Hall's exploits—and those of countless other spooks—are enshrined at the new International Spy Museum, which opens July 19 in Washington, D.C. Billed as the world's largest museum of all things cloak-and-dagger, it fills five former office buildings. "This isn't Disney," says founder Milton Maltz, 72. "We're going to tell it like it is."
To do so, Maltz—a former media mogul who also helped found Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—has invested $40 million. Exhibits will include the Russian "Kiss of Death," a tiny pistol disguised as a lipstick that, with a turn of the tube, fired a 4.5 mm bullet. Also on view will be a Soviet buttonhole camera from the '70s and a Nazi encoding device known as the Enigma (subject of the recent film of the same name).
One room will be devoted to the clandestine exploits of some very public figures. Before she became America's best-known French chef, Julia Child was a file clerk and translator for the CIA's predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services, where she helped develop a repellent to keep sharks from bumping into Allied mines. Near her exhibit, visitors will find one on German-born film legend Marlene Dietrich. A fervent anti-Nazi (and U.S. citizen), Dietrich broadcast nostalgic songs in her native tongue to demoralize homesick Axis troops.
Still, the museum is "more than just entertainment," says Maltz. Most of the facility is dedicated to the deadly serious side of covert operations. An exhibit on Cold War Germany, for example, replicates a section of the Berlin Tunnel built by the Allies under the Soviet embassy so they could intercept communications.
To help acquire treasures for his brainchild, Maltz enlisted H. Keith Melton, a millionaire McDonald's franchiser whose own trove of spy memorabilia—some 7,000 items—is the largest personal collection anywhere. ("I've been very successful," Melton explains, "so I've had the time and money to spend an ungodly amount.") Maltz also recruited veteran spies as consultants, including two ex-CIA chiefs and Oleg Kalugin, once the KGB's head of counterintelligence in the U.S. "Here," says Kalugin, "people will learn things that were hidden for generations."
The museum will offer plenty of pop-cultural icons as well-a replica of James Bond's 1964 Aston Martin, for instance, and a series of '30s spy toys. Maltz himself collected cereal-box decoder rings as a boy in Chicago, the son of Russian immigrants Anna and Louis, who lost their clothing store during the Depression and wound up as salesclerks. As a high school freshman, Milton landed the title role in a WBEZ production of "Jack and the Beanstalk." He stayed involved with radio at Roosevelt University—where he met his wife, Tamar, now 72, when she auditioned for a show he was producing—and later at the University of Illinois-Champaign. After graduating in 1951, the couple moved to Jackson, Mich., where Maltz became program director for a local station. By then the Korean War had begun, and the National Security Agency soon tapped him to analyze foreign documents. Next came a brief stint with the CIA. The importance of intelligence, he says, "really started to hit home."
Maltz returned to civilian life in 1953, and with $6,500 saved from Tamar's schoolteaching job the couple bought a radio station in Plymouth, Wis. Eventually they acquired dozens more, along with several TV stations, across the country. (They also raised three children: Julie, 47; Daniel, 43; and David, 39.) Maltz got his first taste of museum building in 1995, when he helped establish the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And after selling his company in 1998, he conceived the idea of a museum that would embody his fascination with espionage.
Ultimately Maltz hopes to attract 500,000 visitors a year. In one room they'll be able to talk to retired agents. "We expect that the most-asked question will be 'Did you ever kill anyone?' " says museum spokeswoman Jennie Saxon. "Followed by 'Where is the bathroom?' "
Macon Morehouse in Washington, D.C.