Visiting the Medieval Torture Museum in Chicago

The Medieval Torture Museum in Chicago has a collection of torture devices that are presented to provide a glimpse into the darker chapters of human history.

It invites you to enter the intricate and disturbing world of medieval torture, which was used to obtain confessions and punish those accused of crimes during the Middle Ages.

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Methods of Medieval Torture

The entrance is dimly lit, and the display of human skeletons sets the tone throughout the corridor. The exhibits are not for the faint of heart. It has been furnished with chains, branding irons, and many other devices of torment that brought pain and suffering to many. 

Stepping through into the exhibits, visitors are transported to an era, where shadows whisper tales of dread and ghastly human torture to curtail the lawlessness practiced by Europeans centuries ago.

Water Funnel

The water funnel is a chilling method of torture that shows historical brutality that was aimed to inflict unbearable agony on people. 

Depending on the severity of the alleged crime, a large amount of liquids ranging from 1 to 3 gallons was poured into a person’s throat. The liquids could be anything: water, molten iron, or disgusting sewage. 

To increase the agony, the perpetrators then pushed the victim backward, to put more weight on their engorged stomach on the lungs and heart. 

With the stretched stomach, there was additional pain caused by suffocation and chest heaviness. Sometimes a board was placed on the criminal’s stomach to create more pressure, or their stomachs were beaten to amplify the suffering.

The only way to endure the torture was to expel the liquids by vomiting, but survival was futile because their internal organs became irreversibly deformed.

This method, though reminiscent of the cruel behavior in the Middle Ages, later extended into the interrogation rooms of intelligence agencies and the confines of concentration camps.

Steaming Feet

The legal system in medieval times was shady and scandalous.  

When defendants sought justice in the courts, the judges were at liberty to punish the guilty by any means.

In one trial, a judge unfolded the answer to the reason why a woman attempted to kidnap a child. Her response revealed the desperation of people in the medieval period. She was promised substantial payment that would alleviate poverty and the biting cold that left her unable to afford firewood.

With the failed attempt, one wonders if the punishment met the crime. Her verdict was the relentless repetition of scalding water poured over her feet.  

This method of torture was also practiced in Asia to target debtors, thieves, and wandering soldiers.

Punishment for Gambling

In the town of Glasgow, UK, people of humble beginnings toiled tirelessly to rise above the limitations of their modest background. 

Individuals born into a family of meager means found solace in hard work and determination. For some, fate took an unexpected turn when the temptation of gambling ensnared their sturdy work habits.

Small wagers escalated into high-stakes bets, and slowly the fruits of years of labor were squandered away in the blink of an eye. 

Despite the well-intentioned advice to cut their losses and step away, houses, businesses, and savings were all sacrificed as debt spiraled out of control. 

In a cruel twist of fate, the card club owners, acting as both judge and jury, marked unfortunate souls as a cautionary tale by carving a vicious smile into their faces as a warning. It served as both a brutal reminder of the consequences of unchecked gambling and public humiliation.

Visiting the Medieval Torture Museum

The museum is located at 177 N State Street in Chicago and is open daily from 10 AM to 8 PM; on weekends they close an hour later.

Admission is about $40 per person but you can find discounts and save around $10 per person. The combo offers include a ghost hunt or ghost tour experience, and the normal prices range anywhere from $65 to $90 per person.

You can get there by public transit. The Clark & Lake stop on the CTA green line is less than a two-minute walk from the museum. If you are driving, there are a few parking garages nearby. However, the Wabash and Randolph locations offer special parking rates for the museum.  

Parking is expensive in Chicago, and you may want to spend time shopping on State Street or visit the Riverwalk for great restaurants or water activities. Both are less than 5 minutes away on foot. Thus, public transit is highly recommended so that you can save money on parking fees. 


You can buy the ticket to the Medieval Torture Museum Chicago here. It is a combo ticket and includes the Ghost Hunting experience, an app that allows you to catch ghosts while you walk around the museum!

Things to Know Before You Go

The Medieval Torture Museum exhibits are graphic and gruesome and may not be suitable for children. However, it is also the very essence of their power to evoke emotions, provoke thought, and offer a raw and unfiltered glimpse into the realities of history or human experience.

When we visited during the Halloween season, there was an augmented reality app that we downloaded to “see ghosts” in the museum. It made the visit so much more immersive and fun. The app used the camera on our phones to overlay ghostly figures. As we walked around, our screens would show creepy transparent ghosts lurking around the exhibit. 

There is an audio presentation that you can use on your smartphone to learn more about the exhibits. The pre-recordings are intriguing narratives that enhance the museum experience by providing background details as you walk around.  

If you want to save time, skip the audio presentations and read the informational plaques next to each exhibit instead. The plaques provide more concise details about the torture technique, materials, and physical effects of the torture. They hit on the key facts and highlights without the more extensive descriptions from the audio tour. We used the audio for the first 5 exhibits and then switched to reading the descriptions. It took about 90 minutes to see everything in the museum.


This is just a small sample of the extreme punishments that people endured condemnation at the hands of others. An intriguing observation is that punishments were most certain and cruel when people of high standing were involved, for example, successful businesses or those of noble heritage). 

Verdicts were often carried out in public as a lesson to others. It’s also interesting to learn that some of the same techniques are used in the 21st century. 

If you are seeing Chicago, the Medieval Museum will prove to be an absolute highlight of your trip. 

Between Chicago’s stunning architecture, boat tours, Navy Pier, and world-class art collections, the museum offers engaging exhibits for visitors who want a unique experience in the center of the city.

Submitted by Tanya Taylor | Travels & Treasures

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