Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Crime Sprees for Tourists

If Alcatraz can be one of the top tourist destinations in San Francisco (and it is), then why shouldn't New York state's infamous Sing Sing prison rake in the tourist bucks, too?

Ossining, N.Y., apparently thinks so. As USA Today reported recently, city leaders are hoping to turn the one-time home of such notorious crooks as Mafia boss Lucky Luciano and serial bank robber Willie Sutton into a tourist trap by building a museum inside the prison walls (currently a slammer-centric museum is located elsewhere in the town).

Ahh, I can see it now ...

Warning: You must be THIS TALL to enter the 'Be My Bitch' simulator ...

"Junior! Junior! Get down from that electric chair this instant..."

"Mommy, can I get the shank? Can I? Can I?"

But there are concerns, the newspaper points out:

"It ... raises an uncomfortable chapter in Sing Sing's history. In the 19th century, visitors could pay a quarter to gawk at inmates. Would a museum turn prisoners into an attraction and sensationalize the electric chair?

"'Tourists flocked to Sing Sing in the 1920s,' said a New York Times editorial critical of the plan. 'Back then they also formed big crowds at community lynchings and freak shows.'"

Ossining town fathers, for their part, say they are shocked -- shocked! -- that anyone would think the museum would be anything other than tastefully done. Westchester County Executive Andrew Spanso told USA Today, ostensibly with a straight face, that "we're certainly not ghoulish and morbid."

Of course they are ghoulish and morbid. They're human beings.

To the sanctimonious ivory-tower hand-wringers of The New York Times and other beacons of moral rectitude, I say this: Give me a friggin' break. America's fascination with the criminal and the depraved, while unquestionably morbid, is as much a part of our collective psyche as motherhood, apple pie and conspicuous consumption. To suggest otherwise is, well, disingenuous and a touch nauseating.

What sparks such interest in the macabre is for greater sociologists than yours truly to ponder. Maybe it reveals nothing more than the allure of a life untamed. Perhaps there is a vicarious thrill to the world of the bloodthirsty id. But let's not kid ourselves that such fascination isn't there -- how else to explain the popularity of true crime books, Court TV, "CSI," "The Sopranos" and the like? -- and let's not be too disparaging of it, either. Hell, the Romans set lions and tigers and bears (oh, my) loose on thousands of gladiators at the Colosseum, and that was the world's greatest civilization up to that time (sadly, the Romans paid dearly with exorbitant workers' comp rates).

I was in Chicago a few years back and was damn disappointed to find out that long ago the Windy City bid adieu to the warehouse that was the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, where in 1929 henchmen loyal to Al Capone mowed down seven members of Bugs Moran's rival gang.

For the record, I have to admit that I'm one of those sick bastards interested in such off-the-grid stuff. In Austin, I was compelled to visit the University of Texas belltower where Charles Whitman went on a shooting spree back in 1966. Many times in Dallas I have scoured Dealey Plaza and the site of the Kennedy assassination. In Los Angeles, I went to the address of the home (since rebuilt) where the Manson family killed Sharon Tate and a house full of guests. During trips to New York City, I've made a point of having lunch at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy, where renegade Mafiosi "Crazy Joey" Gallo was slain in 1972.

In my hometown of Oklahoma City, I've spooked myself out many a time wandering past the Heritage Hills mansion where Machine Gun Kelly and his gang kidnapped oilman Charles Urschel in the summer of 1933. And in San Francisco, I made the obligatory touristy stroll through Alcatraz (where Kelly spent the final years of his life for the aforementioned kidnapping), and I came close -- but ultimately just couldn't -- visit the infamous Black House where snake-oil salesman Anton LeVay conjured up his Church of Satan.

Does all this make me a sick puppy? I don't think so. Being intrigued by the insidious isn't the same as embracing it. In fact, it might just be the most law-abiding among us who are the most deeply curious about those who actually do walk on the whacked-out side. And although we're not in Park City, Kan., to know, we suspect that as of this writing plenty of gawkers are driving past the home of the alleged BTK murderer. And maybe, just maybe, the Wichita area will be able to see a modest spike in economic activity as a result.

So let 'em open a museum in Sing Sing prison. If I ever happen to be traveling through upstate New York, I'd probably stop to check it out and maybe even pick up a fridge magnet in the gift shop.


At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree we should admit are fascination macabre. I will admit that I have been to the sight of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend who's name escapes me know. Won't sign under my Blogger identity though.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See what happens when Red Dirt stops policing the blogs for grammatical errors.

I had Ambien-spun cotton head this morning. I remembered Ron Goldman (may he rest in peace) on my way to work this morning.

Society should admit its fascination with the macabre.

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