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The Mysterious and Macabre Museum of Death

Brent Swancer

There are many museums in the world covering all manner of objects and artwork, and some of them can be described as rather dark and dangerous. One of these is what is now called The Museum of Death, which has its beginnings in 1995, when J. D. Healy and Catherine Shultz set up shop in San Diego, California, in what is claimed to have once been the city’s first mortuary and owned by Wyatt Earp. It was originally known as the controversial Rita Dean art gallery, becoming well known for its gruesome collection of death-related images and artwork. While the exhibits were often seen as being a bit too much for many people, the founders saw it as educational, teaching people about the harsh realities of death. To them this wasn’t all just for shock value, but rather a much needed push towards the awareness of death related issues and to make people more appreciate being alive. Scott Healy, J.D. Healy’s brother, would say of the thinking behind it at the time, “The reason the museum kind of started was the lack of education of death in our society, the taboo nature, and the inquisitiveness of it. We wanted to educate people.

After some time, the owners began to expand the scope of their exhibit, writing to serial killers in prison in order to obtain artwork from them for display, and from there it evolved into a showcase for all things related to death. They began acquiring all manner of things such as letters from serial killers, murder weapons, body bags, undertaker’s tools, mortuary equipment, embalming tools, autopsy videos, skeletons, shrunken heads, even taxidermy, among others, with one of their most infamous acquisitions at the time being a collection of memorabilia from the Heaven’s Gate cult. As the collection grew, the controversy surrounding them caused them to be evicted, after which they moved to Hollywood, California and expanded their operation even further, completely rebranding themselves as a museum rather than an art gallery.

OnceOnce in Hollywood, the collection expanded more and more, with the owners getting donations from mortuaries, police auctions, collectors of the macabre, and even donations from the serial killers themselves. The collection is massive, with every inch of the modest low single-story building packed with an unbelievable hodgepodge of anything and everything related to serial killers, murder, and death. In addition to the autopsy and mortician instruments, coffins, human skulls and skeletons, replicas of execution devices, and numerous autopsy, car crash, and crime scene photos, including those from the Black Dahlia murder crime scene and the aftermath of the Charles Manson murders, there is so much more. There are letters and artwork from serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer, the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, John Wayne Gacy, as well as the euthanasia device used by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, actual weapons that have been used in killings, and even the severed head of Henri Landru, a French serial killer who was nicknamed the Bluebeard of Gambais and who murdered at least seven women. There is also a section on suicide, including images from mass suicides such as Jonestown or the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide of 1997, a “Death Theater” that shows real videos from autopsies, accidents, and murders, and a whole room full of taxidermy and various animals and body parts pickled in jars. The entire walk through the museum takes about 45 minutes, and don’t forget to hit the gift shop on the way out! Here you can find all manner of morbid souvenirs, including actual CDs of music by Charles Manson.

To TheTo the mentally unprepared, it said to be a breathtaking assault on the senses to walk these halls and be assailed from every angle by some of the most morbid and macabre imagery one can imagine, and it is all made even creepier as the building was once a recording studio with soundproofed walls, lending the whole claustrophobic setting an eerie silence. The museum tries to offset this discomfort by keeping the place brightly lit, providing cheerful service, playing music, and keeping the most stomach-churning, grotesque exhibits behind curtains with plenty of warnings to enter at your own risk. Despite its controversial nature, the Museum of Death has proved to be popular enough that another location was opened in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2014, which has much more floor space than the Hollywood location. However, the museum is not for everyone, and reviews tend to be mixed, with some saying it is all just too disgusting and making a buck off of the shock factor, while others think it is too overcrowded and overpriced at $15 a person, while others still have more intellectual complaints about the museum, with one reviewer on the site Dark Tourism, saying of it:

While there is a certain over-emphasis and information overload on topics like serial killers, the museum is strangely lacking on other fronts. What is clearly missing, I thought, was something more on the scientific side of death; for instance: at what point can a body be declared dead – it’s a complicated and controversial issue, after all. There could also have been more on the differences in cultures in dealing with death and varying funeral traditions. A bit more on sober aspects such as these could have made for a good counterbalance to all the gory and grotty curiosity-cabinet characteristics that dominate in this museum.

It seems like people either love it or hate it, which is probably to be expected with such an unorthodox and grim project. Is all of this too much, or is it an important educational experience? It certainly seems there is a market for this sort of dark tourism, as the museum has been very successful in pulling in seekers of the morbid, twisted, and macabre. If that is your cup of tea you will probably find something to enjoy and be enthralled with at the museum, and if it is not just head to Disneyland or something. Whatever one’s preference might be, or what one may think of it, it is certainly a unique and rather notorious museum that has definitely made its mark, whether you like it or not.


Where Strange Creatures Appear: The “Crossroads” Phenomenon

Nick Redfern February 16, 2021

Merrily Harpur is the author of an excellent book titled Mystery Big Cats. It takes a fascinating, alternative approach to the “Alien Big Cat”/”ABC” phenomenon. One of the issues that Merrily tackles in the book is that of what are known as “Liminal Zones,” the places where strange things manifest on many occasions. As Merrily notes, they include: “These are the transitional zones between one area and another – the kind of no-man’s-land traditionally regarded as magical.” Merrily adds of such liminal zones that, “In the landscape they include streams, bridges, stiles, gates and churchyards – spots literally or symbolically at the point of transition over a boundary.” Another location is a crossroads, where ABCs have been seen. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today: the many and varied “strange things” that have been seen at crossroads. Michael Rose says of one very intriguing case, from the 1930s, concerning musician Robert Johnson:

LeagedLegend has it that while living on a Mississippi plantation, the young and impoverished Robert found his one true longing: to be a master of the Blues. Unfortunately he was then a mediocre musician at best and played his guitar and sang his songs for anyone who would listen, failing to make much of an impression or a name for himself. A shadowy figure, hearing his plight instructed him to go, guitar in hand to the Dockery Plantation Crossroads at midnight on a moonless night. Following these instructions Johnson was met at the crossroads by the Devil in the form of a large black man, who tuned his guitar and played his own haunting music. When he returned the guitar to Robert, he found he had full mastery of the instrument – the Devil having staked a claim to his soul in exchange for this gift, a bargain that would be collected upon at a later time.

Over the years, here at Mysterious Universe, I’ve written a number of articles on one of the U.K.’s strangest, and oldest, supernatural creatures: the Phantom Black Dog. The people behind the Anomalies website say of this strange “animal”: “Tales are told of a large semi-phantom dog with fur that’s blacker than the night and eyes that burn like red coals. These ‘Black Dogs’ appear and disappear in a moment, and can be solid as any true dog or thin as smoke whenever they wish. Black Dogs are one of the more complicated paranormal phenomena reported, both having a clearly legendary base of stories coupled with claims of first and second-hand actual sightings and encounters. Are they a story that has come to be mistaken for real? Or are they a real phenomena that has been cloaked in myth? It’s unlikely a clear answer will ever be found. Most tales and reports of Black Dogs come from Great Britain, but they have generally been reported all across Europe with some newer reports from the United States. Black dogs are often associated with lonely stretches of road, crossroads [italic mine], churches, and places people have been executed; in older folklore, these creatures were variously explained as the ghosts of murdered or executed people, harbingers of death, or an earthly manifestation of the Devil…

SimonSimon Burchell – Phantom Black Dog expert – states: “Although the Black Dog may appear at first glance to be a British or north European phenomenon, it exists in essentially the same form across the entire length and breadth of the Americas. Much has been written upon the presumed Germanic, Celtic or Indio-European origin of the legend but such an origin would not explain how a highland Maya girl can meet a shape-shifting Black Dog at a Guatemalan crossroads. It appears that the Black Dog, much like the poltergeist, is a global phenomenon.” moving on, the legendary Dogmen are seen at sacred sites, such as ancient mounds. And…they turn up at crossroads and old bridges. Cemeteries, too. These are all locations traditionally tied to paranormal activity and supernatural entities. In my mind, the Dogmen are definitively supernatural in nature. Linda Godfrey says of the Dogmen: “I do find more and more sightings are near cemeteries and old sacred burial and effigy mound sites — also crossroads [italics mine], churches, and military areas.

BackBack in 1988, Chris Davis was working at a local McDonald’s in Lee County, South Carolina On the night of June 29, Chris was on the late-shift, which meant he didn’t finish work until after 2:00 a.m. His journey home ensured that he had to take a road across a swamp – and specifically a heavily forested part of the swamp. It was just minutes later that he had a blowout. Chris pulled up at a crossroads and, via the bright moonlight, changed the tire. As he finished the job and put the tools back into the trunk, Chris saw something looming out of the trees. Large, human-like in shape, and possessing two glowing, red eyes and three fingers on each hand, it was something horrific. Chris panicked and jumped in his vehicle and sped off.” The creature became known as “Lizard Man.” The reason: it looked like one of the so-called “Reptilians.” Now, some people might say that if you go looking – and deeply – you might find just about anything and place the pieces together to fit a story. However, I don’t think that’s the case in those accounts above. As I see it, there is enough material to make a case that Liminal Zones are a reality, even if we don’t really understand how they work and why.