Origins of the Museum of Death
The World Famous Museum of Death was founded back in 1995, and was originally located in San Diego’s first mortuary. Originally a controversial art gallery, it soon evolved into its current state after the founders, JD Healy and Cathee Shultz, realized that the country lacked proper education about death.
Since then, they have dedicated their lives to death – ironic as that may sound.
The controversial art gallery began when JD and Cathee, as a hobby of theirs, would write to well-known serial killers that they had studied, and would display the letters they received back from their correspondents at a yearly show.
The goal of these exhibits was to make people happy and appreciative of the lives they had.
In 1999, JD and Cathee moved their museum to its current location in Los Angeles, the iconic front gate decorated with skulls and roses.
Fun Fact- Pink Floyd once used the building as a recording studio. The stifling acoustics can be accredited to the sand in the walls.
After moving, JD and Cathee began to expand their collection of items to be exhibited in their museum.
Museum of Death Exhibits
There are plenty of exhibits and things to see, all ranging from slightly horrifying to downright nightmare-inducing. Exhibits of baby coffins, serial killer artefacts, crime scene photos and ghastly autopsy videos – the Museum of Death has it all. “We collect anything and everything about death,” said Cathee Shultz, “everything from body bags, coffins, morticians’ instruments; from execution devices, to letters from murderers.”
You’re immediately confronted by pretty gnarly sights upon entry. Large photographs of dead people, a cross-section of a human head, and a pair of gruesome rotten hands. If you, for some reason, decide you want to enter a place that greets you with human heads and rotten hands, you’ll see some of the exhibits you would expect to see at any regular funeral museum: old mortuary instruments, embalming fluid bottles and brochures for fancy burials. The Museum of Death went the extra mile by having an embalming training video playing on loop in the exhibition.
But that’s only just the start. There’s one particularly gut-wrenching display of a baby’s casket – which is empty, thankfully. But in case you couldn’t imagine what could fit inside, there’s a picture printed out right above it showing how a real dead baby would fit into one. There are other displays of wooden coffins, caskets, and even one displaying the accessories needed for a Jewish burial.
Surrounding walls display equally disturbing photos of brutal beheadings, death squad victims, car accident fatalities, and the like. Some walls are covered with letters and newspaper clippings of some of history’s most notable and notorious serial killers, such as ‘The Rostov Ripper’ and the ‘Gentleman Cannibal’.
The Bluebeard of France
One of the Museum of Death’s most prominent, yet puzzling, exhibits is that of the Bluebeard of France. It features the actual decapitated head of Henri Desire Landru, who was executed in 1922. He was guillotined after being linked to the disappearances and deaths of around 200 women. His head somehow ended up in a glass case in a museum in Los Angeles.
For Your Consideration
One particularly sickening exhibit on display in the Museum of Death is called ‘For Your Consideration’. It is comprised of a series of photographs of a woman and her new boyfriend, after killing her ex-boyfriend. The couple take pictures of themselves smiling happily with dismembered limbs that they sawed off the ex-boyfriend’s naked body.
They may well have gotten away with the heinous crime that they committed, if it weren’t for the fact that they tried to get their photographs developed at their local discount store.
Unsurprisingly, two former presidents of the United States of America have an entire corner of the museum dedicated to them – Abraham Lincoln, USA’s 16th president who was famously assassinated in 1865, and John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, who was assassinated 98 years later in Texas in December 1963.
In this corner, there’s a bronze bust of both Kennedy and of Lincoln.
But that is not all.
Because this is the Museum of Death, they must’ve felt that this was not enough. A painted plaster sculpture of JFK can be seen – with the side of the skull and scalp blown out.
There are also some pretty graphic pictures of the dead president’s autopsy.
Not without controversy, the eccentric Dr. Jack Kevorkian created The Thanatron, which was a machine that could be used to help terminally-ill patients die on their own terms. Dubbed “The Suicide Machine”, The Thanatron would release a lethal dosage of chemicals into the user’s veins after he or she would press a button.
This isn’t even Dr. Kevorkian’s only ‘suicide machine’, as he also created the Mercitron, which was used more frequently. The Thanatron is on display in the New Orleans branch of the Museum of Death.
Serial Killer Art
Within the confines of the Museum of Death, there is an art gallery displaying a lot of paintings and art created by inmates awaiting death row.
These include a few of over 2,000 paintings that notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy painted in his 12 years waiting on death row.
One famous painting he made was his self-portrait as Pogo the Clown, who was a character he regularly played prior to his arrest. This painting is on display in the museum, along with many others.
As mentioned before, there are also pictures and letters of correspondence from serial killers on display.
Heaven’s Gate Cult Mass Suicide
Heaven’s Gate was a religious cult, based in San Diego in the 1970s. To briefly explain, they believed that the entity humans perceive to be an almighty God is, in fact, a highly developed extraterrestrial being. They also believed that the Earth was about to be wiped clean, and that the only way to survive this was to leave Earth immediately, in order to reach an extraterrestrial spacecraft following the Hale-Bopp Comet.
By committing suicide, members of the Heaven’s Gate cult believed they were advancing to the Next Level, where they would become evolved beings who absorb sunlight and do not commit to any ‘human’ affairs, such as eating, having sex or dying.
On March 26, 1997, San Diego Police found the bodies of 39 people neatly laid out on their bunk beds in a rented mansion, all of whom had committed suicide. They did so by ingesting applesauce laced with barbiturate and washed down with vodka. The victims were all wearing new Nike sneakers, were covered with a purple shroud and had bags covering their heads to induce asphyxiation.
The Museum of Death has recreated this exact scene, with authentic purple shrouds and the actual bunk beds used, which apparently came with the ‘decomposing body smell’.
There are, of course, plenty of other things to see in the Museum of Death, which you can check out here.
Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You
A couple of warnings before you decide that this might be a place you want to visit. The first thing, make sure you can handle seeing things like this. You might be thinking you’ve seen a bunch of horror movies or played enough video games to know what to expect. But this is different. It’s different because it’s real. These are actual humans who actually died and it gets pretty graphic and gory.
Tagging on to the first bit of advice, make sure you don’t eat before visiting. Many of people have made that same mistake, and ended up hurling their meals at the bushes outside. Not a good look.
And finally, don’t bring your kids. It’s just not advisable at all. They’ll get nightmares, you’ll get tired of dealing with their nightmares – it would certainly not be a fun experience for them. And if you do, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The thing is, the attractions at the Museum of Death genuinely aren’t there to spook people. They serve to educate people on matters such as death, funerals, and the afterlife. But this isn’t for the faint of heart.
It’s something different – you’ll definitely be shaken up as much as you will be illuminated.