Louvre Shut Due To Violent Gang Of Pickpockets

Louvre
The Louvre temporarily closed on Wednesday due to a strike protesting trouble with violent pickpockets.

The Guardian reports more than a hundred staff walked out on Wednesday in protest over “increasingly aggressive” gangs of pickpockets that harass both visitors and staff. Staff members who have tried to stop the criminals have been kicked and spat at. The strikers are demanding extra security.

The popular art museum in Paris is now open again, according to the Louvre’s website, but the problem isn’t solved. With the influx of art aficionados, there will be an understratum of the criminal element.

Pickpocketing is a serious problem in many parts of Europe. While I’ve lived in Europe for more than a decade, I’ve never been a victim. Perhaps it’s because I used to live in New York City and learned to pay attention. I’m a frequent passenger on both the Madrid Metro and the London Underground, both notorious hotspots for pickpocketing. I always keep my wallet in my front pocket with my thumb hooked into that pocket and my fingers resting on the outside of my pants touching my wallet. Sure, that signals where my wallet is, but good luck trying to get it.

Pickpockets often target families with small children because the parents are distracted. When I’m in the Metro with my wife and little boy, my wife watches the kid while I watch them, with my hand on my wallet the entire time. Nobody has ever managed to rob us.

So if you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, or to Europe, or to New York City, pack your street smarts along with your guidebook.

Do you have any other tricks to foil pickpockets? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Benh Lieu Song]

Native American Burials Looted At Illinois State Historic Site

Native American, Kincaid Mounds
Native American burial mounds at Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site have been illegally excavated and driven over in the worst desecration of a state historic site the state has seen in years.

The Chicago Tribune reports that someone has dug holes into one of the Native American burials. In a separate incident, someone drove a vehicle over one of the mounds. It’s unclear if anything was taken.

The site dates from about 1050 to 1400 AD, during the Mississippian period, a high point in pre-Columbian civilization in the area when large towns created elaborate art and traded across North America. Kincaid was a large town and religious center. The Mississippian people often buried their dead with beads, arrows, pots, and other grave goods. These fetch a good price on the illegal antiquities market and were probably what the vandals were after.

Such crimes come with serious penalties. Disturbing an archaeological sites or human remains on state land carries up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Unsettling of burials on public land can also be a felony punishable by up to three years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.

Painting by Herbert Roe courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Torture Museums Look At The Dark Side Of History

Torture Museum
Ah, the Good Old Days, when everyone lived in a perpetual Renaissance Festival quaffing ale and shouting “Huzzah!” It must have been wonderful.

Not!

People died young, the cities were filled with rats and open sewers, and God help you if you ever got arrested. You’d be taken to a torture chamber in order to “confess” while being subjected to various imaginative torture devices, like the rack shown here in a photo courtesy Jan Mehlich. It’s from the torture exhibit in the Lubuska Land Museum in Zielona Góra, Poland. A victim would be tied to it and stretched until his limbs popped out of their sockets. The spikes on the cylinder would add an extra level of agony. This museum stands out among torture museums in that many of its objects were used in the local area.

Germany was a pretty rough place back in the Bad Old Days, and this has spawned several good torture museums in the country. The biggest is the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, with 2,000 square meters of displays on torture, execution and medieval law. Nuremberg has a preserved torture chamber underneath city hall.

Italy was a rough place too, and you can find out more at the Criminal Museum in Rome, the Museo della Tortura housed in the Devil’s Tower in San Gimignano and the Museum of Criminal Anthropology in Turin. The latter museum is interesting because it reflects the 19th century belief that a person’s physical features, especially the shape of the skull, could show criminal proclivities. Hundreds of skulls, brains and death masks from executed criminals are on display, as well as the weapons they used in their crimes and the instruments of their demise.

%Gallery-155223%Many torture museums are found inside castles. The Tower of London has some nasty instruments on display, as does Gravensteen in Ghent, Belgium. Like Poland’s Land Museum, most of the items are locally sourced in a kind of Slow Torture Movement. Check out my post on Muider Castle, which offers a peek at a medieval dungeon that’s an easy day trip from Amsterdam.

If you’re in Amsterdam and don’t feel like a day trip, check out the cheesy yet interesting Torture Museum. Also in The Netherlands is the Prison Gate Museum in The Hague, which may be the world’s oldest torture museum, having opened in 1882. It offers glimpses of such fearsome places as the Jailer’s Quarters, the Interrogation Room and the Judge Chambers. One interesting detail they tell you on the tour is that imprisonment was not considered a punishment, just a way to take a criminal out of circulation until the trial. To really punish an evildoer, they had to be tortured, publicly humiliated, or executed.

In Lima, Peru, you can visit the underground prison and torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition Museum is a sobering look at what happens when a single religion gets to dominate society.

As you can see, most of these museums display the horrors of the past. One museum that doesn’t shy away from more recent crimes against humanity is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which shows what the Khmer Rouge did to systematically destroy Cambodian society. Gadling blogger Jessica Marati said it’s “one of the most maddening, saddening, and intense places you’ll ever visit in your life.” When visiting torture museums, it’s good to remember that these barbarous practices are still used by many governments today.

British heritage under threat from thieves and vandals

British heritage, milepostA recently released study has shown that last year there were more than 75,000 crimes against British heritage sites. That shocking statistic includes damage to more than 30,000 historic buildings in 2011.

One rising trend is in metal theft. With hard economic times, thieves have discovered that selling scrap metal can turn a quick profit. Lead roofs are being ripped off old churches, Victorian ironwork is being dismantled and even entire statues are being carted away.

Deliberate vandalism and graffiti are also major problems. We reported earlier on one of the more disgusting heritage crimes where drunks are peeing on 700-year-old buildings in Cheshire. Even more ominous, at least 750 historic sites were attacked by arsonists last year.

The more serious damage to older heritage sites can’t be fixed and the whole nation is faced with the dire prospect of losing traces of its communal past because of the selfishness and idiocy of its underclass.

One example from an earlier year is shown here in this photo courtesy P.L. Chadwick. This historic Thames & Severn Canal milepost originally had a metal plate affixed to it, which gave distances. This has disappeared and cannot be replaced.

Scotland tells collector: stop stealing our eggs!

Scotland
An obsessive collector of rare birds’ eggs has been banned from visiting Scotland during nesting season. The ban was slapped on Matthew Gonshaw, 49, and lasts from February 1 to August 31 of every year for the ten years. He’s also banned from visiting land owned by the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Gonshaw has been repeatedly arrested for stealing the eggs of rare birds and is currently serving his fourth prison term for the offense.

The ban came as an ASBO, an Anti-Social Behaviour Order. ASBOs ban individuals from certain activities that are annoying or potentially criminal. Public drunkenness, playing football in the street, and other minor offenses are often stopped through ASBOs. Some ASBOs are a bit odd, like banning a sixty year-old man from dressing as a schoolgirl, complete with plaid skirt. This guy was hanging around schools and making parents nervous. BBC has a list of some of the weirder ones here.

In Gonshaw’s case, the ASBO will hopefully keep him away from the rare bird’s eggs he’d rather stick on a shelf than let hatch. Scotland is one of the top destinations for bird watchers and if “collectors” like Gonshaw are allowed to steal eggs with impunity, Scotland’s wildlife could be seriously affected.

Photo courtesy Mr. T in DC via flickr.