Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The John Dillinger Museum: Hammond, IN

When I was looking for things to do in Hammond, I found the John Dillinger Museum.  I didn't expect to see it.  The information I read indicated they close at 4 pm so there is no way I can go after work.  When I drive to my hotel for the first time I am surprised to learn that the museum is in the Indiana Welcome Center which is next door to my hotel.

One day there were several cars still in the parking lot when I went by around 4:15 so I decided to stop and double check the hours.  They are actually open until 5 during the summer.  I pay my $4 and go in for the tour.  No photography allowed.

I broke the rules for this since it doesn't show anything critical but helps my story.  There were three or four of these throughout the museum.  This one was right as I came inside. (I would like to note that I am the only person in the museum and there isn't even an attendant at the rope separating the museum from the gift shop, I moved it myself.)

The buttons operate lights that allow you to see into a room you otherwise cannot see.  The first one allows me to see Bruno Hauptmann's wax figure as I am executing him by pressing the button and activating the electric chair.  Another allows you to see the bloody body of Dillinger as he lays on the street where he was shot and one lets you see his body on display at the morgue (apparently this was a common practice at that time).

There are a lot of wax figures here, some of John and his gang, some of women he was known to have dated or associated with.  A couple are of law enforcement officers.  There is a really creepy one of Mary Kinder, one of "Dillinger's Women" (there is even a website by that name:  dillingerswomen.com).  Looking at the wax dummies I learned that Baby Face Nelson was really short.  He barely came to my shoulder.

In the first part of the museum there are multiple photos of John as a baby (where did it all go so wrong?), his parents, his grandparents, his sister and the homestead.  I am a little surprised at the number of them and that family and others would be willing to donate them to the museum.  I would have expected them to NOT want him memorialized in this way.  The personal effects continue when you get to see a letter to his wife and his divorce papers (he was married to Beryl Hovious from 1924-1929).  There are pictures of him with his baseball team, in the Navy and at the 1933 World's Fair.  You really get the sense he was a normal person, until you turn the corner and the crime spree begins.

A timeline wall provides interesting context to what is going in in the world at the time of John Dillinger's crimes.  This includes things like who is the president, who won the World Series, music and literary events, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, prohibition, the depression and more.  You can also learn about gangster vocabulary in cause you don't know that "loot" and "stolen goods" are the same thing.

John and his gang robbed 12 banks in 14 months and there is a replica bank complete with several wax figures.  I almost jumped out of my skin when the motion sensor caused the dummies to start talking.  There was a pretty long delay between my entering the bank and the beginning of the recording so I wasn't prepared.  I also think that one of the narrators in another display sounds like John Wayne, so much so that I assumed they were showing a clip from one of his movies.

There is one interactive section of the museum:

A small part is dedicated to the formation of the FBI.  Let me just say, it is really hard to take your own photo on a lineup wall.

My fingerprint card.  I had to do this myself as there is no one in the place except me.  I assume they usually have an employee here during 'peak hours', whatever those are.  This isn't my first fingerprinting.  I worked at a bank several years ago so I was fingerprinted back then. My bank was never robbed.  At least not while I worked there.

At the end of the tour there are more wax figures including a disturbing one of Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde) - who appears to be looking right at you - Clyde Barrow, Ma Barker and Billie Frechette.  You also see Anna Sage and Polly Hamilton, Dillinger's girlfriend and ultimately, his betrayer.

There are boards on a wall near the end you can flip over to see the various fates of the Dillinger gang.  Right above that is the actual wicker basket they transported his body in.  This, the photos of his "death mask" and the wax of his body on the autopsy table round out a creepy finale.

If you are interested in crime, Dillinger or unusual museums, definitely make this a stop if you are in the Chicago area.  For $4 you can't really go wrong.

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