Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Police Museum

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The Cleveland Police Museum is one of those places I never knew existed, partly because it’s located inside the Justice Center, and as I’ve never been arrested, and am frankly kind of intimidated by the building, I’ve never had reason to venture in.  Its unique location means you get to take a trip through the metal detector/bag scanner before entering.  Then, you’ll need to sign in under the watchful eye of an officer once you make your way over to the corner of the ground floor that houses the museum.  However, all the inconvenience of the security measures is probably worth it, because the museum is surprisingly entertaining, in spite of its small size.

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We were greeted by the wax police horse and policeman shown above.  The policeman actually kind of freaked me out, because I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking someone was standing beside me, when really it was just the mannequin. The room has a line of cases down the centre to act as a dividing line, and the walls are cluttered with photos and other cool stuff.  I have to give props to whoever made the signs, as they were written using charming Kevin McCallister style diction.

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“Olden Days Bad Guys.”  I love it!  Although probably the olden days bad guys wouldn’t have been quite so enamoured with the museum, as I think all of the ones featured here were executed for their crimes. They actually had various generations of “bad guys” up until modern times.  McGruff the Crime Dog was also included in these cases, although I always want to refer to him as McGriff thanks to that episode of the Simpsons.  But I digress. On the opposite wall, I learned about the history of the mounted police in Cleveland, and enjoyed looking at a collection of old photos, including those of old police headquarters.  I believe the earliest one was where the Terminal Tower (my favourite skyscraper ever) stands now, which, based off the photos I saw last year at the Maltz Museum (see how everything comes together!), was made up of shanty towns which were also demolished to build the tower.

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Really, I had visited because I heard they had a section devoted to the Kingsbury Run Murders (aka the Torso Murders), and as I’ve established, I do have a morbid fascination with that sort of thing.  Judging by the impressive display, I’m not the only one.  I’m going to go ahead and conclude that American sensibilities are less delicate than Danish ones (or British ones for that matter, they won’t even let you in to the London Police Museum unless you’re an officer!) because the gory crime scene photos of the murder victims were just hanging there on the wall, along with the fake heads made of the victims to help the public identify them.  I was a little perplexed by this, as my understanding of the Torso Murders was that only the torsos of the individuals were found (hence the name), but apparently a couple of the heads turned up later, which is how they were able to make the masks.  Twelve people were killed (at least, twelve whose bodies they recovered), and most of them were never identified, as they tended to be quite poor and perhaps didn’t have families.  The killer was never found, but as these happened in the ’30s, there’s probably not much point worrying about the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” now.  Fascinating stuff, though undeniably grisly.

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On a lighter (?) note, there’s a jail cell in the back, so you can climb in and have the fun of pretending to be in prison!  Across from it is a collection of unusual weapons confiscated by the police, so I marvelled for a bit at the vast array of guns that can apparently be constructed from pipes and things.  There were also sections dedicated to the first female and African American officers to serve on the Cleveland Police Force, and I especially enjoyed the recruiting pamphlets for women handed out (I think they were from the ’40s, but can’t remember), when female officers weren’t yet allowed to carry guns, since they were mostly engaged in undercover work.  It also answered helpful questions on the uniform, and whether or not you would carry a purse.

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The other side of the museum was not quite so interesting as the first, although I did enjoy the section on Eliot Ness (of Untouchables fame), who served as Public Safety Director of Cleveland after dealing with the mob in Chicago, and managed to make Cleveland one of the safest cities of America, traffic-wise.  I don’t know whether that’s still true, but the man clearly did impressive things in his time (I’ve been to see his grave, he’s buried in Lake View Cemetery with most of the other famous Clevelanders if anyone’s interested).  Most of the rest was about police vehicles, which doesn’t really do much for me. Car museums bore me to tears, so I didn’t really linger here, though I imagine some people would be keen.

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There was a small shop located at the back of the museum (I had to wait quite a while for the woman working there to emerge, but I guess they’re not too worried about theft in the Justice Center!), that had a few old-school Cleveland postcards, and a range of books and things.  There are a few more cases scattered around the museum holding old uniforms, and telling the story of an attempted hijacking at nearby Burke Lakefront Airport (back in the ’70s or ’80s) which I was absolutely intrigued by, since I’d never heard about it before (and haven’t been able to turn anything up about it on subsequent internet searches.  Bizarre), that are well worth a look on your way out.  I really only took the time to study them in detail as it had started pouring rain outside, and I was waiting for it to die down, but I’m glad I did.

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I was pleasantly surprised by the Cleveland Police Museum.  Although it is a modest size, and getting in can be kind of a hassle if you go when staff are returning from lunch, there was some neat artefacts on show.  And I’m always grateful when police museums actually welcome the public (yeah, I’m looking at you London).  3.5/5

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