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Controversial Exhibit Evokes Mixed Emotions

A new exhibit at the Ohio Historical Society evokes a wide range of thoughts and emotions from visitors. WOSU talked to some people who viewed the display titled "Controversy: Pieces You Don't Normally See." The moment you enter the dimly lit exhibit you may be surprised, angered or even intimidated. Standing before you amidst black walls is a Ku Klux Klan uniform. It looks as if someone is wearing it until a closer look reveals hallow spaces in the hood's eye holes, a metal stand replaces feet. The robe, dating from the 1920s, is one of five unusual pieces of the R-rated exhibit. "My name is James Daley. I'm from Dayton, Ohio. And I came here today; I thought it was a pretty historic day for the electric chair to be on display for the first time in over 80 years." Daley, who grew up near the Lima Correctional Institute, said he collects artifacts and photos from the Ohio Penitentiary. This is his first time to see the electric chair in person. "Kind of a solemn moment as well because it's not just an exhibit. A lot of people gave their lives in this chair," Daley said. Also on display is a crib cage from 1870. It's a wooden, adult-size crate. It once was used to restrain mental health patients at Longview State Hospital in Cincinnati. There's also a thumb mitt from 1903. The aluminum mitt was used to prevent thumb sucking. And then there's an 1860s condom likely made from sheep skin or intestine. It belonged to a Muskingum River steamboat captain. For visitor Elizabeth Broadnax, the crib cage evoked the strongest emotion. "Just being locked and not understanding themselves and people not knowing what to do with them or for them. That just stood out to me," Broadnax said. The exhibit, like its name, has met with some controversy. Critics say it's sensational. But Sharon Dean, who directs the historical society's museum and library services, said history is not always pretty. "If you can't face these issues then we're doomed to repeat those same mistakes," Dean said. Visitors can share their thoughts at a dialogue space at the end of the exhibit. "Controversy:Pieces You Don't Normally See" runs through November.