Creepy Journalism: Newseum Murderbilia

December 7, 2011 — What if I told you that there was this guy I knew who collected artifacts connected to famous killers, criminals, and crimes. You know, murder weapons, personal mementos, crime scene pieces, that kind of stuff. Murderbilia, it’s called. You’d say, “What a creep,” right? What if it was a venerable museum institution? You’d say, “Let’s go see it.” We’re all creeps.

The Newseum in Washington, DC, doesn’t refer to its collection as murderbilia, of course. They call it G-Men and Journalists, and describe it as an exhibit that explores the relationship between the media and the FBI over the course if its 100-year-old history. They just happen to do that by displaying the electric chair that fried the Lindbergh baby killer, the cabin hideaway of the Unabomber, and a KKK outfit (uniform? costume?).

Located just off the National Mall at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., this modern-looking glass and metal building with the First Amendment inscribed in giant letters on its façade has occupied that piece of the nation’s capital since 2008. Before that, the institution was located in Arlington, VA.

The purpose of the Newseum in general is to celebrate and explore journalism and how it intersects with real lifehow major events are related to the public, how the medium has changed over the years, the role of journalism in society, etc. It has permanent exhibits on Pulitzer Prize-winning photography, journalist martyrs, news in the digital age, and other displays that I completely skipped during my visit.

That’s right. Other than a stop at the large section of Berlin Wall and guard tower , I headed directly to the murderbilia. I guess that’s the equivalent of skipping the news sections and going right to the obituaries.

There, I found some 200 of what I’d call amazing artifacts if they were connected to historic personages of a respectable sort, but since they’re connected to national tragedies, victims, and the most evil human gunk that modern history has produced, I’ll just call creepy stuff. Infamous is only two letters away from famous, after all.

For instance, the hat that notorious gangster John Dillinger was wearing when he was killed by law enforcement was there, along with his death mask, pistols, and other related items. They have the mockup of the DC Sniper’s car trunk that was used in his trial. Patty Hearst’s coat and gun were there. There are artifacts connected to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, 9/11, and all kinds of other things.

Basically, it’s a lot of disturbing stuff that I paid an entry fee to find myself within sneezing distance of. And that’s the real point of it all, I think. File it under journalism, if you want, but the real point of seeing actual artifacts of this nature is to be disturbed. Also to be thrilled. And to be disturbed that we can be thrilled by this kind of stuff.

But that’s okay. It’s good for us to be disturbed. We need it. But I’ll not get preachy. Let’s just look at some pics of museum-sanitized murderbilia together. It’s a lot more enjoyable than going to the dank basement of that guy I know to see his collection.

Oh, and according to the museum website, the exhibit is a temporary one, although it will be around throughout 2012. Something tells me, though, that they’re going to deny parole for most of these objects. It has to be their most popular draw, if…um…I’m any indication, I guess.

Artifacts found among the wreckage of the Waco tragedy.

Oklahoma City bomber, including McVeigh's driver's license in the bottom center.

Objects from the horrible, horrible
Lindbergh baby kidnapping case.

Trunk reproduction of D.C. Sniper John Allen MuhammadI lived and worked in the area at the time 
and remember that October vividly. So this nefariousness makes me feel homesick, I guess.

Patty Hearst heard the burst of
Roland's Thompson gun and bought it.
Also, she starred in Bio-Dome.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, I think. The actual cabin hideout of Ted Kaczynski, Unabomber

The cabin was too small to take a good picture of what it looked like inside, so here's a bad one.

More Unabomber artifacts.

The infamous Unabomber Manifesto.