The Museum of Historic Torture Devices

Warning: The gallery content in the middle and toward the end of this post is graphic, so reader discretion is advised.

I find it deeply amusing that this sign hangs over Go Go Pony.

One of the most oddball features of Wisconsin Dells, where I recently traveled to, is that in this oasis of waterparks, go-karts, and arcades, sits the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, slightly off the beaten path of Broadway Avenue in downtown Dells, with its 27 fudge shops (slight exaggeration), boat tours and even a THC shop.

I don’t know about you all, but my thing when I travel to somewhere new (or even somewhere familiar!), is to find the neat museums or “gem” museums to visit. Those museums can cover virtually anything, and I’m likely to be interested, from history to space to art to pop culture to even quilting. Admittedly, there was a Harley-Davidson one on my way into the Dells that I was not interested in. There actually wasn’t a whole lot of museum options in or close to the Dells other than the Harley-Davidson one, and the Museum of Historic Torture Devices.

If anyone has followed this blog for long enough to gain even some traction within my psyche, then you know I am all about visiting a museum dedicated to “historic torture devices,” as well as one that promises the best, most detailed exhibit on infamous serial killer, John Wayne Gacy. That is my wheelhouse. As I always couch it, for whatever reason, I’ve always been fascinated by true crime as a general matter, and serial killers as a specific matter. But broadly speaking, I’m also interested in history, and I find it fascinating, if deeply troubling, the ways in which humans have devised to torture each other over the years. The implements, tools, and devices run the gambit from basic hell with respect to the ingenuity (like boiling you alive, for example) to whomever-came-up-with-this-is-the-devil with respect to ingenuity (like the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg). I’m pretty sure the filmmakers and scriptwriters behind the Saw series would either love this museum, or it was literally their go-to source for inspiration.

Ambiance. They also had the Halloween theme playing in another corner of the Museum.

Interestingly, the Museum had the electric chair, but I think it is time to add another one to the list that is still in vogue today in the United States: lethal injection. Given how many botched executions have occurred because states are often using the wrong combination of drugs or dosage (owing to the difficulty in obtaining them), it amounts to torture and cruel and unusual punishment in my estimation.

Another one would be solitary confinement, also still in vogue in the United States. Or, if I’m feeling more radical, I would just say prison in and of itself is a form of torture.

There could be an entire interesting dissertation to be had (and I’m sure there is one!) about why it is that humans across all cultures, religions, ethnicities, and time have not only utilized torture of the most grotesque forms, but that other humans not only approved, but took glee in its usages. And mind you, these barbaric implements of torture weren’t just used on what we would consider the “worst of the worst” in modern times, but thieves, those who wronged the king, those considered “mad,” and for drinking, brawling, adultery, and so on.

The worst torture I saw in a museum dedicated to awful torture was actually one of the last ones I saw on my way out: Rat Torture. This “cheap and effective” way to torture someone consisted of forcing a rat through a victim’s body (usually the intestines) as a way of escape. To do this, they would restrain the victim, place the rat inside a metal container on the victim’s stomach, and heat the container; thus, the only way out for the rat would be through the victim’s stomach.

“The victim almost invariantly died after a few agonizing hours of the rat tunneling through his innards.”

Reading that made my body literally cringe more than anything else at the museum. Ugh. No thank you.

Here are the photos I took of the torture devices and their descriptions:

Another fair warning that the gallery after the following text is even more graphic.

But what torture museum would be replete without an exhibit on notorious serial killers, such as John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and two others I’m blanking on at the moment? In fact, as I was paying my admission to the museum, the curator said to me, “Are you familiar with John Wayne Gacy?” I said I was. He then said the Museum had the most exclusive Gacy exhibit around, and that if I know Gacy, I will appreciate it. Something to that effect.

Gacy was a clown in his day job, and a serial killer and sex offender at night, raping, torturing and murdering at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s. His victims were buried under his house in Chicago in the crawl space. The exhibit at the Museum featured images of some of those corpses recovered (yes, I know I’m really weird), newspaper clippings of his arrest and conviction, and even his infamous paintings of … Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? The exhibit also featured “Gacy’s Library” and “Gacy’s Playthings.” The former contained a bunch of dirty magazines (some more explicit than others), and the playthings, well, that’s self-explanatory.

At the end of the museum, I obviously paid the $1 to sit in the “toy” electric chair, where it simulates a shock in you as you hold the handles. I did this once as a kid at the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum in Tennessee. This one only had one handle for one hand; I was later told by the curator they had complaints about it being two intense with two handles, so they turned off one of them. Which, I can see that! Because even one handle was actually pretty intense of a “shock” feeling. If it had gone on for a few seconds longer, I would have started to get uncomfortable.

… and that’s the “toy” version.

So, if you’re ever in Dells Wisconsin and want something different, you can’t get more different than the Museum of Historic Torture Devices.

Do you want to play a game?

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