What started as the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, D.C. is now Alcatraz East in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This museum showcases memorabilia from crime-related movies, evidence from high-profile murder cases, historic punishment devices, and even personal items from serial killers. If you’re interested in TV shows that showcase solving murders and other crimes, you will probably enjoy this museum. Now, while I agree that the stories being told are intriguing, I believe visitors should behave with decorum. Posing with a smile and peace sign with Ted Bundy’s VW Bug is not okay. Please show some respect for the victims.
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Pigeon Forge, Tennessee | alcatrazeast.com
Address: 2757 Parkway
Honestly, I never know how to approach talking about museums like this. As with any museum that talks about heavy situations, death, and tragedy, it’s a reminder that some people are capable of horrible things and that these awful stories we’ve all heard are true; the victims and their families are real people. It also serves as a call to action: how can we be better people and help prevent these horrible events from happening again?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy walking through Alcatraz East. I suppose it’s the same part of me that enjoys watching Investigation Discovery and playing whodunit games like Clue. It’s unnerving to see items like John Wayne Gacy’s paintings in a museum; we definitely shouldn’t be celebrating these people. But, like it or not, serial killers are often household names, and I can see the historic significance of their personal items and also in showing them as regular people. Regular people can be absolute monsters.
The original museum was built in Washington, D.C. by John Morgan in a partnership with the host of America’s Most Wanted, John Walsh. It closed in 2015 with Alcatraz East, modeled after the famed Alcatraz island prison, opening in 2016 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
So, just what can you see at Alcatraz East?
- Historic torture devices, many of which were geared towards women, like the Head Cage and Shrew’s Violin
- Artifacts from the Wild West and notorious gangs like the Jesse James Gang
- A cartoonish copy of Pancho Villa’s death mask (complete with mustache)
- John Dillinger’s car, death mask, and eyebrow hair (yes, actual eyebrow hair. How random is that?)
- Original items owned by Bonnie and Clyde
- Prop guns from Scarface and The Godfather
- John Wayne Gacy’s clown costumes and other person items
- A replica of Al Capone’s prison cell
- Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen Beetle (note that he removed the passenger seat to make room for his victims. Terrifying.)
- The white Ford Bronco from the OJ Simpson chase
- A guillotine, electric chair, and gas chamber
- A CSI room that lets visitors try their hand at solving crimes based on evidence from crime scenes
- And so much more
The museum could be very interesting to older children, especially those interested in criminal justice. There’s an interactive scavenger hunt that can be added to your ticket that may make the museum more fun for kids, but be aware that the prize is only a sticker.
Pro Tip: Go early! We arrived without purchasing advance tickets at opening time and went straight in. By the time we came back out, the line was wrapping the building.
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Are you interested in true crime stories? Do you think this is a museum that you would be interested in? Will you be adding it to your Smoky Mountains or Pigeon Forge itinerary? What do you think of these items being on display for the public? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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