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National Museum of Crime & Punishment

January 23, 2013
Kathleen Molloy
National Museum of Crime & Punishment
575 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20004
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The Crime and Punishment Museum presents the very nature of offenses and torture through history, from the Dark Ages to the present day. For that reason, I recommend the museum for ages 13 and up. The nature of what is on display is sometimes graphic and intense. It can be harsh, but it is important to educate society about crime.

When you enter the museum, you'll start your visit on the second floor then work your way down. During the self-guided tour of the museum, several interactive questions ask children about making the right choices when talking to strangers, the steps to take in an emergency, internet safety and cyber bullying. It's when you get to the second floor that things get ugly. History begins with a brutal look at crime and punishment in the Dark Ages. On display are physical and psychological torture devices which were too graphic to look at. You'll learn about the scarlet letter, witchcraft and slavery in this area.

A little less violent is an exhibit about the most notorious pirate in history. Known for crimes of stealing goods, weapons, and ships, Blackbeard never killed anyone. Artifacts include an 18th century sword and swivel cannon. I enjoyed the Wild West piece about the history of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid, and Mexican revolutionary general, Pancho Villa. The most famous outlaw, Jesse James, has several artifacts here, some of which you may want to exercise caution letting your children see like the blood-stained floor boards from where he died. Feel the loneliness of the Cochise County jail cell or channel Wyatt Earp in an O.K. Corral type game. Look for the rare photo taken of Apache chief, Geronimo. Crank the wheel to reveal who the bad vs. the good guys were in the west like Alan Pinkerton. It was Pinkerton who established the first U.S. detective agency and whose logo penned the term private eye.

The Crimes of the Great Depression exhibit may make some a little uneasy. The first part reveals information about bank robbers like "Baby Face" Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd whose first robbery was stealing $350 in pennies. The original 1934 Ford riddled with bullets that led to the demise of Bonnie and Clyde can be seen here. There's an eyebrow from mobster John Dillinger and Al Capone's rosary and a recreation of his lap of luxury cell at Eastern State Penitentiary. Interactive activities like cracking the combination of a safe and the escape from jail game were interesting. However, the constant sound of machine gunfire in the mob area was too much for me to handle. Other exhibits include cold cases, crime and the media, art theft, biological warfare, crimes against marine mammals, and the reason behind the Amber Alert.

I did enjoy the gallery titled "Punishment: The Consequence of Crime." The mock police station is set up with a booking area, police line-up, interactive lie detector test, and jail cell with an escape tunnel. There is also an interactive area where you can have a copy of your fingerprint taken as a souvenir. Children who want to be future police officers can learn about protecting the law, hear about famous animals used on the job, see uniforms, step on a police motorcycle, and challenge themselves to a physical fitness test. A highlight was to learn about Alice Stebbins Wells, the first female police officer in the U.S. Two activities kids will enjoy are interacting with a thermal imaging camera and using a robot defuse a bomb. Skip the firearm simulator if you have younger children. It's reminiscent of a violent video game.

The first floor of the museum was my favorite. The entire floor is known as the CSI Experience. Delve deep into the world of a crime scene by listening to a video and follow the interactive station to reveal clues on how to solve the case. See the contents of a crime scene investigation kit and fingerprint recovery kit used by real detectives, use a device to detect radioactive material in packages. Investigate fingerprint patterns using special computer software, fingerprint fuming, and differentiate shoe impressions. Learn how forensics are used to solve crimes. The most fascinating part of this exhibit is the Autopsy table. While scanning the victim's body, a video illustrates clues about the wounds that occurred during a crime.

The basement contains an interactive studio from the set of America's Most Wanted. Get in front of the green screen, but beware, walk by a certain area and you may have your picture taken for child identification.

Bathrooms are located on every floor. The Cop Shop sells bottled beverages, ice cream, candy and some kid friendly souvenirs. If you purchase your tickets online, admission is: free for children under 5, $14 for ages 5 to 11, and $15 for ages 12 and older. If you purchase tickets at the museum, expect to pay $1 to $7 more per ticket. Add on options include an audio tour or CSI workshop for an extra fee. They also host birthday parties and CSI summer camp. The museum is open daily, but check their website as the hours vary. They are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. The closest metro stop is Gallery Place a half block away.

While the Crime and Punishment Museum was graphic in parts, that is the reality of it. Crime and punishment are not pretty or happy; they are sick and destructive. We all know that tragedies occur on a regular basis. However, out of evil can come good, out of tragedy, healing can occur. If anything, the museum made me do the following: 1) thank members of law enforcement and the military for their heroism and dedication to protecting our nation, and 2) hug my child and never stop reminding her who the good guys versus the bad guys are.

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