 
Available from Amazon.com
Death Becomes Them
Southern California Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, & Other Offbeat Stuff (Curiosities Series)
Offbeat Museums: A Guided Tour of America's Wierdest and Wackiest Museums
 
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Outside the Museum of Death
Photo of the front of the Museum of Death in Los Angeles, California - January 2009.
From: TheCabinet
 
Museum of Death Poster
Poster for the Museum of Death. Used with permission of the museum.
From: Tom G
 
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "Closed to the Public" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "Travel Advisory" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.

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