I was fortunate enough to take part in the grand opening of Pigeon Forge’s newest attraction: Alcatraz East. The Tennessee-located crime museum offers five unique galleries delving into America’s history of criminal intent and crime prevention, with over 100 interactives for visitors to explore. After experiencing the walkthrough first hand, I have this to say: Alcatraz East is awesome. Here are some of my personal favorite things that the museum included.
1. John Wayne Gacy’s Clown Costumes
The Killer Clown known as John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer in Illinois during the 1970s. From ’72 to ’78 he sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men inside his home.
The creepiest thing about Gacy is that he was well liked by most everyone that knew him. He was widely respected in the community as a good Catholic and a businessman, and was known for throwing elaborate parties for his friends and neighbors. He dressed up as a clown to entertain sick children. His personas included “Pogo” and “Patches”.
All the museum’s information on Gacy is chilling, but the depiction of how he dressed as a clown is especially terrifying. They also include one of his paintings, some his paint supplies, and the interesting contents of his wallet at the time of his arrest.
2. The Reconstructed Living Quarters of Al Capone
Al Capone was an infamous gangster and Chicago crime boss during the United State’s Prohibition era. At the age of 26 he was the new boss of an organization importing alcoholic goods into the country, when he became known for incredible violence in the name of increased revenue.
The museum has lots of interesting stuff about Capone, including information about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (for which he was widely assumed to be responsible), and his actual personal rosary that he carried with him during his imprisonment from 1932 until his parole in 1939. But the most interesting thing I found was a recreation of Al Capone’s lavishly decorated cell from Eastern State Penitentiary. It was decked out in oriental rugs, fine furniture, and even included a cabinet radio.
3. The History of Crime Fighting: Artifacts From America’s Prisoners
This part of the museum was fascinating. I learned about the final meals of some of the country’s most notorious prisoners sentenced to death row – some chose not to ask for anything special, while others ate the most delectable meals they could think of.
The exhibit featured paintings and artwork of actual prisoners. Many were heartfelt depictions of their desire for freedom, and others were illustrations of creative energy. There was also a wall of tattoos that many prisoners chose to have etched into their skin during their incarceration, including the meaning behind certain images. The room included explanations of key differences between prison conditions at the beginning of the last century and present day, all of which were educational and very interesting.
4. “Old Smokey”: The State of Tennessee’s Electric Chair
From 1916 to 1960, this electric chair sat in Nashville’s State Prison for conducting executions of criminals sentenced to death. During its time in power, 125 men were electrocuted.
The final room of the museum details the history of torture and executions in America, from burning witches at the stake, to beheadings and gas chambers. The total death count of all executions conducted in U.S. history is over 15,000.
5. The Heist – A Game That Makes You Feel Like James Bond
Near the end of my walkthrough at the museum I got to participate in a game that puts you in the shoes of a highly skilled criminal, dodging motion detecting lasers. The participant is led into a room where you can select the difficulty of the game (easy, medium, hard and expert – I chose medium) and then go through a curtain revealing a room full of bright green lasers reflecting touching every surface.
The objective is to touch the flashing lights on opposite walls and deactivate the lasers without touching any of them. It’s a job for a skilled acrobat – which I certainly am not. Out of the 8 people who had played the game so far, I came in 8th on the scoreboard. I was convinced that if I had been wearing my gym clothes I could have done a better job; but overall, it was really fun, and one of my favorite parts of the Alcatraz East.
The museum officially opened on December 16, 2016. I can’t recommend it highly enough. There is so much to do and see, and I look forward to my next visit so I can get the chance to take in the many important and interesting bits of American history scattered throughout the museum.