Sunday, May 18, 2008

The National Museum of Crime and Punishment

Washington, D.C.

America's fascination with crime will take a new turn Friday -- opening day for the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

In film classics such as "Little Caesar" and "Dial M for Murder" and today's TV staples of "CSI" and "Law & Order," crime has long been glorified. This new museum seeks to downplay the fame given to criminals and spotlight law enforcement's investigative work.

The 28,000-square-foot facility, in the revitalized Penn Quarter section of the capital not far from the National Mall, also will be the new home of the popular Fox television show "America's Most Wanted."

At least once a month, host John Walsh will film the show in a basement studio that also will house the call-in center where viewers submit tips on suspects highlighted in the weekly episodes. Museum visitors can explore the studio and have their children fingerprinted and photographed for free.

The museum is designed to educate the public on the punishments criminals face and the work that goes into catching the bad guys, Walsh said. "Yes, you'll see some fascinating criminals, but you'll see the real heroes," he said.

A history of American crime leads visitors through the winding hallway with information on crime and punishment in several time periods. Visitors can place their head and arms in colonial stocks, participate in a Wild West shootout and flip through mug shots of infamous criminals.

Beyond the historical galleries, visitors can view the bullet-riddled car from the 1967 film "Bonnie and Clyde (shown above)," try to fool a lie detector, participate in a police lineup and attempt to escape from prison.

A replica of legendary gangster Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is re-created down to the crack in the ceiling and the peeling paint on the walls. The gallery also contains several other cells with artifacts on display, including crafts made by inmates at Louisiana's Angola state prison.

Another gallery, an exhibit on the death penalty, holds scale models of a gas chamber, an electric chair and a guillotine.

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