Why visit the Museum of Death? For one thing, it can help with willpower problems. If you want to kill yourself but can't go through
Why visit the Museum of Death? For one thing, it can help with willpower problems. If you want to kill yourself but can't go through with it, linger in the back until one of the wannabe serial killers who work at or frequent the museum decide to put another notch in their belt. Or, if you can't quite stick to your diet, stop by the museum before dinner-I guarantee it will put you off food for days.
The brochure awkwardly justifies the Museum of Death's existence as follows:
In centuries before our own . . . death intimate,cruel, and obscene plucked the young and innocent from the very midst of their families. Today we live longer and death has become remote, sanitized and mysterious.
They're right, by God. Why on earth have we sanitized death? A few corpses in the streets would remind us to make hay while the sun shines.
As for death being remote, what about all the violence on television and in the movies? We don't see actual dead bodies, but the illusion is usually quite effective.
The museum's brochure revealed that, "The facility is available for rental for lectures, seminars, birthdays, deathdays, and wakes," but neglected to mention weddings and christenings. Also, the brochure boasts that the museum is, "Hollywood's only insitution dedicated entirely to death." Aren't they forgetting about the Pantages theater?
My friend Lucy and I discovered there's no getting your feet wet at the Museum of Death. The first room, devoted to autopsies, featured pictures of the brain-removal procedure in a standard autopsy. Apparently our faces can be peeled off quite easily when we are dead or undergoing plastic surgery.
The room also contained a tasteful collection of Victorian mourning jewelry, which led me to believe the museum was somewhat professional. I clung to this theory as I viewed autopsy tools, a case of mortician's makeup and numerous photographs of dead children. The stuffed remains of an old collie threatened the museum's credibility, and it was completely shattered by an autopsy photo of a dead woman. Why was the unremarkable photo included? Because the woman's genitals were inches from the camera. Perhaps the curator was trying to draw a connection between the vagina and the dead babies, but I doubt it.
The man who I presume is the curator/owner/CEO and live-in manager/security guard of the museum was in attendance, but I declined to question him because of the rage he demonstrated when he saw my note pad.
This man, who I'll call the curator, glared at me for the first 10 minutes I was in the museum. If I had to guess, I would say he is press shy (rightly so) or was trying to gauge my upper body strength because he was on the prowl for his next victim.
While flexing my muscles, I viewed a Day of the Dead display that included several packets of Ramen Noodles. Then, after making sure Lucy had not been chloroformed and dragged into a closet, I examined a television playing a video called Traces of Death (an obvious rip-off of Faces of Death). The video was narrated by a Satan sound-alike who mumbled death-related patter nonstop.
A display case across from the television was my first hint of the curator's sense of humor. I was grateful for the comedic touches that appeared throughout the museum, because they compensated for the sophomoric, gratuitous nature of the exhibits.
The glass case contained a hangman game and a "Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture" toy (both endorsed by Vincent Price), as well as the books How to Embalm Your Mother-In-Law and 101 Uses for a Dead Cat.
The most interesting thing in the case was a small plastic "Necrocard" that read, "Support Sexual Liberation," and, "I want to help others experiment sexually after my death."
There was also a letter from Dick Clark and Ed McMahon, on the front of which was emblazoned: "Museum of Death-You've made the Final Cut-You're 1 of 10 Lucky Prize Winners Guaranteed up to $11,000,000." It's too bad the museum didn't win, because then they could have afforded a copy of Faces of Death and a real dead body (instead of having to make do with a stuffed dog).
Looking for the bathroom, I wandered into what appeared to be the curator's bedroom (a bed was in one corner, a pot of beans in another). When I used the bathroom, I noticed a sweater drying on the towel rack. I found it interesting that a hardcore death aficionado washes out his own sweaters and uses Dove soap.
Meanwhile, Lucy was having a grand time, as said death aficionado followed her into the serial killer section while shouting, "Well, fuck him!" into a cell phone. I suppose the curator didn't feel the need to be professional because Lucy and I had already paid the hefty admission fee ($7 each) and were his only customers.
After perusing a drunken driving exhibit that purported to be a public service announcement but was instead an excuse to show disfigured dead bodies, I saw some pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Since the photos were taken before Monroe became a star or started using peroxide, I couldn't tell why they had been included.
The Hollywood theme continued with unattributed pictures of Peg Entwhistle and the Hollywood sign. Entwhistle was a failed actress (and it's not surprising, because she wasn't attractive) who jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign.
I turned around, fully expecting to see that charming photo of Marilyn Monroe on the autopsy table or the curator holding an ax. Instead, I saw several pictures of William Desmond Taylor, a silent film director who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Once again, the captions were missing.
I didn't understand why the pictures weren't explained because all the curator had to do was Xerox a few pages of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon. Since he'd already ripped pages out of Time and stapled them to a wall, he wouldn't be compromising his curatorial scruples.
The next few rooms were devoted to famous serial killers. The John Wayne Gacy section even included a few paintings by the "Killer Clown" (one, presumably a self-portrait, showed a clown holding a Day-Glo balloon)
Several letters from Gacy were posted, and in two of them he lamented the misappropriation of his paintings. Judging from the quality of Gacy's "artwork," he should be happy anyone displayed them at all.
Gacy's letters were typed on the killer's personalized stationery. Gacy's name appeared in red script above his address (Lock Box 711) and next to the phrase: "Execution . . . Revenge for a sick society." What a coincidence! My stationery reads, "Murder . . . Action of a sick man."
Next to the Gacy exhibit, a glass-covered shrine to Charles Manson included articles, pictures, and, oddly enough, a signed baseball.
Lucy and I next encountered pictures of Sharon Tate, Manson's most famous victim. Tate was eight-months pregnant at the time of her death, making her murder even more atrocious than her acting in Valley of the Dolls.
All of a sudden, someone turned on the museum's stereo. As if looking at pictures of a dead pregnant woman wasn't bad enough, Lucy and I were treated to a frothy musical confection with lyrics like "I want a lobotomy."
While reading a misspelled bio of Richard Ramirez (aka the "Night Stalker"), I heard the curator burp loudly (I suppose he had just finished his pot of beans).
As Lucy threw in the towel and went to wait by the front door, I read a letter David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz wrote to a male admirer. In the letter (which was signed "Love 4 Ever"), Berkowitz offered a surprisingly tame plan to eradicate his fan's annoying, overweight coworker. Berkowitz suggested his pen pal eat a succulent meatball sandwich in front of his chubby coworker so she would become jealous, eat a sandwich herself, clog her arteries, and move one step closer to a fatal heart attack. Berkowitz had even drawn step-by-step illustrations with a blue ballpoint pen. Unfortunately, his level of artistic talent was a few notches below John Wayne Gacy's. Perhaps the inclusion of Berkowitz's doodling is the reason the brochure boasts that the museum contains "the largest collection of serial murderer art on the west coast."
A room across from Berkowitz's "art" was dedicated to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. Two mannequins had been dressed in Nike sneakers and black sweats, then draped with purple scarves. Off to a side, a shelf held some Mott's pudding, Comet cleanser, and a bottle of trendy Skyy vodka. (I never realized the castrated nerds were so fashionable.)
The museum ended with a bang and, happily, it wasn't a shotgun blast to my head. A series of pictures illustrated a unique tale: Several years ago, a woman enlisted her boyfriend to murder her husband. Afterwards, the killers thought it would be fun to "get naked" and photograph themselves while dismembering the body. One picture showed the woman (wearing only feathered hair parted in the middle) smiling at the camera gaily while sawing off her husband's head. In another photo, the boyfriend was sitting next to the dismembered body. I couldn't understand why the man was grinning like an idiot, because he'd just committed a deadly sin and had a minuscule penis.
A witty caption explained the couple was caught when they had the photos developed. A friend of theirs processed the film, but then accidentally let a person with an actual conscience put the pictures in the envelope.
When I joined Lucy at the front door, she bolted outside, depriving me of the chance to peruse the museum's gift shop.
While walking briskly towards the car, Lucy told me she'd overheard the curator talking about contacting someone in prison via email. I hoped it was Richard Ramirez, so the curator could get the Night Stalker to correct the misspellings and punch up the grammar in his bio.
Before Lucy and I arrived at the Museum of Death, I said, "Well, hopefully this'll make us happy to be alive," and she added, "Or ashamed to be Americans."
The museum didn't make me ashamed to be an American, but it did make me ashamed to live in Los Angeles. The Museum of Death is across the street from a casting office, next door to a sex club, and one block over from Hollywood and Vine.
Ivar Street says a lot more than I'd like to admit about this town.
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The Museum of Death is located at 8340 Hollywood Boulevard and can be reached at (323) 466-8011.