“Dying is like getting audited by the IRS- something that only happens to other people … until it happens to you. ”
–Jerome P. Crabb
I found myself on Hollywood Blvd on a Tuesday afternoon with spare time, looking for something to do, and solo so obviously I thought browsing through a museum would be fun and I ended up at the Museum of Death. For just $16 (Only $15 if you pay with cash) you can take a self-guided tour of their collections which include Serial Killer Archives, a Cannibalism Niche, funerary items, skull collections, taxidermy, a Theater of Death, and much more. There is a tiny lot with free parking in the back of the building which is a huge plus. There is hardly ever free parking in Hollywood.
I heard about this museum on a tour of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The guide briefly mentioned that one of the historical buildings once housed a saloon, a mortuary, and a death museum…which peaked my interest. They mention this info on their website as well. Even though I am a native, die-hard San Diegan tired of losing cool things to L.A. ‘s “bigger market” (museums, musicians, the Chargers) I think the Museum of Death found it’s perfect home on Hollywood Blvd in the City of Broken Dreams. Oddly symbolic if you ask me.
The museum is small and intimate so my claustrophobic self was relieved that I was not visiting on a busy day. As a museum worker and a person with a mild form of self diagnosed OCD, what I really appreciated about the museum was how well-organized their displays were. Sections are clearly labeled and you are able to give each collection as much attention as you want without being distracted by another subject or section. I enjoyed interacting with the staff as well. They were friendly and answered my inquiries, but very firm about the NO PICTURES rule when they saw that my phone was attached to my hand.
Because of my interest in the Victorian era, my favorite part of the museum was a section on Victorian Death Customs. This collection included Mourning Jewelry (pieces of the deceased loved ones hair and a photo of them made into jewelry), family portraits with the recently deceased, mourning dolls fashioned to resemble an infant who passed away, mourning dresses, death kits, and much more that reflected how obsessed the Victorians were with Death. Those Victorians, huh? Bunch of lovable weirdos.
Like death itself, the museum does not discriminate when it comes to age. All ages are welcome to enter. Though death is inevitable for all of us mortals, it goes without saying that this museum is not for everyone. They do warn you on your ticket that viewing the museum may cause head aches, seizures, PTSD, loss of appetite, “and many other problems.” My least favorite section was the display of the crime scene photos for the Manson Murders, and the Black Dahlia. They were very gruesome, sad, and conjured up feelings of disdain for humanity and the capacity we have to be so evil to one another. I felt very unsettled as I walked through that section. The whole display on Serial Killers was quite disturbing for me. I found myself very intrigued with the some of the artifacts like letters they wrote to people while in prison, personal journals, or some of their art work on display, but also equally disgusted that their heinous acts were being sort of memorialized.
Would I recommend this museum? Yes, actually I would. The museum states that their goal is to “fill the void in death education” and they certainly do a good job with their sections on funerary customs, embalming procedures, and mortuary tools. It’s definitely a different and interesting way to spend some time on a Tuesday afternoon.
“The boundaries between life and death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends and where the other begins?” – Edgar Allan Poe.
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