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Medieval Torture Museum.
Masks of Shame were designed to embarrass --as well as torture -- those forced to wear them.

Medieval Torture Museum

Field review by the editors.

St. Augustine, Florida

If modern life gets you down, then a visit to the Medieval Torture Museum might be the attitude adjustment you need, at least in the opinion of its creator, Eugene Grach.

The gagging tongue: another victim of the gallows.
The gagging tongue: another victim of the gallows.

Eugene, originally from the Ukraine, exudes American optimism and is "a big teddy bear" according to museum manager Lorrie Olin. Although his museum would look familiar to any Hellraiser fan, he has no interest in gore or horror. "I am very far away from tortures," he told us. "I don't even watch the scary movies."

Eugene said that he fell into his role of torture impresario by accident. On a whim, while visiting the Czech Republic, his wife dragged him into a torture museum, but it was just old equipment displayed behind glass. Eugene felt curiously disappointed. "You cannot touch anything. You don't have real feelings," he recalled. What good is a torture museum, he thought, if it doesn't make you feel bad about torture?

Desiccated corpse on the Breaking Wheel.
Desiccated corpse on the Breaking Wheel.

So Eugene decided to bring European torture to America, and do it in a way that would leave a lasting impression.

He chose St. Augustine because it was founded in 1565 -- the closest thing to a medieval city in the U.S. -- and governed for centuries by the Spanish, who were notorious historical torturers.

Some people were hung in the Gibbet alive. They didn't stay that way.
Some people were hung in the Gibbet alive. They didn't stay that way.

Eugene stocked his museum with hundreds of horrific devices, reconstructed for him by movie prop-builders using pieces of real medieval torture equipment that he purchased from a variety of "very, very weird people." To increase the shock value of the racks, saws, and bone crushers, Eugene wanted to display them with torture victim wax dummies, but found that such things didn't exist. "We learn that there is no way to buy the bodies," he said. "So we need to learn how to make our own bodies." Eugene paid live actors to pose as if being impaled, pulped, or skinned alive, then used their performances as models for his wax figures.

The resulting museum, its windows covered in burlap, is a dark destination in a city known for its sunny Fountain of Youth (but to be fair, St. Aug also used to be home to the Tragedy in U.S. History Museum).

Individual rooms, lit by candles, are fitted out as real torture chambers. Large devices and their waxy victims occupy the floor, while the dungeon-like walls are covered with torture illustrations, bolted-on accessory equipment -- whips, chains, branding irons -- and smeared with fake blood. Sound effects of moans, sawing, and unidentifiable squishing fills the museum. "It's scary. It looks scary. It sounds scary," said Lorrie. "It's give you much more feelings," said a satisfied Eugene. "It's better to know what has been in past, so not to repeat ever."

Lurid descriptions accompany many of the devices, explaining their history and function. The Mechanical Pear, for example, has a whimsical name, but you wouldn't want it stuck into one of your body cavities.

Hungry rats enjoy a hot meal.
Hungry rats enjoy a hot meal.

We asked Lorrie and Eugene what inspired visitors to view exhibits in a torture museum. "You know it's not gonna be good, but you want to see it anyway," said Lorrie. Eugene was more succinct. "It's like a car accident."

Hooded torturer awaits his next unhappy client.
Hooded torturer awaits his next unhappy client.

Several of the torture devices have signs with the word "Pull," encouraging tourists to participate by dunking a trussed-up woman, roasting a man alive inside a bronze bull, swinging a disemboweling pendulum, or peeking into the Chest of Dismemberment. Visitors can also play the role of victims: sitting in the spiky Armchair of Inquiries, posing in the Pillory and the Drunkard's Cloak, or weighing themselves to see if they're too heavy to be a witch (Most modern American adults are). As memory aids, the museum sells miniatures of several torture devices in its gift shop, including a six-inch-high Iron Maiden.

Does the Medieval Torture Museum accomplish its goal of helping Americans appreciate post-medieval life? Results are mixed. Both Lorrie and Eugene said that some visitors leave the museum crying, and some simply turn around and walk out. Others however, really seem to enjoy it. "I've had people call and ask if they could get married in the torture museum," said Lorrie. "I said, 'Ohhh-kay. Just let me know when the time comes.'"

Despite the occasional miscues, Eugene remains confident that his Medieval Torture Museum has successfully put things in perspective, and stresses that its purpose is tough love, not gratuitous torment.

"Life is not always the honey and the ice cream," he said. "Really, what's going on around us is not bad at all. We live in a beautiful country. Don't be spoiled."

Medieval Torture Museum

100 St. George St., St. Augustine, FL
In the historic district Spanish Plaza. Inside a yellow building on the southwest corner of St. George and Hypolita. Entrance is on the west side of St. George St., just south of its intersection with Hypolita St. Hypolita is a one-way alley and St. George is pedestrian-only. You'll have to park elsewhere.
Daily 10-10 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $13, or $17 combined with Micro Masterpieces Gallery.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Micro Masterpieces GalleryMicro Masterpieces Gallery, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
Pirate and Treasure MuseumPirate and Treasure Museum, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
Thwarted Footsteps of Andrew YoungThwarted Footsteps of Andrew Young, St. Augustine, FL - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Cancer Survivors Sculpture, Jacksonville, FL - 37 mi.

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