Jun 30, 2023 - News

National U.S. Marshals Museum to open in Fort Smith

Ben Johnson, CEO of the museum; Ronald Davis, director of the U.S. Marshal Service; Luarice Hachem, chair of the museum foundation; and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday.

Ben Johnson (from left), CEO of the museum; Ronald Davis, director of the U.S. Marshals Service; Luarice Hachem, chair of the museum foundation; and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Tourists and history buffs who want to see oddities like the handcuffs used to detain Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega have a new stop: the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith.

Driving the news: More than 16 years after the city was selected as the official site, the $50 million central repository for historical artifacts documenting the federal law enforcers will open to the public Saturday.

Why it matters: There's been no public place to learn more about the nation's oldest federal law enforcement service since 2003, when the previous museum in Laramie, Wyoming closed.

Context: Founded in 1789, U.S. marshals have federal jurisdiction, provide security for courts and judges, apprehend criminals and operate the federal Witness Protection Program.

  • The service also holds a place in the American imagination as the quintessential Western, law-abiding hero in fictions like "Gunsmoke" and "U.S. Marshals."

By the numbers: The collection, located along the Arkansas River, is expected to draw more than 125,000 visitors a year and generate an economic impact somewhere between $13 million and $22 million annually, Ben Johnson, president and CEO of the museum told Axios.

  • There are 18,000 square feet for permanent displays and 4,000 for temporary installations.
  • Classrooms, meeting space, offices, retail and a cafe occupy another 31,000 square feet.

Flashback: The marshals picked Fort Smith as the site in 2007, beating out Laramie, St. Louis, Nashville, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C.

  • With no single benefactor, funding the project has been a challenge. Fort Smith voters rejected a temporary 1% sales tax in 2019 to help pay for its completion.
  • To date, the campaign has reached $47 million, Johnson told us.
  • In March 2022, the former president and CEO resigned in the wake of an incident in late 2021 when he allegedly pulled a firearm on two utility workers fixing street lights near his home.

Visit: Located at 789 Riverfront Drive in Fort Smith, the museum is open daily, 9am-5pm. Admission is $13 for adults, $8 for ages 6-17 and free for children under 6.

What's next: Johnson said that once the staff gets past the honeymoon stage of the opening, there are opportunities to collaborate with other regional historical draws, including the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

A patron listens to a virtual bartender talk about the U.S. Marshals Service. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Go deeper: One-eyed Rooster remembered at the Marshals Museum

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