Dreadpunk Detours: Alcatraz East Crime Museum

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This post is a bit tangential to the rest of this website, but I suspect that some of you might be interested in Alcatraz East Crime Museum. I’m in Pigeon Forge, TN every couple of months, and I’m still not sure how I missed a fortress with the words “CRIME MUSEUM” emblazoned on the front. You’d think that would be a beacon, but missed it I did. I stumbled across its existence online, and knew right away that I had to visit.

If the idea of visiting this place intrigues you, don’t be concerned about being exposed to a lot of grisly visuals. A certain amount of disturbing content comes with the territory, but its a pretty family friendly place overall. Depending on your kids, you may want to deter them from reading some of the informational placards, but otherwise they’ll probably lack the context.

That said, reading placards is a major part of the museum. I’ve read some online reviews that express disappointment with the amount of reading involved at Alcatraz East. I enjoyed the place, but I’m not going to say all of these visitors are wrong, either. Even I quit reading a lot of it a couple of rooms in, focusing my attention on the stuff that was directly connected to the museum’s artifacts.

The artifacts are the main draw here, consisting of objects tied to criminal cases, replicas, props from movie and TV dramatizations, and law enforcement equipment. These are displayed in a two-story building filled with well-themed galleries. The experience reminded me of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions that I have been to.

Despite some items from the Dark Ages at the very beginning, the bulk of Alcatraz East’s collection relates to criminal activity in America. The trail through the attraction leads from the colonial days to the age of piracy, then to the Old West followed by the Prohibition era and legendary gangsters. Admirably, Alcatraz East sticks to the facts instead of glamorizing any of this activity.

After the gangster displays were some exhibits about “white collar crime,” but I didn’t spend much time there. The next room contained serial killer artifacts, and this is where the attraction became really unsettling. This gallery had items that belonged to John Wayne Gacy, including two of his infamous clown outfits. Yes, I know that Gacy didn’t murder people while dressed as a clown, but his activities are inextricably tied to the “evil clown” archetype at this point.

This room also had one of Ed Gein’s teeth. If you’re unfamiliar with Gein, his criminal activity was not only the inspiration for Robert Bloch’s Psycho, but The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and numerous other horror films as well.

After exhibits focusing on kidnapping, cold cases, hate crimes, and terrorism, the museum transitions to a focus on criminal investigation and the judicial system. Much like the white collar crime exhibits, I didn’t linger too long in these areas, but they looked well done for people interested in these topics.

Being an attraction in the Smoky Mountains, it’s almost de rigueur to have some cars on display. One of the most prominent objects housed at Alcatraz East is the white Ford Bronco that O.J. Simpson rode in during the infamous freeway chase. Among the other cars on display — and far creepier, in my eyes — was a Volkswagen Beetle that Ted Bundy abducted and murdered people in.

If all this sounds interesting, definitely check out Alcatraz East if you’re ever in the area. As an aside, the employees were all friendly and loved my awesome new Vincent Price shirt.

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