From paintings by serial killers to shrunken heads, New Orleans’s Museum of Death displays as many approaches to death as it can fit within its four walls.
Twenty years after opening the original museum in California, in 1995, founders J. D. Healy and Catherine Shultz brought their collection of body bags, autopsy videos, skeletons, pieces of taxidermy, letters and pictures sent to them by serial killers, and various other death-themed oddities to the French Quarter.
The exhibits, which can be very graphic, are not for those with faint hearts or weak stomachs. There is no age restriction because, as the website says, “WE ALL DIE,” but caution and consideration are urged. Those who do visit the Museum of Death who perhaps should not have and wind up fainting get free t-shirts that read “I passed out at the Museum of Death…and lived to talk about it.” They call them “falling down ovations” at the museum.
One of Dr. Kevorkian’s suicide machines is on display, as well as a business card from Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, who killed President John F. Kennedy. There are letters from serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, several paintings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, memorabilia (including hair recovered from the crime scene) from the O. J. Simpson trial, and Manson family photographs. And that’s just the beginning.
There are videos in which the death is not reenacted, it’s actually happening on the screen, which is a big part of the reason for Healy’s warning about who should visit. Exhibits on terrorism, cannibalism, and embalming are included, as well as a collection of shrunken heads.
Perusing all of this takes, on average, about 45 minutes, but visitors may stay longer if they like. Photographs are not allowed. The stated goal of the museum is to educate people about death and in so doing take away their fear of dying and make them happy to be alive. The founders want to spur the conversation around death, because too often it doesn’t come up until it is too late.
Know Before You Go
It's open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. $17 (+ tax) admission. No photography of any kind allowed and cameras not allowed inside.