Not just Haunted Tours and Catacombs

The handful of articles that we read for class this week concerning dark tourism sparked many thoughts on concepts that I had not previously pondered in depth.  The overarching theme that emerged for me was that dark tourism can include many different things and much of the time is dictated by personal beliefs.  Like some of my classmates, I had defined dark tourism as haunted tours, exploring catacombs and prisons, and visiting places perhaps more dedicated to profit than education.  In my ignorance, I had not considered certain museums, memorials, disaster sites, or battlefields to be part of it, which now seems obvious to me.  Unwittingly, I suppose I fit in with the people attracted to some of the dark tourism since at the top of my list of places to visit is the U.S.S. Arizona at Pearl Harbor; essentially a giant metal coffin.  Another continuity between all of these articles was that people desire to see artifacts or buildings in person, and that by actually being there you experience something that pictures and documentaries might not capture.  “Numinous Objects” explored this idea a little bit with mentioning how some museum collections or objects become part of a community’s spiritual identity and that any proposed changes are often met with rejection.

The notion that I kept grappling with was the relationship between entertainment, profit, and education.  I guess it boils down to the goals of the institution and the motivations of the visitors, while understanding that there will be some overlap depending on the circumstances.  Those relationships rely on the organization in charge, their treatment and presentation of artifacts and history, as well as ethical considerations.  Especially regarding human remains, ethical subjectivity is a line that is difficult to define.  “From Privates to Presidents” addressed this idea by stating that the Army Medical Museum is government-run, and has a good relationship with visitors, usually family members connected to a specimen.  Comparing the treatment of Alcatraz and Robben Island illustrates how similar sites can have different atmospheres.  Alcatraz gained commercialized representations from the media, while Robben Island attracted visitors because of Nelson Mandela’s time there.  All of this got me wondering about access to museums and heritage sites.  If they’re spouting educational goals for visitors, should these heritage sites charge admission?  I realize that revenue is needed for employee salaries and maintenance, so it’s probably not feasible.  I was just pondering the weird construct where visitors pay to see human remains or oddities and the ethical ideas surrounding making money off the dead and suffering.  The short article below from National Geographic explored this idea as well.  There are no easy answers and I waver back and forth.  Ultimately, I will still visit these dark tourism sites and pay admission if they require it, but it’s something that’s got me thinking.

2 thoughts on “Not just Haunted Tours and Catacombs”

  1. It’s a good point–ethically, if the purpose of a site is education, should admission be charged? Does the fact that there is an admission charge become prohibitive to portions of the population that would like that education, but cannot pay the fee? I suppose economic realities have little to do with intellectual ethics, but it is an important question.

    1. It’s an incredibly important question. My first reaction was that it should be free – education should be accessible to everyone. But then we circle back to the money issue, and watch historical sites and preservation organizations struggle to stay afloat without sufficient funding. That’s why I like Boise’s “First Thursday” program, when places like the BAM offer free admission once a month. Should it be more than once a month? Yep. But I think it’s a good start… hopefully the Historical Museum joins the trend when it reopens.

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