Cincinnati Police Museum
We have a soft spot for police museums. From one-man projects in Phoenix, Arizona, to million-dollar operations in Titusville, Florida, they are a cell door slam of straight talk in an increasingly weasel-worded world. Good guys, bad guys, heroes, villains, crime, punishment. And murder weapons -- no good police museum is without at least one or two.
The Cincinnati Police Museum displays an entire case of murder weapons, donated by the late William Foster Hopkins, a flamboyant local defense attorney and the author of the book Murder Is My Business. "This case was in his office downtown," said Charlie Greenert, our guide. "All of these weapons were used in murders that he defended. We never could figure out how he got to keep them all."
The weapons -- including bombs, hammers, bayonets, and concrete blocks -- are tagged with colorful case names such as "The Bath Tub Murder" and "The Love Car Murder" that are probably also chapters in Hopkins' book. Charlie pointed to a broken lawnmower handle ("The Ulm Sex Murder") and explained that it was used by a man to sexually assault his wife. "She says, 'I don't want you doing that anymore,'" Charlie recalled. "He went ahead and did it anyway and she put three bullets in the top of his head."
The tag, like most of those in the case, has "Found not guilty" written at its end.
Another star exhibit at the museum is Handsome, the stuffed hero police dog, who's displayed in his own case and given a place of honor near the front door. "All of the kids love Handsome," Charlie told us, which makes us wonder why all police museums don't have stuffed police dogs as part of their youth outreach programs. Handsome was dead for almost a hundred years before Cincinnati opened a police museum to display him in -- a testament to good taxidermy and plain good luck, and a worthy postscript for a noble dog.
Most of the museum's displays have a local angle, with exhibits devoted to the department's semi-pro baseball team, its Sunday morning local TV show Police Call, and the courthouse riot of 1884 that left 56 dead, mostly from bullets fired by the Cincinnati police Gatling gun. A display on the ghetto riots of 1967 features a white policeman's uniform shirt that was dyed black by its owner, on the orders of the chief. "The shirts were all dyed that year," Charlie recalled. "That white shirt just made you a target at night."
Infamous 1930s Midwestern gangsters are propped around the museum as life-size cardboard stand-ups, including Alvin "Old Creepy" Karpis, Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, and Pretty Boy Floyd. Accompanying signs make it clear that their crimes did not pay. A display of handcuffs and leg irons, neatly framed, is according to Charlie only a fraction of the world's largest collection of restraints, acquired by a local man who has preferred to remain anonymous. Nearby, another glass case displays the custom-made truncheons of Cincinnati police officer Ernie Porter, especially resistant to breakage and "beautiful" according to its descriptive sign.
The one thing missing from the Cincinnati Police Museum is an electric chair, but Charlie told us that its members are working hard to get one. "We just applied for 'Old Sparky' [the official Ohio chair]," he said. "It's just sitting in a warehouse up in Columbus. We called the state, and they said that no one's ever asked for it. (We were as surprised by that as Charlie.) 'Send us a letter and we'll see what we can do.'"