Roll up for the murderous mystery tour
September 30, 2016 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Dark Tourism On her great blog, historian Donna Seger discusses the phenomenon of Dark Tourism - a cultural trend responsible for the proliferation of ghost tours, vampire tours, and graveyard tours as well as interest in more historically serious places such as Holocaust sites, Civil War Battlefields, and even contemporary war zones. Also known in academia as thanatourism, its subcategories include fright tourism[PDF], disaster tourism, morbid tourism, and grief tourism.

Linked in the Article:
Seduced by the Dark Turn, Gettysburg Compiler
Institute for Dark Tourism Research

Other links of interest:
Guide to Dark Tourism sites worldwide(page is originally in German)
Is Dark Tourism OK?
Can Dark Tourism Help Cambodia Heal?
The Draw of Death Row - dark tourism helps Texas prison museum thrive
Dark Tourism site, older but interesting
posted by Miko (25 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
So I was in Quebec City recently and my wife and I were sitting in the park after climbing up Yet Another Endless Staircase. Gradually it became clear to me that the person standing across from us was:

1. In a maid's outfit from the 19th century
2. Painted up like Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas
3. Carrying a wood hatchet in one hand
4. Obviously scanning the crowd for someone

Now eventually, a tour group showed up for her to entertain as the ghost of whatever murderer she was supposed to be, but I still prefer to imagine her as a jilted Juggalo lover waiting to split open her boyfriend's skull.
posted by selfnoise at 6:21 AM on September 30, 2016 [26 favorites]


War tourism is kind of a thing in Sarajevo. Any taxi driver knows where many events in the war occurred. You can specifically hire a driver to take you around. I think there is at least one bus tour.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:36 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am actually quite interested in finding some kind of tour of underground railroad sites around the Ohio River Valley. If anyone knows of such a thing please let me know.
posted by BentFranklin at 6:39 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


"War tourism" also refers to the fucked up practice of people going to active war zones like Syria in order to see war and death and maybe be in a position where you can shoot somebody and not get in trouble for it. Here's an article about it by Ben Taub.
posted by little onion at 6:54 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


I can certainly see a long continuum for this through history, with reliquaries containing pieces of saints' bodies being a draw for churches/communities, ossuaries and stupas drawing pilgrims, famous cemeteries being a draw for at least a few hundred years, and locally for me, sites like the O.K. Corral where tourists enjoy daily reenactments of people being shot dead.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's a poster in London at the moment that has family members wide-eyed at the capital's marvellous parks, rides, history, days out: and one delighted tourist with a leaflet that says 'Ripper Strikes Again!' Nothing like the vile murder and mutilation of a series of women to put that smile back on Dad's face!
posted by Segundus at 8:13 AM on September 30, 2016


I prefer to remember the Gettysburg of my youth.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:19 AM on September 30, 2016


Bent Franklin, a great source on the underground railroad in that area is Ohio History. There's also the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Keep an eye on them for programs, tours, etc. - and maybe the staff would know of a tour operator they recommend if you dropped them a line.
posted by Miko at 8:30 AM on September 30, 2016


Does it count when you visit the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal (tomb of Mumtaz Mahal), the Castel Sant'Angelo (aka Hadrian's mausoleum), Christian catacombs, or the crypts or relic keeping places of most European cathedrals? Puzzled minds want to know.
posted by sukeban at 9:56 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mind you, Dublin's National Museum of Ireland has a permanent exhibition of naturally mummified ritual human sacrifices. I want to know if that's scientific or "morbid".
posted by sukeban at 10:00 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


jilted Juggalo lover

Unclaimed user name of the day!
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:29 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


We're thinking of doing an American Gothic road trip, visiting sites related to Gothic horror. Maybe we should call it Thanatotour 2017.
posted by doctornemo at 10:52 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some of the literature on dark tourism argues that the rise of film, television, and printed media’s influence within the last century is the major driver of individuals’ preoccupation with death and violence.

That doesn't really fit with the fact that the Paris Catacombs have been a major tourist attraction since 1874. Nor the fact that murder sightseeing was a major thing in 19th century Britain; before crime scene photographs, victims were left in situ for the jury to see; there was often a thriving business in charging people to look. There was a case in the early 19th century (apologies, I don't have my copy of The Invention of Murder to look up the particulars) where a whole family were murdered. People queued up in the street to pay a couple of pence to see the scene, including the lifeless body of the baby, murdered in its cot.

As Squeak Attack has mentioned upthread, this has a long historical continuum - treating it like a novel thing doesn't seem very informative.
posted by Vortisaur at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


Mind you, Dublin's National Museum of Ireland has a permanent exhibition of naturally mummified ritual human sacrifices. I want to know if that's scientific or "morbid".
posted by sukeban at 10:00 AM on September 30
[1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]

Not only are the Bog Bodies, which are scientific and rather morbid, you can do yours of places associated with the Easter Rising of 1916. Kilmainham, the GPO etc. The whole block I stayed on actually burned during the Rising. There are commerative placques and statutes.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:28 AM on September 30, 2016


Vortisaur, there's also the genre of small porcelain statuettes remembering gruesome murders, like the murder of Maria Marten at the Red Barn in 1827. Judith Flanders' book is superb, and there's a BBC miniseries with Lucy Worsley at her perkiest titled A Very British Murder that follows the book rather closely. The case you mention (the Ratcliff Highway Murders) is retold at the beginning of the first episode.
posted by sukeban at 12:03 PM on September 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Mind you, Dublin's National Museum of Ireland has a permanent exhibition of naturally mummified ritual human sacrifices. I want to know if that's scientific or "morbid".

Definitely depends on your lens, but it's a worthy question. I did some research on human remains in museum collections a while ago. It's fascinating how culture, claims of scientific value, religious thinking and other factors play into whether it's okay to display remains - from ancient history up through "Body Worlds" and the like. Safe to say there is currently no consensus.

re: murder sightseeing: don't forget the nutshell studies, which sort of play into this impulse.

I don't think all who study this effect are claiming it's new (though the witchy attractions in Salem date back no further than the 1970s, and ghost tours in countless cities have really exploded in popularity in just the last ten, fifteen years). It's just interesting to look at it all rounded up.
posted by Miko at 1:27 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is interestingly relevant, as I am headed to Asheville, NC next month for a weekend getaway and we're planning to do the ghost trolley tour for the first time. It was my idea, as I'm endlessly fascinated by the paranormal and the things that go bump in the night. Squeeeee!
posted by bologna on wry at 3:30 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I just typed "squeeee!" and clicked "post comment" after doing so. Someone just kill me. Please.
posted by bologna on wry at 3:42 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


jilted Juggalo lover

The Stevie Wonder / Phil Collins duet.
posted by bongo_x at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2016


We're thinking of doing an American Gothic road trip, visiting sites related to Gothic horror.

Wasn't that the plot of biggish US movie about ten years ago? I want to say David Duchovny was in it...
posted by Paul Slade at 5:32 PM on September 30, 2016


So, I found out recently that a small park a couple of blocks from my house was once the site of the real events that inspired The Exorcist. However, I only ever visit the park because it's a Pokestop, which is also how I found this out in the first place because the Pokestop is listed as 'Exorcist Park.' Allegedly it does get some dark tourism but I've never seen 'em. Lots of people there for Pokemon, though.
posted by nonasuch at 10:09 PM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post, Miko, which is right up my alley. I haven't read all the links yet, but re: the psychology of thanatourism, here's two more motivations that haven't received much play yet in the profession: the cleansing relief of gratitude and/or the opportunity to imagine oneself behaving nobly/heroically. It's fascinating.
posted by carmicha at 2:34 PM on October 1, 2016


I'm considering visiting Cambodia next year and was put off by the tourist brochure proudly proclaiming "The nearby countryside also harbors old pagodas, Angkorian-era ruins, caves, waterfalls, and Khmer Rouge period killing fields." I'm interested in respectful treatments of Cambodia's history. But to advertise it as a selling point like that, ick.

OTOH I think Germany has done an excellent job creating memorials about the Holocaust. Done right, it's atonement and education and a warning. And crushingly depressing, while also appropriate.
posted by Nelson at 2:55 AM on October 2, 2016


Today, Dos de Octubre, is the anniversary of the Tlatelolco Massacre of 1968.

Up into the mid 80s or early 90s it was dangerous to even acknowledge the massacre (tiananmen square massacre, and the Chinese government attitude towards it is a good analogy).

Now you can go take a tour.

1968 is close enough that it is within many pople's living memory, but might as well be archeology for anyone under 30.

I personally find it morbid, but I am happy we won't let it slip from memory.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 12:59 PM on October 2, 2016


I'm considering visiting Cambodia next year and was put off by the tourist brochure proudly proclaiming "The nearby countryside also harbors old pagodas, Angkorian-era ruins, caves, waterfalls, and Khmer Rouge period killing fields." I'm interested in respectful treatments of Cambodia's history. But to advertise it as a selling point like that, ick.

OTOH I think Germany has done an excellent job creating memorials about the Holocaust. Done right, it's atonement and education and a warning. And crushingly depressing, while also appropriate.


A little while ago there were some interesting articles about the collision of social media culture (specifically selfies) with the history of the Second World War.

In this case, the behavior that raised eyebrows was not by the promoters of the historical sites, but by the visitors: is it appropriate or tasteless to take a selfie at Auschwitz? (or, similarly, in front of a Khmer Rouge genocide memorial)

Is the behavior intrinsically off-limits, or are there respectful and disrespectful ways to do it? Or to share it?

Previously on MeFi: "Say Cheese"
posted by theorique at 2:44 AM on October 3, 2016


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