Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Public Enemies" Exhibit - Oshkosh Public Museum

Want to find out what it's like to shoot a Tommy Gun, like John Dillinger?

Here's your chance.

The Oshkosh Public Museum opened an exhibit yesterday to coincide with the opening of the movie Public Enemies, starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.

Portions of the movie were filmed in locations around Wisconsin, including Oshkosh, Columbus, Darlington, Madison, and Milwaukee.

From the Oshkosh Northwestern:

Shoot over to the Oshkosh Public Museum to relive the era of so called “public enemies” – the Dust Bowl, Great Depression, Prohibition. Corruption has peaked and employment has slumped. Flashy gangsters such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Bonnie and Clyde are glorified as victims of the times.

An original exhibit of the tumultuous 1930s opens at the museum on June 27, just three days before the major motion picture “Public Enemies” -- starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale -- premieres in Oshkosh.

“Whether or not you go and see the movie, we’d like to provide more of a history of what was going on at this time,” said the museum’s marketing coordinator, Megan Del Debbio.

The interactive exhibit, titled “The Era of Public Enemies: A Wave of Crime in A Troubled Time,” aims to educate visitors on the circumstances that led to the crime wave of 1933-34 and inspired the filming of Universal Pictures’ “Public Enemies.”

Visitors can socialize in an art deco nightclub, step behind the 200-pound steel door of a reproduction jail cell and fire an Airsoft Tommy gun in a shooting gallery.

You can immerse yourself in this bygone era, when "[f]lashy gangsters such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Bonnie and Clyde [were] glorified as victims" of the Great Depression and Prohibition.
...“We wanted to do more than just cover the movie angle” – the exhibit features props, photographs and other memorabilia from the local filming of 'Public Enemies' – “We felt it was important to let people know what this era was all about,” said the museum’s curator, Deb Daubert.

“Without having a little background (on the Depression and Prohibition), you don’t really understand what lead to these crime sprees,” she said. That’s where the museum’s exhibit comes in.

After scouring for period items for the better part of a year, museum staff has managed to finish a stellar 2,000-square-foot exhibit on a tight budget of $20,000, Daubert said.

“It’s a completely immersive atmosphere,” Del Debbio said. “You can sit down at a table (in a replica night club) or pick up a telephone and listen to one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s illustrious fireside chats.”

The one-time exhibit is scheduled to open on June 27 with gangster reenactments and a vintage Packard car. The exhibit will close Oct. 18.

It sounds like an interesting exhibit.

Deb Daubert, the museum’s curator, explains, “Without having a little background (on the Depression and Prohibition), you don’t really understand what lead to these crime sprees.”

I think giving historical context is a good idea. It's what museums do. But I don't think gangsters should be considered victims of the difficult economic and social conditions of the era.

The vast majority of Americans muddled through that time without becoming notorious criminals. I hope the gangsters' law-breaking isn't glorified or excused in the exhibit. That sends the wrong message. Thugs are thugs.

I'm a bit surprised that visitors to the interactive exhibit get the chance to experience firing a Tommy Gun. Of course, it's not a real gun. It's an airsoft Tommy Gun.

Still, should the public museum be offering visitors the opportunity to try their skills at a shooting gallery and pretend to be a gangster?

Does that glorify violence? Are children allowed to take some shots?

I hope the exhibit's emphasis is on the reality of the public enemies. They were thugs, not heroes and not victims.

Dillinger was responsible for bloodshed. He murdered police officers. He robbed banks. He wasn't a good guy.

I wonder. Will this exhibit be targeted by Peace Action Wisconsin, the group that successfully pushed to get Summerfest officials to shut down the Virtual Army Experience at Summerfest last year?

Is the shooting interactive display at the museum as "totally inappropriate and offensive" as the Virtual Army Experience? Does it encourage visitors to view firing a gun as entertainment?

In a press release last year about the Army exhibit at Summerfest, Peace Action Wisconsin declared, "War is NOT a game."

Robbing banks and killing law enforcement officers is also NOT a game.

Will Peace Action Wisconsin file complaints about the museum's exhibit?

I think it's highly unlikely.


Check out the Oshkosh Northwestern's photo gallery of "The Era of Public Enemies" exhibit opening.

A related story: Johnny Depp no stranger to Tommy Guns
Johhny Depp says his latest role as bank robber John Dillinger wasn't totally unfamiliar since he had first used a Tommy Gun when he was a kid in Kentucky.

Depp, 46, told the Chicago Tribune the World War II-vintage submachine gun belonged to a relative.

"I butted it up against the tree because it tends to ride up on you," Depp told the newspaper, adding that his father had helped him keep the weapon level from the time he was only 5 or 6 years old.

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