Not many parking signs in Los Angeles bear the words “Death Customers Only.”
Be warned: This isn’t a Universal Studios tour bus stop where you’ll see the theatricality of expertly placed fake blood and deliciously thrilling fictional gore. This is death at its most chilling — at its most human and real.
Owners and married couple JD Healy and Catherine Shultz’s Museum of Death first came to life in San Diego in 1995 before migrating to the city of angels and finding a permanent home surrounded by everything from a Thai restaurant with a man singing Elvis tunes to the Kodak Theatre.
If you stumble upon the museum by chance or are afraid to enter, you can sneak a peek at their test photo, a gory snapshot of a dead man on the road. The museum might not focus on scaring you, but there are plenty of shocking pieces.
“Absolutely we put shock stuff. We live in a society where shock is the only thing that catches your attention,” Shultz said. “At some point hopefully someone takes something away from it.”
You take everything at your own pace without a cheesy film noir tour guide at your side. In fact, the people of the Museum of Death are warm and welcoming, and though the museum’s material might seem depressing, Healy sees some of them as cautionary and even uplifting.
She recalled one night when a red-eyed girl came in and admitted that she wanted a pick-me-up and she was seeking it in the museum. Shultz sees a similar healing power in the exhibits.
“If I’m having a bad day, I can take a minute and go in a room and take it in,” said Shultz. “My life is so great. You see enough death, you’re happy to be alive.”
The museum is organized into rooms starting with the Serial Killer Archives. The materials in the room let you get into the brains of serial killers by seeing artwork from killers like cannibal Nico Claux and rapist John Wayne Gacy. From there, the material gets more and more frightening and difficult to look at, such as a set of photographs from beheadings of the 1930s and 1940s in China.
The Mortician and Funeral Room contains instruments for embalming along with a detailed video, a point where many people have passed out or, as the Museum Museum of Death puts it, had a “falling down ovation.” The photographs are equally shocking: In one, a pair of hands removes a brain from a person’s skull.
Employee Erek Michael decided to work for the museum because he appreciated the experience the exhibits create for museum visitors.
“It’s a factual look at death,” Michael said. “People are coming in off the street and immersing themselves in an environment, confronted by a topic that is usually considered taboo or normally you wouldn’t consider confronting on a daily basis.”
Other rooms highlight famous cases like Charles Manson and the Black Dahlia murder. A small room with a window recreates a scene from the Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide. The room reveals two bodies in bunk beds and some of the materials displayed — from the bunk beds themselves to the clothes. These items came to the hands of the museum from an auction in San Diego.
The museum doesn’t limit itself to humans, though. Another room dedicates its space to animals that underwent taxidermy, from a group of albino animals to a few anomalous creatures. If you look hard enough, you can find a couple of animals with too many limbs.
By the end of your visit, you will have taken in a lot concerning life and death. Some visitors will walk out angered, but Shultz’s intentions prove the museum isn’t meant to scare, anger or depress anyone that walks through the doors.
“When people come in, I ask ‘Hey where are you from?’ and I immediately think of the best death of that area,” Shultz said. “I’m trying to make people comfortable with their mortality. I’m trying to make a connection. I don’t have a connection with them, but death does.”
When you leave the museum, whoever is at the front desk will bid you farewell with the phrase “Have a great life.” It sums up the attitude of the museum perfectly.
As Shultz puts it, “We’re all gonna die, get used to it and live your life.”
The Museum of Death is located on 6031 Hollywood Blvd.
Eva Recinos is a junior majoring in English. Her column “Nook & Cranny” runs Mondays.