Obey the Law and Live.

American Police Museum (Gone)

Field review by the editors.

Chicago, Illinois

In a town bristling with gangster attractions, it's refreshing to see things from the law enforcement perspective. The magnet for us was the rumor of a "working electric chair," but the American Police Center & Museum holds plenty of other surprises.

The parking lot is surrounded by a high, spiked fence. Museum employees are safe behind thick glass, authorizing and buzzing in visitors, then monitoring from the offices. The museum is a gymnasium-sized room, subdivided into thematic display alcoves. A Batman dummy is poised to jump from the rafters high above.

The collection and museum was started in 1974; this location was opened in 1986. There's plenty of cop-o-bilia -- police badge and shield displays, patches, uniforms of many time periods and many nations.

"Good Olde Police Days" features b/w photos of happy coppers before the gangsters ruled. There are photos of the Haymarket riot of 1886; the famous "Czar Bomb" -

Drug Coffin.

- first dynamite bomb thrown in America May 4, 1886, and the Great Anarchist Trial.

Gangster Stuff

The real fun starts in "Gangster Alley," a potpourri of Chicago gangland justice memorabilia: bootlegging weapons, John Dillinger's Biograph Theater seat (plus one of his death masks), and a gun used by Bonnie Parker. There's a display of Jim Beam whiskey decanters modeled after 1920-30's patrol cars.

Next to Gangster Alley is an electric chair -- actually, a replica, created for the movie "Lepke." The chair is rigged with a buzzer and noisemaker. The museum also has a new electric chair affectionately called "Thunderbolt," up from Texas.

Drug Coffin

The most striking exhibit is in a section called "The Horror of Drug Addiction." A monotonous drum track plays as a recorded officer warns us about drugs. The display is a coffin upholstered with carefully labeled drugs, pills, rolling papers, hashish, roach clips, crack pipes, syringes, and 35mm film canisters. A large b/w photo shows a 16 year old female addict oozing from head to toe with hypo abscesses. "NOT VERY PRETTY, IS IT?" the audio tape asks.

A Somber Note

No police museum is complete without a Memorial Section that pays tribute to brave, slain officers. While an audiotape plays a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace," the woman narrator reminds us that the police "protect people like yourselves from becoming victims of crime." These sections always make us feel guilty about enjoying the criminal exhibits so much...

Before you leave, take advantage of the Mug Shot Photo Op. "Take a mugshot souvenir picture of yourself with your own camera!"

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November 24, 2014

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