When a museum about gangsters sucks…

This weekend, while in Arkansas, I decided to visit the Gangster Museum of America in Hot Springs. I don’t know why but I had high hopes for this one. The topic was interesting. I mean who doesn’t love to see an exhibit on Al Capone or “Machine Gun” Kelly. I knew that Hot Springs had a history of organized crime so I was excited to see what this museum was going to do with that history to keep the tourists interested. gang

It was $15 per person to go on the hour long guided tour. When the tour begins you walk through a bank vault door, I guess to signify the money that was passing through the city at the time of the gangsters involvement. There are a few different rooms to walk through including an Al Capone room, a bank robber room, and a hidden speak easy. The rooms were not decorated very well. There were a few pictures or newspaper articles on the walls and random pieces of furniture through out the room. The only thing that made the Al Capone room different from the bank robber room was the different section of the video that was played.

Once everyone was in the room, the tour guide would start a video (that seemed like it was shot in the 90s) and would walk out. When the movie ended the tour guide came back in and ushered everyone to another room. No one had time to look around at what few prints were on the wall, to ask questions about the video, or even for the tour guide to add any information in order to make a personal connection with the group. This happened in every single room. The only way for someone look at the walls was if you were to look and read while the video was going. It’s understandable that this museum in particular is very small and probably does not have the funding that other museums have. But I have been in museums with much less interesting topics that have been successful in their approach to telling a narrative. In other words, they make their narrative interesting to the audience in whatever way possible.

The pictures, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts had nothing sited as to where they came from. There were no sources listed within the video or on the walls (from what I could quickly read of the walls) and therefore no way for people to expand their knowledge on the topic. Although I’m not 100% sure of this, I would imagine that if a town has this much history of organized crime there would be more than just a few newspaper clippings that could be introduced within the exhibit.

I’m not sure of the reason as to why this museum couldn’t tell an interesting narrative. It is probably a better reason that they didn’t know how to show the narrative in a way that would be interesting to people of all ages. Although this museum may not have the resources of other bigger museums, they have the benefit of having a super attractive narrative. With a few good tour guides and some cool artifacts, this museum could be worth all $15.


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I am a graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette studying Public History.

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