‘The American Crime Museum’ preserves New York City’s crime past

Criminals and criminals-watchers probably look back at the arresting photographs of the famous grifters, suicides, con artists and proto-triple murderers of New York City and keep an eye out for the same things as the rest of us – the unkempt, sunburnt noses and the poor-deed-done frowns and the empty eyes. It’s the photo we all remember.

But there’s something else that’s visible from all of the images of turn-of-the-century New York City. There are dozens of little palm trees in the photos, guarded by a bent policeman with water pistol in hand. It might be the same officer seen below in a black-and-white picture. All that palm tree action is part of a unique history exhibit at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office called “The American Crime Museum.”

Behold an amazing website, web and app

The A.C.M. site and the app it contains are constructed to look like a ‘lost journal’ for a small crowd of modern-day Bonnie and Clyde fans who want to study real-life cops, prosecution photos and even folklore of the street-crime movers and shakers who enjoyed the second-highest ranks of American law enforcement. There are a lot of anecdotes about old-time, turn-of-the-century New York City crime fighting on display, with help from Doug Adler, Ph.D., who’s responsible for the graphics. His work on the site and app has an air of neologism and a sort of “Elementary, My Dear” feel.

You can look at cases and other informational items including witness photographs, confession journals, undercover photographs, firearms used, more than 30,000 mug shots, exhibits from the Harlem Grand Jury Innocence Project and more. The A.C.M. also has a link to DNA evidence information and research materials.

And you can play a virtual detective

An interesting element of the exhibit is how it allows the player to walk around the exhibit space and explore at your own pace, using the user-friendly website and smart phone apps. (It requires internet access and both an IOS and an Android device.)

There are plenty of interactive elements, including voice-activated video and audio, video tours, a map of Manhattan’s locations, branching fields of interactive artwork and even “ancient techniques for creating virtual distance and making the virtual collector look like the true cognate with the object,” according to Adler.

Visitors can take charge of their own journey through the exhibit and complete projects with iPads. As the site and apps themselves also note, there’s really no better way to learn about turning-of-the-century crimes in New York than to actually go there.

To get a sense of how the A.C.M. incorporates technology, click on the gallery above. You’ll see how the website and app work.

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