Are You Brave Enough to Visit the Medieval Torture Museum?

Published on August 11, 2023

Since November 2021, Chicago residents and visitors have noticed an attraction in the Loop that seems a bit out of place on State St. amid local cultural institutions like the Chicago Theatre and Marshall Field & Co. building. The Medieval Torture Museum takes people out of the vibrancy of a modern metropolis and into some of the darkest corners of human behavior.

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

The curators invite guests to step inside “the minds of fanatics, madmen, and murderers, and discover the world’s most detailed collection of confinement and torture devices.” They accomplish this through eight rooms containing more than 100 pieces of equipment across 6,000 square feet, making it the largest interactive historical museum in the country. Its collection was inspired by European museums and created by a group of 80 scientists, historians, and artists based on years of academic research.

While inside, visitors can see items like a Roman breaking wheel, the Spanish horse, and the armchair of inquiries. Coffins filled with random body parts are meant to be opened, and people can operate a guillotine and a device that helped determine whether a woman was a witch. Actors posed for each display, and their likenesses were replicated in silicone.

Although its focus is on the Middle Ages, there are also examples of torture from some of the earliest parts of recorded history (Sicilian bull, snake pit) up through modern times (Colombian necktie, electric chair). The idea is that guests can experience both sides of the equation—torturer and victim—to confront their own sense of empathy and understand the depths of mankind’s cruelty. 

“We wanted people to feel more emotion rather than just coming to see artifacts,” Paula Malone, the museum’s manager, told Time Out Chicago.

This is the second location of the Medieval Torture Museum. The first was unveiled in 2017 in St. Augustine, Fla., and a third opened in December 2022 on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. The museum opens at 10AM daily, and closes at 8PM Monday through Thursday and 9PM Friday through Sunday. Admission is not recommended for those under 18 unless accompanied by an adult.

Included in the price of admission is an audio guide (English and Spanish) featuring 56 stories about what’s on display, complete with how the devices worked and stories from those on whom they were used. Visitors can also download an app called the “Ghost Hunting Experience,” a Pokémon GO-style search for virtual ghosts throughout the museum, complete with the tales of their deaths.

Those who wish to explore the dark underbelly of Chicago history can also play the free “Are You Brave Enough?” scavenger hunt that the Medieval Torture Museum created for eATLAS. Perfect for individuals and teams, the adventure takes players to several spots in the Loop that have earned infamy for the macabre events that took place there, such as the Iroquois Theatre fire and the derailment of an “L” train. Completing all stops on the hunt will reward players with a discounted admission to the museum.

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