By Peggy Jordan
Associate Editor, Family Motor Coaching magazine
Crime doesn't pay. But it sure makes for some unusual attractions in Indiana. You may find it impossible to resist these three museums as you travel to or from FMCA's 87th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase in Indianapolis, August 27-30.
The John Dillinger Museum
The John Dillinger MuseumA state tourism welcome center is not the kind of place you'd normally find displays featuring bullets and badges. But the Indiana travel folks placed The John Dillinger Museum smack-dab in the same building where you can pick up state tourism brochures. So, what does Dillinger have to do with Indiana?
John was born in Indianapolis in 1903, where he started down the wrong path even as a child. His father later moved the family to Mooresville, Indiana, in hopes the change would help set the boy straight.
At the museum, you'll learn how Dillinger's escapades led to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And, in that respect, this museum is as much about crime-fighting as it is about 1930s criminals.
A large and amazing collection of Dillinger's personal effects are exhibited, including the pants he wore when he was killed by federal agents; his lucky rabbit's foot; and a wood gun he used to fool prison guards and escape from the "big house."
The museum is in the Indiana Welcome Center along Interstate 80/94 in Hammond, Indiana (7770 Corinne Drive). A small museum entry fee is charged. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more info, visit www.dillingermuseum.com or call (219) 989-7979.
Rotary Jail Museum
Fifty miles northwest of Indianapolis is a jail that had seen better days (if you can call them that) by the time Dillinger was roaming Indiana. Then again, he may have had a difficult time escaping from this one. The Crawfordsville Rotary Jail was the first of its kind and opened in 1882. Today the Rotary Jail Museum welcomes visitors.
Two men from Indianapolis invented it with the goal of keeping the jailer as far away from the inmates as possible. Prisoners lived in pie-shaped cells that could be rotated with a hand crank, so when it was time to let a man out, his cell faced a stationary door opening.
Several jails like this were built in the United States, but all shared similar problems. They typically lacked air circulation and natural light. Worse, injuries to inmates occurred as the cells were moved. The jail in Crawfordsville was ordered to be abandoned in 1967 and it closed in 1973. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Today visitors can tour this unusual place of incarceration as well as the beautiful adjoining home where the sheriff lived. The former steam plant building is now operated as the Tannenbaum Cultural Center and houses displays of artwork, objects, and crafts.
The museum is at 225 N. Washington St. in Crawfordsville and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit www.rotaryjailmuseum.org or call (765) 362-5222 for more information.
The Hall of Heroes Super Hero Museum
Crime fighting is sometimes best handled by superheroes and, believe it or not, Elkhart, Indiana, is where a bunch of them live. Or, at least, their likenesses do. The Hall of Heroes Super Hero Museum is only a few miles from the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart. Its founder, Allen Stewart, bills it as the largest superhero memorabilia collection in the world. Thousands of artifacts and more than 55,000 comic books reside in a building that is a replica of the "Hall of Justice" in the 1970s Super Friends cartoon series.
If you think your favorite hero has been forgotten, think again. This place even has the suit worn by William Katt in the 1980s TV show "The Greatest American Hero." Batman's cave is given homage here, and you'll find Superman stuff galore. If you remember Plastic Man, the Hulk, Captain America — and all those nasty villains they faced — you will be glad you came.
The Hall of Heroes Super Hero Museum is at 58005 County Road 105 in Elkhart; (574) 293-0755. It is typically open weekday afternoons, but call before you visit to be sure. Updated museum hours and current information are posted on the museum's Facebook page: www.facebook.com/pages/Hall-of-Heroes-Super-Hero-Museum/54673733796.
Load up your crime-fighting vehicle (your motorhome) and prepare to take a drive toward justice (and Indianapolis) this August. The world desperately needs you!