Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interview with Museum of Death Co-Founder Cathee Shultz

The Museum of Death, located at 6031 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, California, is a private museum dedicated to all aspects of death. The museum boasts a large collection of serial killer artwork and correspondence, Victorian mourning items, mortuary equipment, accident/suicide/murder photography and videos of death, a menagerie of taxidermy animals, execution implements and many other curios and death memorabilia, including actual “souvenirs” from Heaven’s Gate cult mass suicide.

The Museum of Death is a fascinating place, owned by the very friendly and enthusiastic Cathee Shultz and JD Healy. With the stories these two could tell, they would make absolutely fascinating dinner guests! So it was my absolute pleasure to visit The Museum of Death and interview Cathee about her love of the macabre, how the museum began and her most shocking and bizarre encounters while working there!

Fatally Yours: How did you two meet and were you both already interested in the macabre when you started dating?

Cathee Shultz: JD and I met working at a French restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ., in 1983 he was baking the croissants and sold the cappuccino’s. It was lust-at-first sight! I went to his house on Sunday and moved in by Thursday. We got married 2 weeks later on “a day that would live in infamy”, December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. Neither one of us can recall being interesting in the macabre prior to meeting. I think together we had common interest of unusual things and we built upon that.

Fatally Yours: When did your fascination with death begin?

Cathee: We opened an art studio in San Diego in 1988 named Tohubohu (meaning an extreme disorder or chaos) through the years it morphed into other entities, the Rita Dean Gallery being one. In the gallery we did shows with the major taboo subjects- Sex, Death, Religion, Drugs, and Money. The Rita Dean was located in an old mortuary built in 1894 so we decided to take that theme and expand upon it and make a museum. This is when our true fascination started with Death! Once we opened and people started asking questions about Death, as responsible museum curators we needed to know the answers so we started our life long quest of DEATH!

Fatally Yours: What was some of the first death memorabilia you acquired?

Cathee: The first items we acquired were some artworks and letters from serial killers. We had an exhibit in 1992 called the Death Row Art Show and we purchased some paintings and drawings by Gacy, Manson and Otis Toole and soon afterwards began writing to assorted notorious killers. We amassed quite a collection this way and started exhibiting our own collection. The year before we opened the Museum of Death we did an exhibit titled “Exotic Weapons” in which JD and some colleagues made life size replicas of execution devices, another collection that would find a home in the Museum of Death.

Fatally Yours: What made you want to found the Museum of Death?

Cathee: It is difficult to make a living with an art gallery especially in San Diego. After doing the gallery for 7 years we wanted to branch out and move forward and we thought a museum was the next best thing.

Fatally Yours: You recently opened a new location in Hollywood after a far-too long hiatus. What happened with the old location and why was the opening of your new location delayed?

Cathee: Yes we did just re-open our new location in Hollywood at 6031 Hollywood Blvd., We had been trying to raise the capital to re-open the MOD for 7 long years and finally met an incredible couple who were willing to help fund the new MOD! We truly anticipated opening sooner but many factors caused the delay. After being closed for 7 long years I can’t really remember one reason that is important enough to mention here. We are just focusing on the future. And pretty much the reason we closed our former Hollywood location was under capitalization and an ASSHOLE for a landlord! Yes, most landlords are assholes but this guy was a hemorrhoid!! He basically put us out of business but once again we would rather just focus on our cool new location! How cool is it that The Wall by Pink Floyd was recorded here!

Fatally Yours: Where did you store all the museum’s items while you were in the process of moving?

Cathee: We had a terrific old house in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, and it had 3 stories, so we just loaded it up, closets, basement, and we even kept a few things out to enjoy. The electric chair was at the head of the dining room table, the 9 foot giraffe neck and skull were in the office, and our stuffed pets were always in sight!

Fatally Yours: What has been the hardest item to acquire for the museum’s collection and what is the story behind it?

Cathee: I truly cannot think of any specific item that was hard to come by, most artifacts walk through the front door! I guess since I actually had to write letters and deal with asshole murderers, the serial killer art took more time and energy.

Fatally Yours: With displays of pretty controversial exhibits like the serial killer artwork, have there ever been any threats against you or the museum?

Cathee: As a matter of fact there have been threats against us. Not so much against the museum but when we did the Death Row Art Show at the Rita Dean Gallery some one called in and said they were going to “burn us down” and another one said “you will burn in Hell for this” and a few other similar calls. We do get people upset with the museum but generally if I get there anger before they leave the MOD I try and find out exactly what they are upset with and talk them through it. Are they mad at me or the images in the MOD? Are they angry at the fact that serial killers exist? Are they upset at man’s inhumanity to man? Are the pissed off our culture is so lacking in death/life education? Do they really think history should not be told?

Fatally Yours: Have you ever had any artifacts stolen or purposefully destroyed by others?

Cathee: Yes there have unfortunately been some thefts in the MOD. In the War display we had a Nazi dagger with sheath, and unfortunately some asshole took only the dagger and left the sheath! We hate thieves, especially ones that destroy history, the dagger is not as important without the other half but anyone stupid enough to steal from a museum is obviously too ignorant to know that! We used to have a hand in a jar (a schizophrenic cut his own hand off with a circular saw while he read the passage in the Bible “if your hand offends you, cut it off” ) and JD would set it on the front counter with a sign “This is from the last person who stole from the MOD!!” It was quite the deterrent, but we eventually passed it along to a new caretaker but we still have an impressive photo of the hand. Also some other idiot tried to take the TV out of the casket entertainment center and it pretty much fell on him, he ran away but had we actually caught him we might have had our first “Rotting Corpse” display!!

Fatally Yours: How do you go about finding specimens for the museum?

Cathee: We find specimens many places, antique stores, flea markets, swap meets, Ebay, and more than anything, friends that know we collect, find stuff for us!

Fatally Yours: Out of all the pieces in your collection, what is your favorite and why?

Cathee: I think you will get two entirely different answers from JD and I but since I am writing this…you get mine, although I don’t have ONE favorite because there are too many good things! My NEWEST favorite is Chaos the pig our newest taxidermied item! Chaos was our pet pig for 16 years, and we put him down (a nice way to say we killed him) last October (old age) and it took exactly 1 year to get him back! Next would be the memorial photos of the infants. There are 2 photos in particular, it is the same baby in both photos, one is of the baby with its eyes open so still looking alive and the next photo is the baby with its eyes closed, clearly deceased! I’m sure it sounds morbid but to me they are the most beautiful photos we own!

Fatally Yours: Of all the things you’ve seen relating to death, what has been the most shocking, upsetting, and/or morbid?

Cathee: One of the most disturbing things I was exposed to was a photograph of a sexually molested corpse at a body research facility. VERY Disturbing!

Fatally Yours: Is there anything you’ve come across that you refused to exhibit because it was just too shocking?

Cathee: There have been a few items over the years that we chose not to pursue or exhibit. The aforementioned photo and the dress Rebecca Schaefer was buried in. She is the actress who was murdered by a stalker, and many stalking laws were enacted throughout the country based on her murder. The story we know is, when her body was exhumed her mother wanted her re-interred in a different outfit, and somehow the original dress made its way to the MOD. There were questionable circumstances surrounding the dress and JD felt it inappropriate to have. Any item known to be stolen or graveyard defacing items are NEVER welcome at the MOD!

Fatally Yours: Is there anything relating to death that you would never feature in your museum because it “crosses the line?”

Cathee: “Crossing the line” is a broad statement. The line we have set for ourselves at the MOD may be an entirely different line someone whose family was brutally murdered by a serial killer! Once again it would not be because an item is TOO graphic but because there area questionable circumstances surrounding the item.

Fatally Yours: If you could choose how you were going to die, how would you go?

Cathee: That’s easy……SPECTACULARLY!!!!!!!!!!!

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