Death has a home amongst the stars.
"There is no age limit for the Museum of Death because WE ALL DIE". That is the Museum of Death’s motto. Quite truthful and direct, wouldn’t you say?
When visiting Hollywood, just a block West of the 101 Hollywood Blvd off ramp, planted among an array of new and historic establishments; you’ll find an institution of sorts that houses rare artefacts and exhibits based on some of the most infamous American crimes, deaths and serial killers.
Interestingly enough, that morbid vibe that one might expect from such an establishment actually hits you sooner than expected; given its regional history, the morbid sensation begins to set in as you ride into the Blvd.
For those who have yet to visit, Hollywood is actually more of a grainy city with touches of glamour, as opposed to the 'La La Land image' often depicted on screen.
Particularly the East side of town feels more polluted from its history of broken lives and tragedies which can be seen and felt on its gritty sidewalks.
Personally, I find this unwholesome aspect both mesmerizing and attractive. If you feel you sympathize with my fascination, then this museum and its location will definitely be worth the visit.
Erek Michael and Ryan Lichten are two members in charge of The Museum of Death in Hollywood, and were kind enough to fill us in on the museum’s background as well as some interesting trivia.
It all began with the museum’s owners, J. Healy and Cathee Shultz. The idea originated over two decades ago from their art gallery in San Diego California which opened in 1995. The gallery featured various forms of live art, bands and multimedia formats. Eventually the couple learned that the building was originally a mortuary; and it was actually the first funeral home in San Diego owned by none other than the legendary Wyatt Earp. This revelation inspired the idea to use the basement for a small exhibit composed of morbid artwork and letters from actual murderers.
So what drove the Shultz’ to broaden and bring their morbid concept to the 'City of Broken Dreams'? As Erek explains, “Eventually the climate for the content had come around. For many years the content would get the public’s blind eye. There was basically no value in any of this stuff, socially or in commentary. Over the years people grew interest in morbid historical things. And we felt Hollywood was a very unique place, and as much as it celebrates its celebrities and rising stars people are just as fascinated with the flip side of all that, and so we knew it would be a good setup. The town and the Museum of Death were meant for each other.”
Now for a few details on what awaits:
The lobby is brightly lit and gives off a sort of Horror surplus vibe. There’s actually a display case with bottled specimens for sell, and the walls are lined across with head mounts including one of a two headed calf. You’ll find your eyes may become drawn to a burgundy curtain located to the right of the register with a label above that reads, 'Serial Killer Archives'.
The Archives Room - (which to give you an idea, is roughly the size of a master bedroom) As suggested, the room contains an array of original artwork and personal items once owned by infamous serial killers. Some of the names include: the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy and David Berkowitz.
Then what follows is a series of chambers containing artefacts and exhibits ranging from historic weapons and devices used on prisoners, a funeral home exhibit that not only includes embalming equipment, but also a very graphic vintage instructional video.
One colorful character exhibit that caught my eye was that of an individual proclaimed as "the most spectacular degenerate in Rock & Roll history", GG Allin. I had no prior knowledge of this singer/songwriter known for his outlandish performances that included acts of self-mutilation and attacking his audience – quite the character.
One other aspect I'd like to make note of is the unique cozy feel felt throughout the museum’s rooms and hallways. I made mention of this to Erek and he goes on to explain, “Yes. The coziness is due to the fact that the location in Hollywood was originally an old recording studio owned by the late musician, Ray Charles; which is why some of the rooms seem smaller as well as the narrow hallways. People often bring up how quiet the rooms are, and that’s because it was built as a recording studio. So some of the walls are soundproof and it gives that hushed dense feeling which people notice.” I pretty much instantly found that its layout and structure are as unique as the contents within.
Lastly I had a Q & A session with Ryan Lechten based question provided by you guys.
AJT: What item is the museum proudest of and why?
Ryan Lechten: "As for most prized possessions, it varies; I mean if you look in our New Orleans location you might say Dr. Kevorkian’s suicide machine is probably the most prized item that we have. Here in our Hollywood location it’s harder to tell; I mean some of the Manson Family items would be up there; for instance, the family quilt that we have is pretty significant. Now if you’re looking for the most prized exhibit as a whole, we have a complete recreation of the Heaven’s gate crime scene with all original items from the crime scene."
AJT: Does any item in the museum give you the heebie-jeebies?
RL: "We don’t really get any paranormal stuff in, and we’ve had all sorts of paranormal investigators come in and set up with their gadgets and they haven’t found anything. But some of the items here are certainly unnerving, there’s all kinds of items that bother some people and oddly enough, our collection of taxidermy seems to be the thing that bothers most. The exhibit contains anything from Chihuahuas to something known as a 'furry trout'."
AJT: Do you have items in the museum donated by the actual serial killers or persons associated with the crime?
RL: "Well yeah, the majority of our large collection of art work and letters were sent to us by the actual serial killers. And in most cases the artwork and letters were done while the individual was in prison. In most instances, the items were given to the museum for the purpose of display. The actual owners used to write to and receive letters from John Wayne Gacy, Ottis Toole, and many others."
AJT: Have you ever had anyone associated with one of the crimes or murders on display visit the museum?
RL: "Well just a couple of weeks ago we had an ex-member of the People Temple stop by, which is the cult that committed the mass suicide in Jonestown. Turns out the People’s Temple recorded an album of some of their original songs here and the guy dropped by to see the location of the old recording studio. He started telling us stories; you could tell that guy was deeply embedded in that cult, and obviously made it out before the mass suicide."
AJT: Does the museum cover mostly regional crimes or international crimes as well?
RL: "Yes. We have a few foreign pieces scattered throughout and we do house some unique local Hollywood items on historic deaths from the 'underbelly of Hollywood' so to speak. We have stuff on Peg Entwistle, who jumped off of the 'H' on the Hollywood sign. Or Lupe Velez, the pregnant actress that couldn't bear the idea of having a child out of wedlock, so she decided to set out a bed of Rose petals and take her own life with a bottle of pills. But instead she wound up head first in the toilet where it’s rumored that her body was discovered."
There is now a second Museum of Death that opened about a year and a half ago in New Orleans, which houses original items more relevant to East Coast crimes and deaths. Personally, I find this new location gives me an additional incentive to visit the historic city known for its morbid history as well as its festive appeal.