Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dauphin Street Police Museum

The Dauphin Street Police Museum is in the lobby of a working police precinct and is located at 320 Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile (across the street from Cathedral Square). It's open 24 hours 7 days a week and admission is free.

The museum contains the sort of items you would expect to find in a law enforcement exhibit. There are display cases filled with guns that include rifles that look like they could have been used in gangster movies or old westerns. There are also old radios, radar guns, badges and police handbooks. One of the oldest pieces on display is a civil war prisoner log which I thought was eye catching mainly because of the beautiful script writing that the entries were written in.

My sons thought the martial arts weapons and explosives were "cool" but overall were bored with the static nature of the museum. They wanted something more interactive. On the other hand, my three year old grandson had a great time looking at the mannequins dressed in old uniforms and playing in the mock jail cell. His mother was only a little embarrassed when he pointed to the display of seized drug paraphernalia and shouted "look at the toys".

The items I found interesting were little things that seemed to be tucked into the cases almost as an after thought. There's an old whiskey still that could have been the seed for a exhibit on prohibition or moonshiners. I saw a homemade zip gun but there's no explanation of what a zip gun is. There are several weapons made by prisoners in jail. I thought they should have been displayed with a piece about violence in jails or the dangers faced by personnel who worked in the city jail.

Several of the old newspaper clippings should be developed into complete exhibits of their own. They include stories about people like William Powell and Walter Jackson who were the first black officers hired by the city of Mobile and Policewoman Ethel Eubanks who had a run in with a male motorist in 1943. I would have liked to learn more about what it was like for minorities who struggled to pave the way in this career.

I was surprised to learn that Patricia Krenwinkle, of the Charles Manson family, was arrested in Mobile after the Tate murders. The museum has created a photo montage on one wall to commemorate what they refer to as "Mobile's Most Famous Arrest" but there's not a lot of information to go with it. If you take a minute you can read the newpaper articles that are part of the mural but I thought a video display with old news footage would have made it more interesting.

All in all the museum was more interesting than my family expected. And really, the city is lucky to have a museum that pays homage to it's police force. Yes, there is room for improvement and it certainly is lacking the wow factor that our entertainment driven society looks for today. The fact is that any money spent on making the museum more flashy would probably have to come out of the police department's budget which means less money for real needs like fighting crime. So if you find yourself downtown take a little time and tour the museum. It's a good way to pay respect to our law enforcement officers and learn a little about their history.

To read another review of the Police Museum please visit Jere Hough's blog at

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