The Living Dead Museum.
Undead stars: The zombie from "Zombie," Michael Jackson from "Thriller," and Bub from "Day of the Dead."

The Living Dead Museum

Field review by the editors.

Monroeville, Pennsylvania

Monroeville Mall is the setting of the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead. For many horror fans it's an icon -- the zombie Roswell -- and its status as a destination only increased when its Living Dead Museum re-opened after an eight-year absence.

The Living Dead Museum.
Bill Hinzman: the first of Romero's many shambling ghouls.

The museum, brainchild of civic booster and film fan Kevin Kriess, began in 2008 as a small shrine in Kevin's Monroeville Mall toy store. Kevin wanted to pay tribute to Pittsburgh director George Romero, whose films transformed the Mall -- and nearby Evans City -- into the birthplace of the modern-day flesh-eating zombie. Over time the store grew smaller until it disappeared, and the shrine grew larger until it became a museum. Kevin moved it to Evans City in 2013, which proved to be too far off of the beaten path, and the Mall welcomed the museum back in July 2021.

Kevin told us that the museum, greatly expanded in scope, is now too big for him to think of moving it any more. And it has a prime spot on George Romero Court overlooking the Mall's George Romero bust -- two tributes created with Kevin's enthusiastic support (George, who died in 2017, has thus far not returned as a zombie).

The Living Dead Museum.
"Stay scared!" George Romero's bloody handprints on the Maul of Fame.

With a drop ceiling, fluorescent lighting, and large text panels, the museum is not what you'd expect for a place mostly devoted to cannibal ghouls who gruesomely murder the living. "It's not supposed to scare you," said Kevin. "It's a movie history museum, not a haunted attraction." There are multiple rooms, each with a different theme, as well as display alcoves and a hallway gallery. Kevin described its concept -- George Romero films, the Mall, the undead -- as "things that somehow connect in my mind."

The Living Dead Museum.
The actual "Dawn of the Dead" elevator is a museum highlight.

Visitors are greeted by the museum's well-traveled "Maul of Fame," a wall where notable figures from Romero films leave their handprints, dipped in blood-red paint, next to their autographs. George is here -- he imprinted on October 7, 2010 -- as well as supporting characters such as "1st Dead Ghoul" and "Gray Suit Zombie." George Kosana, who played the sheriff in Night of the Living Dead, signed with his best-remembered line from that film: "They're dead! They're all messed up!"

The Night of the Living Dead room features a custom dummy of Bill Hinzman, who played the first of what would eventually become thousands of murderous zombies in George Romero movies. A radio plays a broadcast heard in the film that introduced a key piece of zombie lore: "Survival Command Center at the Pentagon has disclosed that a ghoul can be killed by a shot in the head." Informational placards reveal that the 1968 black-and-white film's "blood" was actually chocolate syrup, that its original title was Night of the Flesh Eaters, and that nowhere in the film are its shambling corpses referred to as "zombies."

The Living Dead Museum.
Zombie-killing chainsaw from "Evil Dead 2."

The Dawn of the Dead room has the museum's most famous artifact: the original Mall elevator from which Stephen "Flyboy" Andrews emerges as a newly-minted member of the undead. Among the exhibited screen-used props are a SWAT team rifle and gas mask, fake body parts designed to spurt blood, cans of SPAM and Iron City beer, and an autographed Tom Savini machete half-buried in a human arm -- although Kevin said that it's probably not the one seen in Dawn of the Dead ("He did that same effect in Friday the 13th and a lot of other movies"). Informational signs reveal that the Mall's gun shop -- which played a pivotal role in the film -- was completely made up, and that 13 of the Mall's 143 stores told Romero to keep them off-screen.

Kevin's expanded view of the museum can be seen in its room featuring relics from Evil Dead 2: a movie that was not filmed by George Romero, or in the Mall, or even in Pennsylvania. "In my mind, the Evil Dead and Living Dead films are very similar," said Kevin, citing their cult status, their low-budget creation by young filmmakers launching their careers, "and they are both examples of some sort of living dead." Artifacts on display include a rubber rat, a ragged piece of a styrofoam "possessed" tree ("It was found in the woods 30 years later," said Kevin) and the entire shed where the film's protagonist kills his zombified girlfriend with a chainsaw, which is also on display.

The Living Dead Museum.
The lights survived, unlike the actors in the film.

One room is devoted exclusively to the Mall -- it exhibits part of an escalator ridden by zombies -- while another is devoted to Romero films that didn't have "Dead" in their titles. Its artifacts include Sylvia Grantham's cake-topper head from Creepshow and a door from The Crazies that's also covered with cast-members' bloody handprints. The Zombie Timeline room features dummies of "Bub" from Day of the Dead; Michael Jackson from his Thriller video; and a U.S. Army Trioxin Canister zombie from Return of the Living Dead, a 1985 film that, according to Kevin, introduced "fast zombies" and the idea that zombies like to eat brains.

Oddest of all, perhaps, are the museum's acknowledgements of other, gore-free movies that have been filmed in Monroeville Mall, an unexpected hodgepodge that includes Flashdance, The Boy Who Loved Trolls, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

Visitors exit into the gift shop, where they can buy pieces of the escalator, scraps from the shed, and bricks from parts of the Mall that have been torn down. "They're very popular," said Kevin of the relics. "We're running out of them. It's a finite supply."

Kevin said that although his original idea was simply to get more people to come into his toy store, he's pleased with the way that things have turned out. "I've always wanted to do something to highlight these films in Pittsburgh," he said, "even back in the early '80s when I thought that my career would be as an electrical engineer -- not something crazy like running a horror movie museum."

The Living Dead Museum

Monroeville Mall

Address:
248 Mall Circle Drive, Monroeville, PA
Directions:
Monroeville Mall. On the south side of US-22 around a mile west of the junction of I-76 and I-376. On the Mall's upper level.
Hours:
M, Th-Sa noon-9, Su noon-6 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
724-201-1825
Admission:
Adults $8.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Dawn of the Dead MallDawn of the Dead Mall, Monroeville, PA - < 1 mi.
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Joe Magarac - Steel Bending WorkerJoe Magarac - Steel Bending Worker, North Braddock, PA - 4 mi.
In the region:
Sit with Mr. Rogers, Latrobe, PA - 23 mi.

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