Located in downtown Bradenton, Florida, the South Florida History Museum offers two levels of exhibits. Short on time, we bypassed the Bishop Planetarium which is included in the admission price ($19 adults, $17 seniors). Our first stop was the Parker Manatee Aquarium, where a guide demonstrated the qualities of several manatees under their care. These huge, intelligent creatures were impressive. They prefer warm water and can be sensitive to cold temperatures, pollution, and boats that get in their path.
From here, we moved on to dioramas and displays of native habitats, shell collections, and pine uplands with a pioneer cabin.
There’s a Spanish house with a chapel that has a lovely stained glass window.
My favorite was the Medical Gallery with an ancient operating room, dental suite, torturous looking instruments, and an apothecary shop.
You could easily spend a couple of hours here or more. It was an unexpected bonus of our trip to the west coast, and I’m glad we could enjoy this attraction. Note there’s a gift shop but no café on premises.
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During the 1500s to the late 1600s, Spaniards would collect gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy. Not all of their ships made it. They ran aground on coral reefs, floundered during hurricanes, or got attacked by pirates.
In 1622, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, salvage expert Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.
Unlike the Atocha that sank in deep water, the Santa Margarita lay amid shifting sand dunes due to undercurrents. This ship broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people have discovered many of its relics, including a lead box filled with sixteen thousand pearls. Samples of the treasures from both ships are on display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
You can read the history of the era, horrifying descriptions of slave ships, tales of pirates, and preservation tips for relics found in shipwrecks. Various tools, implements, and small articles show what life must have been like in those days.
Moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, you get a glimpse of silver coins and ingots, gold items, jewelry and more. It’s hard to imagine all that wealth.
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We took the Metro into D.C. on my one spare day after Malice concluded. Here we visited the National Museum of Natural History. They had an ocean exhibit that I didn’t remember from a prior trip there, so we started in this section and read about the key role the oceans play on our planet.
From there, we entered the Mammal section. We strolled through there until lunch, which we ate in the downstairs cafeteria. Then we aimed toward the top floor and the rocks and minerals collections. I love this part. It’s fascinating to me to see the enormous variety of gemstones and other minerals and how they’re wrenched from the earth. The jewels had me gaping in admiration. I have to admit it had me longing for a jewelry store. But photos are the only things I brought home.
I dashed through the dinosaurs and mummies, a very brief section that doesn’t begin to compare with the Egyptian exhibit in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Too tired to go any further, we strolled outside to view the Washington Monument on one side and the Capitol building on the other. All of the structures here are so impressive, including the IRS building. It had a sign for Visitors, so we went inside, but a guard told us it wasn’t open to the public. We stopped over at the Air and Space museum but were too worn out to go far. It was nice getting out for a day of sightseeing after being at two business events.
We met family for dinner in Cleveland Park at Medium Rare. It has a fixed price menu that includes crusty bread, a salad, steak and French fries. The next day we caught our flight home.
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Manhattan is always fascinating to visit, and this time was no exception. I came to attend the Mystery Writers of America national board meeting but arrived a day early to take in the sights. Since it was cold out and we were hungry, we began our sojourn at Hale & Hearty Soups.
Thursday afternoon, we roamed around Fifth Avenue, stopping in one of the clothing shops. It was impossible to try on anything while wearing four layers of clothes against the 20 degrees plus temperature outside. We wandered on to grab pizza for a quick dinner before seeing Kinky Boots at the Al Hirschfeld theater. It was a fun, lively performance with a feel-good vibe.
On Friday, we ate breakfast at a local deli, getting our fill of nova salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. Then we took a taxi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Here we started at the Egyptian exhibit, enthralled by the replicas of tombs where we felt like Indiana Jones.
Downstairs was a special costume exhibit called “Death Becomes Her” about ritual mourning outfits in earlier centuries. Somber music played throughout, enhancing the mood. Besides clothing, mourning jewelry like I mention in my book, Died Blonde, was displayed. People used to include hair from their departed loved ones in these brooches and such.
We ate lunch at one of the museum cafés overlooking Central Park. The trees were bare this time of year but the cold didn’t deter people from walking the paths there. After lunch, we headed to the Asian section after breezing through the Medieval wing. This area on the second floor wasn’t nearly as popular as others. We breezed through, already tired of looking at statuary.
Next we stopped by the European artists to see works by famous painters. We got too tired to continue and left the museum. However, we were unable to resist grabbing hot dogs at a Sabrett food stand outside. A lineup of food trucks provided many choices.
A visit to Tombstone, AZ isn’t complete without a stop at the Bird Cage Theater, which is supposed to be haunted. It’s fascinating to explore the varied sections of this old establishment and view the artifacts stored there.
Opened in 1881, this one-and-a-half story structure held a saloon, theater, and balcony seating. It closed due to diminishing business in 1889. Subsequent owners renovated and reopened the theater for various purposes. Ghost stories kept guests coming back.
One of the supposed ghostly residents was a jealous woman who lived next store and frequented the theater. She died by overdosing on rat poison. Another tale involved two ladies who liked the same man. One woman stabbed the other while the man watched from his poker game. Some guests have reported seeing a stage hand walking across the stage. Others report seeing a woman’s apparition on the catwalk, smells of perfume or cigars, objects moving on their own, and other phenomenon.
Since the fictional ghost town in Peril by Ponytail, my WIP, has an old theater like this, you can guess what I used as a model. Here’s brief excerpt where Dalton’s cousin is giving him and Marla a tour of his renovation project:
“The only thing we have to fear here is other people.” Dalton’s statement put them firmly back on the ground. “So you’re saying what the man saw on the hill might have been a real person, and he went to investigate, never to return?”
“That’s not what my workforce believes. They think he saw La Catrina summoning him to glory. I took a look around there myself and came up empty. These stories about spooks are hogwash, if you ask me.”
Marla wasn’t so sure. She glanced up as a shadow flickered in her peripheral vision. Was someone up there in the rafters?
A rattling noise sounded right before a chandelier came crashing down from above.
So what do you think? Did a ghost loosen that heavy chandelier or a human culprit?
We couldn’t resist touring the Epitaph Museum that housed the old printing press where they put out an early newspaper. How far we’ve come from this cavernous hall to the newsrooms of today.
Tombstone is a great place to visit. It’ll make you appreciate our country’s history, the early pioneering days, and how rough life must have been for the settlers. You can pay homage to them at Boothill Graveyard on your way out of town. Note the Jewish monument below.
Do you ever wonder if the punishment fits the crime? Come along to the Crime Museum in Washington D.C. where you can tour through a history of crime and punishment. Beginning in medieval times, you get insights into torturous implements with the items on display. Metal was popular for finger screws and iron helmets. And look at this unhappy guy stretched out in the dungeon. The different areas of the museum are made to look like their eras, a cool factor I found appealing. Also scattered throughout the place are interactive kiosks to challenge you.
Definitions of crimes have changed through the years. In Colonial times, you could get your ears nailed to the pillory for kissing on the Sabbath. That was considered lewd and unseemly behavior. This era included a poster on the Salem Witch Trials. Next we moved into Pirates, where famous pirates are described leading up to the current ones operating off the coast of Somalia.
The outlaws of the Wild West come next amid sounds of gunshots and horses neighing in the background. Billy the Kid and the Dalton Gang were famous bad guys from this era, while Wyatt Earp was a well-known law man. You could shoot rifles for a fee at a shooting range looking like the Old West.
Crimes of the Great Depression followed with the Barker Gang, Bonnie and Clyde, and Al Capone, among others. Sirens and jazz music play in the background along with machine gun fire. You can learn how to Crack-A-Safe at the interactive kiosk. Moving along, we come next to scams, hoists, and hoaxes. Then we come to the worst crime of all: murder. Apparently collectors like to obtain Murderabilia, items associated with these criminals. Can you imagine a more gruesome collection? It’s bad enough that killers become media celebrities without having people try to acquire their belongings and giving value to their fame.
Famous serial killers are mentioned in this area before we move onto conspiracy and assassinations. On the wall are posters listing all the presidents who’d been assassinated and famous kidnappings like the Lindbergh baby. There are notes from police files on famous solved crimes, including J.W. Gacy who worked as Pogo the clown. I knew there was a reason why I find clowns creepy. Computer crimes aren’t forgotten either as several of these silent criminals are mentioned. For example, Robert Morris created the first computer worm. An interactive kiosk will challenge you to see how fast you can crack a code.
Then you pass through a darkened corridor lined by brick buildings and sound effects into the history of fingerprinting, Miranda Rights, what a booking officer does, mug shots were you can get your photo taken along with some crooks, and a jail cell where you can sit on the bed. There is a meet the warden video and a display on famous prisons and great escapes. One of the dioramas shows a luxury cell where Al Capone lived in Alcatraz. Here you can play on another kiosk to see how far you can get in your escape. Death Row is mentioned as you walk into a section that looks like a prison block with sound effects and an elevated walkway. Methods of capital punishment are described dating back from medieval torture and executions through the death penalty with displays of an electric chair, a gas chamber and a guillotine.
On a better note, we come to a section on famous lawmen. Notes describe how cops communicated before 1930, their use of firearms, equipment, and the bomb squad. See how fast you can defuse a bomb at the next interactive kiosk. Technologies such as night vision and thermal imaging are described. Here we pause for patrol training. In a simulation, you can drive a cop car on a high-speed chase. Or you can fire a Glock 17 at a simulated scene, watching for the bad guy to pop up and shoot at you. After this escapade, we descend downstairs to the CSI Experience.
You are greeted by a crime scene scenario in the bedroom where a murder took place. You can push buttons to see what each piece of numbered evidence represents.
You learn about witnesses and the role of the crime lab. At a kiosk, you can play the part of a witness. What did you see?
Contents of the crime scene kit are shown. Did you know that evidence is put into brown paper bags and not plastic bags like you see on TV? Fingerprint and footprint recovery, ballistics, toxicology, dental ID, autopsy, and entomology are some of the topics touched upon. The interactive kiosk here is, Can you match the bullet?
Other crimes are discussed such as counterfeiting, art forgery, and forgery of documents. Famous cold cases has a room of its own. There’s a section on crime related TV shows, movies and books. Books by Sue Grafton, James Elroy, and Patricia Cornwall are some of the ones mentioned. Even crimes against marine animals are covered. Then we descend to the lower level that holds the studio for America’s Most Wanted television show.
I would say you need maybe 2 to 3 hours to do this museum justice. There’s a Clyde’s nearby which is great for lunch, and then you can meander over to the International Spy Museum if you’ve never visited that attraction before. The closest Metro stop to the Crime Museum is Gallery Place.
Tomorrow, join me over at the Kill Zone where I’ll be discussing Crime and Punishment.
Leave a comment on this blog and enter to win a pair of handcuffs from the Crime Museum. U.S. Residents only. Winner will be announced here on Friday.
Last weekend, I gave a talk at Jupiter library, but first, my husband and I drove around to explore the town.
We stopped at Dubois Park but it was Memorial Day weekend and the park was mobbed with picnickers. It looked to be impossible to get a parking spot so we drove on. We went next to Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, in service since 1860 with a museum and gift shop. Tours cost $7 but you can get a good photo from the parking lot. We took another photo from across the Intracoastal where we ate lunch at The Crab House. Another trendy restaurant, Guanabanas (http://www.guanabanas.com/), is down the street but self-parking is a few doors down and the skies were heavy with threatening rain clouds. We’ll have to try that one next time. I am grateful to my Internet Fan, Suzie Burrows, for traveling to the library to meet me, and the other authors who attended: Melissa Alvarez, Traci Hall, and Marilyn Campbell. Readers filled the other seats and we had a lively discussion. Thanks, too, to Classic Bookshop from Palm Beach for bringing my books to sell. You gotta love our libraries and indie bookstores!
Coming on Tuesday, June 8th: Interview with author Sandra Sookoo