Looking for a light afternoon diversion? Consider paying a visit to the Medieval Torture Museum, an interactive, eight-room tour of history’s most gruesome torture methods that debuted last month on a bustling strip of State Street.
If the words “interactive” and “torture museum” seem like they don’t belong in the same sentence, try not to worry: It’s not that interactive, although especially squeamish folks might want to take a pass on visiting. Rather than displaying historical torture devices under glass, the museum takes the approach of creating diorama-like set-ups that show silicone dummies—their visages crafted in the likeness of actors who posed for each scenario—being subjected to medieval-era torture methods both real and apocryphal, from a Holy Roman Empire-style breaking wheel to a Viking “bloody eagle,” a ritual in which a victim’s lungs are pulled from their ribcage to resemble a set of wings (you may recognize this technique from a particularly grisly scene in the 2019 movie Midsommar). A brief wall text accompanies each installation, but you’ll get more detailed historical context from the museum’s free audio guide, which is intoned by a spooky-voiced actor.
Occasionally, guests are invited to try out some of the devices, like a lever that dunks a waxen-faced woman into a vat of water—a method apparently used during witch trials—or a surprisingly heavy guillotine blade that can be hoisted up and tugged to land atop a dummy’s severed neck. In other cases, visitors can pose for photo ops or open up chests or coffins (usually to find some kind of dismembered body parts inside). There’s an unsettling quality to mimicking torture methods, but museum employees say that’s part of the point: Many installations are based on real-life stories, a tactic meant to provide a more human side to the otherwise gory spectacle.
“We wanted people to feel more emotion rather than just coming to see artifacts,” explains Paula Malone, the museum’s manager.
When you visit, Malone recommends first making a circuit through all eight rooms using the audio guide. There’s no chronological or region-based order to the methods, so you won’t be missing anything if you skip around a bit; if you decide to listen through the whole audio guide, plan on the journey taking several hours. Once you’ve made a lap around the museum, try out the museum’s ghost hunting app, which can be downloaded for free and used to detect “ghosts” of the tortured subjects floating around each room.
Ready to tour centuries of torture history? The Medieval Torture Museum, located at 177 N State St, is open daily from 10am–10pm, and tickets are $29.99 per person. There’s a preview video available at the museum’s entrance for visitors to gauge whether they’re up for walking among its gory displays—take a look at some highlights below.