Death is a complex subject, and definitely, one people don’t want to face. The search for and idealization of immortality is showcased in movies and books. Despite death’s inevitability, it continues to be feared and misunderstood. It’s not surprising. People don’t want to leave the physical world. What if there’s nothing on the other side? What if what’s on the other side is scary? No one knows, and that lack of knowledge is terrifying.
Nevertheless, California is no stranger to death. Murderers and the murdered have kept our eyes glued to the screen. We create stardom out of these gruesome situations. There isn’t a more perfect location for a museum of death than in Hollywood. The Museum of Death in Hollywood was created in 1995 by JD Healy and Cathee Shultz, who wanted people to feel glad they were alive after visiting.
The first thing you see as you approach the museum is a gate with a painting of a skull attached. Opening the door is like going to the other side–someone living stepping into the realm of death. Thankfully, the realm of death is extremely welcoming! You are greeted by one of the workers (I interacted with a few of the workers, and they are all super nice!!!). The greeter can also take any of your questions at the end of the visit. There is one important rule before you go in: “No pictures!” (All the pictures from the exhibits that are featured on here have been taken by people who either broke the rules or got special permission!) You’ll also be asked why you came to the museum, so tell them I sent you! Once you’ve paid the entry fee of $15, the worker will tell you to go through the first door. As you step in, death stands right beside you the entire way.
Entering the first room was like a dream come true for me. As someone with a huge fascination for serial killers and how their minds work, I knew I could have stayed in the first room for quite some time simply examining the content. Serial killer artwork fills the walls and serial killer collectibles (can you imagine serial killer trading cards?!) line glass cases. The coolest part of this exhibit is John Wayne Gacy’s self-portrait of himself dressed as Pogo the Clown. Some of the artwork is amazing and some is mediocre, but all show that many of these murderers have a more creative side to them.
After this room, my memory is blurry; however, I do remember all the rooms, just not the order. The next room has newspaper articles on the West Memphis Three, the severed head of Bluebeard (Henri Landru), and an actual door from San Quentin prison: home to some of the most notorious criminals. After this room, there is a room that shows death in a more technical way: funerals and body preservation. Those rooms show all the tools used to preserve the body for a final presentation in a coffin and a video on how to do makeup on the body. After watching the videos, I definitely want to be cremated.
The rest of the museum can be described as a tight hall that leads to a few more openings. Most of the walls are lined with newspaper clippings and gory photos. There are also some glass cases that contain objects like weapons or books about specific cases. For example, one whole section of the hall contains a section dedicated to cannibalism. Inside a glass case beneath the photos, there are books about people or groups who are cannibals. There are also skulls and bones of various animals on display as well as shelves of taxidermied and chemically preserved animals. You can even see both Jayne Mansfield and Liberace’s taxidermied pets on display here.
There were three awesome highlights on the trail to the final room:
There is an exact recreation of the Heaven’s Gate suicide, complete with the actual outfit members wore and a tape of the actual Heaven’s Gate video. This is freaky stuff, so if cults interest you, I really recommend looking into this. You can find the whole tape on YouTube!
There is a room is dedicated to famous California murder cases. It featured the Manson Family murders with a life-size cutout of Charles Manson that scared the heck out of me when I first entered. They also had some videos of the Manson Family and even a quilt the Manson girls made. There was also memorabilia pertaining to O.J. Simpson and a binder containing photo clippings of other celebrities who have been killed, threatened, or stalked. Of course, no section dedicated to famous California murders would be complete if it did not contain information on the Black Dahlia murder. While there wasn’t much on her, there were the stomach-churning photos of the murder scene.
The toilet is often humorously called the“throne.” Who else is fit for a throne, but a king? Not just any king, but The King, Elvis. Not only did he actually die on the toilet, but the museum decided the ladies’ restroom was the perfect place to have a section on Elvis. I would not have even thought to look in there for an exhibit if one of the helpful workers hadn’t told me. It was definitely one of the coolest parts of the museum, fit with the perfect amount of dark humor.
Now that I’ve taken you on a written tour of the museum, there is one last room to enter. In this room you will see a life size sculpture of controversial punk rocker GG Allin–thanks to the museum I’ve been listening to his music! Along with the sculpture, there are shocking photos of his concert antics on the walls. On the other side of the room there are seats faced towards a TV playing the Traces of Death documentary, which features various footage of violence and death. Next to the exit is a notebook where visitors are welcomed to write the way they wish to die. Some are peaceful, while others are sickeningly shocking and/or hilarious.
After you leave the first room you are free to go or check out the gift shop. I recommend checking out the gift shop. They have T-shirts and pins featuring serial killers and the museum logo along with other merchandise, such as tote bags, mugs, patches, and more.
If you love the darker things in life, this is definitely a museum worth checking out. The price is reasonable and it is open to all ages, but I recommend not taking children who have not been exposed to this type of imagery before. If graphic imagery makes you nauseous, you probably won’t want to come here either (some people have actually fainted, you don’t want to be the next one). Aside from that, the only thing that might stop you from going is the parking. While they offer free parking, there aren’t many available spaces. I almost didn’t have the chance to go because of the parking situation until I was lucky enough to find a space after driving around the block a third time. The only downside to the museum is it is a bit cramped, but considering all the information packed inside, the mild discomfort is outweighed by the awesome content. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays. It is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturdays.
The museum’s website: http://www.museumofdeath.net/
Although I couldn’t take photos inside, here’s a short video that showcases some of the museum’s exhibits: