Museum of Death: A Life Force in Hollywood
February 2, 2017
The goal of the Museum of Death is to bury the notion of negativity – and “make people happy to be alive,” as its literature states. Begun in 1995 in San Diego by the husband and wife team of J.D. Healy and Catherine Schultz, the museum moved to Hollywood in 2000.
“We’re located ‘where the stars end and the darkness begins,’ assistant museum director Ryan Lichten says. “That’s one of the tag lines on our flier, because one block over, the Walk of Fame stars end – or begin, depending on which direction you’re coming from,” he smiles.
“The whole emphasis here is to bring visitors closer to what most people fear – which is death. We don’t really talk about it in America. You don’t think about it until it happens. It’s a sterile thing here, but in other countries it’s a celebration of life, not a mourning of a loss. In other places they’ll parade the dead through the streets,” Lichten notes.
The museum features exhibits from artwork about death to letters from serial killers. “We have items relating to execution and capital punishment, funerary ephemera from the Victorian era up to the present, a collection of human and animal skulls, and taxidermy,” Lichten explains
The museum encompasses about twelve sections, and is packed with exhibitions and memorabilia. View crime scene photos, a Charles Manson exhibit, a display on a suicide cult, and one on deaths in California. The subject may seem grim, but Lichten relates that a visit to the museum often serves to uplift the guests that pass through it’s doors – without passing on.
“We want to encourage you to get out and live your life,” he says. “It’s all real, we don’t pull any punches. It’s really educational if you get past the initial shock of seeing what you’re seeing. Most people walk out of here with a smile on their faces, feeling great to be alive.”
The museum opened a second location in New Orleans a year ago, but the original location here features unique-to-California exhibits including those focused on the deaths of Hollywood celebrities, and local tragedies such as the still-unsolved Black Dahlia murder case.
From body bags to a coffin collection, anything you can think of relating to death is here. There are mortuary apparatuses, mourning jewelry, and even a video showing a real embalming. From funeral objects to death care, most of the objects are American.
The Museum of Death offers a self-guided tour the lasts just about an hour, and visitors range from the young to the elderly. “We recently had a bus group of over fifty 75 and up senior women visit us, and we’ve also hosted high school field trips. Everyone dies, so really everyone has a reason to check out the museum,” Lichten asserts.
The museum and it’s staff enjoy their location right on Hollywood Boulevard, and Lichten reports that their address is “just far enough off the Walk of Fame” that it’s not considered a part of the more tourist-centric exhibits on the boulevard. The Museum of Death is not a conventional tourist attraction. But Lichten notes “We have a large following from all around the world. People visit from everywhere, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to be located on one of the most popular streets on the planet.” For the living, that is.
Museum of Death
6031 Hollywood Blvd.
Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and journalist, and produced screen and television writer. Passionate about everything-Los Angeles, you can see her work in the arts on her own www.diversionsLA.com.