Alcatraz East: Tennessee's New Crime Museum

 © Sunset at Pigeon Forge, allenran 917/Flickr
© Sunset at Pigeon Forge, allenran 917/Flickr | © Sunset at Pigeon Forge, allenran 917/Flickr
Katie Miller

Located just five miles north of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is already home to a number of popular tourist destinations – and this fall, it will also be home to Alcatraz East, an immersive crime history museum that promises to become one of the top attractions in Tennessee.
It is early evening on June 17, 1994 in Orange County, California. Millions of viewers across the country have halted the procession of their daily lives and are instead glued to their television sets, watching what will soon become one of the most infamous days in contemporary American history unfold. Regular programming on most channels has been interrupted, and instead filling screens everywhere is O.J. Simpson’s white bronco snaking down Interstate 405, trailed by up to 20 police cars and nine helicopters.

The chase endured for almost two hours before Simpson was eventually convinced to surrender, and what followed was a high-profile criminal murder trial that has been referred to as the ‘trial of the century.’ And while it has been nearly 21 years since the jury delivered its highly controversial not-guilty verdict, in a few short months visitors to the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee will be able to see this notorious white Bronco – along with numerous other relics from high-profile crime cases throughout history – for themselves.

Over 20 years ago, owner/creator John Morgan took a trip to San Francisco and was inspired by the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary to build a project completely devoted to crime history in the U.S. and its evolution throughout the decades. Morgan had already owned and operated the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C.; upon its permanent close in 2015, however, Morgan embarked upon the construction of a more ambitious and immersive museum in Eastern Tennessee. In addition to the name, which pays obvious homage to the California prison (which is now and has for decades served as a museum), the façade of Alcatraz East will mirror the original, complete with high-reaching watchtowers and barred windows.

Inside the museum, you will find five different unique, highly interactive galleries, each of which are devoted to a specific facet of crime history and the history of crime investigation. Visitors to the museum will not learn about the history of the American penal system, crime prevention, forensics, and law enforcement merely by wandering through a few darkened exhibits. Instead, at Alcatraz East you will have the opportunity to engage in a myriad of hands-on features, including a CSI lab and a simulated shooting range; you will even be able to try your hand at safe-cracking and have your fingerprints taken. Furthermore, the museum will contain a number of artifacts from seminal cases in American crime and crime fighting history; in addition to Simpson’s white bronco, you will find John Dillinger’s death mask, Al Capone’s rosary, and Ted Bundy’s 1968 Volkswagen Beetle.

Slated to open its doors to the public this November, Alcatraz East promises to be the place for immersive crime history in the country – so this fall, consider making the trip to Pigeon Forge. (Tip: follow the museum on Twitter for more information about opening dates and for a chance to win free admission.)
By Katie Miller

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