Honoring the Human History of Hurt: Museums That Celebrate Pain
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s all about the wince factor.
By Ian Graber-Stiehl
In this original series, Extreme Museums, join OZY for a look at some of the world’s weirdest and wildest exhibitions. Read more.
Museums of human history, at their core, are meant to catalog the human experience. But how about pain? It seems a strange thing to celebrate, but pain is every bit as much a part of human life and cultures as burial practices, war, art and technology. Here’s a quick guide to the myriad of museums that reveal, revere and revel in some of the most painful things experienced throughout human history.
A century ago, this picturesque stronghold, carved out of a cliff in Dordogne, France, provided protection from bandits during the contentious times of the Hundred Years War. Nowadays it serves as a beautiful walk-through house museum whose recesses also happen to house a torture chamber featuring over 60 historically accurate instruments. Inside, visitors can see devices like a heretic’s fork, a collar with a double-ended fork designed to slowly stab into the jaw and lower throat of any heretic who dared rest their head, and Scold’s Bridles, iron cage–like muzzles that depressed the tongue and kept anyone from talking (or screaming while being burned alive). Also on display is a wide array of devices capitalizing on medieval society’s fascination with anal anguish.
Fee: $10. Note: The museum plans to close December 31, 2018.
When father and son Gerardus and Willem Vrolik began their odd collection of human deformities, human anatomy was still largely unknown. Their soon burgeoning collection of deformed human (and a few animal) bodies was given to the University of Amsterdam after their William’s death in 1863, to be made into a museum at the school. Some of the most cringe-inducing exhibits: frontally conjoined twins, cross-sections of deformed skulls, jarred fetuses whose organs developed outside of their bodies and perhaps the most macabre, cyclopic babies in formaldehyde. Moving through this catalog of short, painful lives and long-forgotten, broken bodies can make you feel like a walking, still-assembled dissection kit with a laughably misplaced sense of importance — but one with a new appreciation for good health.
Fee: Free. Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed weekends.
Started with a collection from Karl Albrecht in the late 19th century, this Rothenburg, Germany–based museum has grown to house over 50,000 relics covering 1,000 years of German crime history. No museum offers so clear a portrait of the entire callous and brusque inner workings of the medieval justice system. See the metal mask — complete with long ears, gratuitous tongue and glasses to signify your penchant for seeing, hearing and telling everything — that gossips had to wear if found guilty, and the barrel given to drunks to wear in public. But more importantly, beyond simply showcasing painful contraptions, the museum truly gives you a sense of what it was like to live as a civilian under a system of justice founded on shame, righteousness and gory fear-mongering.
Fee: $8.45. Hours: April to October, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 pm; November to March: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Although this San Franciscan armory–cum–kink culture icon bought in 2006 by Peter Acworth (founder of the world’s largest fetish porn organization) isn’t a museum, it has served as a place of learning for those interested in BDSM. The armory’s express mission statement is to “demystify and celebrate alternative sexualities,” says armory spokesman Michael Stabile. It no longer hosts shoots or tours; however, it does still have a myriad of workshops— such as “Strap-on Basics” and “Threesomes, Foursomes and Moresomes!” — open to people curious about the titillation pain can provide. And, after all, what’s more good sh*t than spending a weekend learning “torture” techniques from some of the world’s best fetish performers and dominatrixes?
- Ian Graber-Stiehl, OZY Author Contact Ian Graber-Stiehl