Police museum selling canes, instructions

August 08, 1994|By Janice Haidet | Janice Haidet,Cox News Service

Most people would say, "Don't try this at home," but for $19, you can get a "genuine" Singapore whipping cane, complete with "the actual prison instructions as to how the punishment is to be carried out."

As a result of a front-page announcement in the current issue of Police Times, a national publication of the American Federation of Police, half of the 50 available canes already have been spoken for.

"We've had orders from police departments, pawn shops, schools, really a cross section of people," says Gerald Arenberg, executive director of the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum in Miami, Fla. "For a rather small publication, it's surprising. I figured I'd be stuck with 50 canes."

Mr. Arenberg says he originally intended to order just one cane for the museum, which houses 10,000 police artifacts, including instruments of punishment such as leg irons, whips used in cult activities, a gas chamber, confinement chairs and jail cells.

"I think the most popular item is for people to sit in the electric chair and have their picture taken," Mr. Arenberg says. "We used to sell miniature electric chairs -- gave you an actual shock. I think we sold 5,000 of them."

Now the Singapore whipping cane, along with an explanation of teen-ager Michael Fay's headline-grabbing ordeal and an illustration showing how a prisoner is caned, takes its place in a display case not far from a lipstick case with a knife inside it and an umbrella that conceals a pick.

"We have all kinds of items, and I felt the cane might be of interest," Mr. Arenberg says.

He hopes museum visitors who see the cane realize that "once you step out of the boundaries of the United States, you no longer have the protection of our Constitution . . . you might get your hand cut off, or, as in this case, they might use the caning device on you."

The cane is about 3 1/2 feet long and is made of rattan, the tall, slender stem of a type of palm tree.

"They look harmless, but I guess they're not too pleasant if you're on the receiving end," Mr. Arenberg says. He heard about the canes' availability on a radio talk show and ordered them from a Las Vegas importer, whose address he still has but whose name he was unable to locate.

One such importer took out an ad in USA Today, offering the canes for $29.95 each.

Mr. Arenberg says he is able to offer the canes for less than the importer was originally charging since he got a volume discount because of the relatively high number of canes he ordered.

The canes also come with a "certificate of authenticity," which asserts that the cane "was processed to the specifications of the state prison department" in the Republic of Singapore.

Mr. Arenberg decided to order extra canes because "this is something that some police departments would want to frame, along with some other artwork of how it's used."

The article announcing the canes' availability suggests they can be ordered "should you wish to display one at your office, den or police department."

Then it asks people to wait 30 to 60 days for delivery.

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