American Police Hall of Fame and Museum
The American Police HoF and Museum has been a favorite Florida attraction of ours for decades, from former incarnations in Northport (1980s) and Miami (1990s), to its new setting in Titusville, its most lavish thus far. Some classic Reagan-era exhibits have been retired, such as the display of Heavy Metal album covers. Also, the "Horror of Teen-Age Drug Addiction" exhibit has been reduced to a single photo of a teen girl covered in boils. But more than enough good new stuff is here to make up for what has been lost.
As always, the museum showcases the things that most interest American law enforcement officers: weapons, death, bad guys, hi-tech gadgets, cute children, and merciless punishment. When we visited, most of the other tourists looked like cops, and our rigorous shutterbugging drew suspicious stares.
Visitors can have their photos taken in a jail cell, strapped into a fake electric chair, or sitting in a replica gas chamber. The theme of seated justice continues with the "Tramp Chair," a caged metal seat on wheels that once imprisoned unwanted visitors to Yuma, Arizona. "You can imagine what it might be like to sit on the iron seat during the hot days and cold nights in the desert," reads a sign. "For most, one night was enough. Vagrants would soon vacate their 'guest' chair." You can lock your kids inside for a unique souvenir snapshot.
An approving nod to foreign justice is found in a battered French guillotine, where you can stretch your neck beneath the overhanging blade. "It does work and is sharp," cautions an accompanying sign. Nearby, an instructive exhibit on "caning" recounts the 1994 story of an American teen who was whipped for vandalism in Singapore. "Singapore, like other nations with strict enforcement of the law, is one of the safest nations in the world." A certificate of authenticity accompanies the genuine whipping cane, which is labeled "Made in Singapore."
The scope of American policing -- and the dangers of the modern world -- can be seen in the museum's range of exhibits. There are memorials to the Oklahoma City bombing and to 9-11 (you can touch some World Trade Center rubble); exhibits on counterfeiting and ways to identify corpses; displays of moonshine stills, radar guns, and body armor. An exhibit of American gangsters features a hat worn by Al Capone and a phone from his Chicago hotel. "If the phones could talk from that era," a sign asks, "what terrible deeds would be told?" There's even an exhibit on the JFK assassination, although we don't remember that as a shining example of law enforcement.
A living room cordoned off with yellow tape is the "Crime Scene Science" exhibit. Life-size cardboard cutouts of officers are at work: one puts a pistol in a paper bag, another photographs string on the carpet. "During the OJ Simpson trial in 1995," a sign explains, "much of the forensic evidence implicating Simpson was suppressed. This was an important factor in the defendant's acquittal."
The concealed weapons display includes an umbrella sword, knives hidden in a hair brush and a crucifix, and a switchblade disguised as a gun that struck us as suicidal. The drug smuggling exhibit includes empty cans of Pringles and Noxzema, a hollowed-out book holding ZigZag rolling papers, and a plastic head of lettuce. "Inside is hollow, and among produce that is shipped to the United States can hide all sorts of contraband." If that's a problem, why doesn't the U.S. just grow its own lettuce?
A somber memorial to police officers killed in the line of duty is flanked by a wall of signed promotional photos of Phyllis Diller, Chuck Conners, Dom DeLouise, and other vintage stars -- and a framed oil painting titled, "Michael the Archangel, God's First Police Officer, Takes Fallen Officer to Heaven."
This place, however, is too full of wonder to stay downbeat for long. The American Police Hall of Fame & Museum goes out of its way to be kid-friendly, and a wall of cop-supportive (and criminal-nonsupportive) crayon drawings suggests that law enforcement is indeed popular among local youth. Hands-on activities include putting on a policeman's hat, making your own badge, and sitting on a motorcycle, in a jail cell, an electric chair, a gas chamber, etc.
The museum tour ends with a glimpse of the future of law enforcement, circa 1987, represented by a life-size Robocop dummy and the patrol car from Blade Runner (painted safety orange from its cameo role in Back to the Future 2).
But the fun doesn't end here! For under twenty bucks anyone can rent a pistol at the museum's indoor firing range ("Personal instruction is included for people who have never shot a gun."). And for those who want still more, the museum has its own high-speed police helicopter, and provides air tours of the region piloted by a Brevard County sheriff's deputy.