5 Sites of Historical Atrocities That Have Tried to Rebrand
I’m not going to sit here and clutch pearls over the fact that humans are naturally fascinated by tragedy. It might not be pleasant, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not fascinating. Of course, this means it also bleeds over into our entertainment and leisure time, something you don’t have to look any further than the popularity of Law and Order: SVU to prove. Still, the partially fabricated goings-on of Dick Wolf’s New York aren’t quite as creepy as standing at the epicenter of a historical bloodbath and then immediately buying a commemorative mug.
Here are five sites of historical tragedy that have rebranded as tourism hotspots…
Tower of London
Before “dark tourism” was a phrase, the Tower of London was already a macabre point of interest that was part of even family trip itineraries. Sure, it’s got a lot of fun stuff going for it. The funny hat men that aren’t allowed to move! The ravens! Not to mention the general power of a cool old tower. Nobody bats an eye when tots aplenty are playing and waddling all around the ancient structure.
Which creates a bit of a weird moment every time you remember that it was a well-oiled murder machine. First of all, obviously, there were over 100 confirmed executions of prisoners, which is grisly enough. Remember that it wasn’t peachy even if you kept your head, given that the Tower was famous for employing torture devices like the rack or the far-too-cutely-named Scavenger’s Daughter (basically a reverse rack that squeezed you instead). I’m just saying, it’s weird that Paddington is slamming marmalade sandwiches there.
Another site of classic, full-grin photo-ops that probably infuriates its many ghosts is the Roman Coliseum. I understand there’s pretty much zero chance a building that big, old and awesome isn’t going to top a lot of travel guides. But given the exact amount of blood spilled inside, it does seem a little chipper. The same ground that had a smorgasbord of human organs plopping out on it is now dusted with the oaty crumbs of a million childrens’ afternoon granola bars.
Maybe it’s that Hollywood has done a lot to paint gladiatorial battles as an honorable duel between two well-oiled handsome actors that the reality has faded into the background a bit. Sure, some of the matchups were well-trained warriors at the top of their game, but there were also terrified slaves serving as a grislier version of boxing’s tomato cans. Worst of all was the halftime entertainment, which consisted of things like two men sentenced to death strapped to either side of a see-saw, with the strength of their quads and calves deciding which one of them got torn to shreds by an animal’s teeth.
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
I’ll say this: Thanks to, you know, that whole nuclear whoopsie-daisy, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the area around Chernobyl. It’s not like you can toss a waterpark in there unless you want a lazy river where a severe sunburn is your luckiest possible outcome. Despite the resurgence of wildlife there, it’s also not well-suited to agriculture, as people generally prefer asparagus that doesn’t glow.
So what is there to do with the place except turn it into a strange tourist destination for people capable of tuning out a Geiger counter? Even in a part of the world known for their comfortability with deep sadness, it’s a challenging tonal tightrope to walk, something that became clear to a Times reporter when his hosts were doing bits on the bus. I’m just saying, there was never a Top Gear episode where they were ripping around a town destroyed by a tsunami.
Speaking of tonal dissonance, there might not be a more emotionally confusing place in the United States than New York City’s own Ground Zero — one of our country’s greatest tragedies, and one that kicked off decades of ill-advised and unnecessary additional death to boot. Somehow, though, the memorial erected in its place never got quite as somber as you’d expect. For example, the Vietnam Veteran Memorial doesn’t sell cheese boards with the fallen’s names etched on them.
Look, I know it’s a tough task to figure out exactly how we’re supposed to treat that space. It can’t just be a stark black Crying Room and a pile of firefighter’s helmets. Especially when it’s smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan, meaning there’s pretty much no way you won’t be able to see a Chipotle during any moment of reflection. Still, it just feels weird for the official website of 9/11 to have a section labeled “merchandise.”
Look, it’s a webSITE, so I’m including it, given that it’s one of the premier grief-peddlers of the modern age. I understand that it’s my algorithm, in part, but I’m not sure I’ll ever fully be able to process a website telling me that it “thinks I would enjoy” a documentary on Auschwitz.
Eli Yudin is a stand-up comedian in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @eliyudin and listen to his podcast, What A Time to Be Alive, about the five weirdest news stories of the week, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever else you get your podcasts.