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Steve Hansen: National Law Enforcement Museum will be worth a visit

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Posted: Friday, May 19, 2017 11:00 am

A number of our locals enjoy traveling to the nation’s capital for sightseeing and vacations during this time of year.

My old hometown has an amazing number of historical and modern exhibits that are both visually stimulating and educational.

There are always new attractions to keep the visitors coming. The latest in progress is the National Law Enforcement Museum. It’s 55,000 square-foot facility will be located in the 400 block of E. Street NW and should be opened to the public by the summer of 2018.

Congress authorized building the museum in 2000. Work on the structure began two years ago. Its collection will hold over 17,000 artifacts dating back early as the 17th century.

Four areas expected to generate the most interest are the J. Edgar Hoover collection, women in law enforcement, police and pop culture, along with displays featuring prohibition agent Eliot Ness and his “Untouchables” memorabilia.

Senior director of exhibits and programs Rebecca Looney, recently provided some members of the media items that future visitors can expect. For example, the museum will house over 2,000 relics belonging to J. Edgar Hoover, who served as the first and longest Federal Bureau of Investigation director from 1935 until May 2, 1972.

Some of the items to be displayed will be Hoover’s office desk, chair and telephone, along with awards, photographs and various official documents.

Although disliked by many politicians and a number of presidents, some say Hoover held onto his job as long as he did by thoroughly investigating perceived enemies and holding any harmful information over their heads as a bargaining chip. Hoover’s long career ended when he was found dead in his home from a heart attack at age 77.

A chronological display of women in law enforcement will also be an important part of the museum’s attraction. Historical displays will date back to 1854 when females served as jail matrons in New York City. They were hired to guard and search women prisoners but had no law enforcement powers.

By the 1970s, attitudes changed to the point where not only were females seen as equals, but on the federal level, became candidates for the FBI academy just two months after the death of Hoover.

Perhaps the most visited showpiece will be the pop culture collection. This consists primarily of toy company, television and Hollywood creations exalting the virtues of mostly fictional law enforcement icons.

Nineteenth century trading cards, a Parker Brothers “Calling All Cars” board game from the 1930s, a ‘50s “Dragnet” toy set, a ‘70s radio-controlled “CHIPS” motorcycle and a 1975 “Pepper Anderson,” police woman doll will be available for visitors to observe and perhaps reflect on various childhood memories.

Last of the expected main attractions will be the Eliot Ness “Untouchables” display. A few years ago, museum officials were able to obtain auction memorabilia from the estate of Ness’ secretary, Winifred Higgins. They include his identification credentials, telegrams, notes, photos and various other documents related to the agent’s tenure with the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Prohibition and later the Justice Department.

Ness was made famous by his portrayal in a popular television show during the late 1950s and early ‘60s called “The Untouchables,” starring Robert Stack.

He was credited with bringing down Chicago bootlegger, Al Capone. This memorable mobster was sent to prison for tax evasion in 1932.

Other reported museum attractions will include a U.S. Park Police helicopter, 19th century lawman Pat Garret’s gun and badge, along with the shield of Ted Hinton, the youngest member of a posse that gunned down Bonnie and Clyde in 1934.

The National Law Enforcement Museum is supported by private donations and is dedicated to American law enforcement officers everywhere.

It is an extension of the National Law Enforcement Memorial, which honors more than 20,000 officers who have given their lives in service of others since 1791.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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