After all of the heavy historical lifting that I’ve been doing over the past several days in D.C. (going to museums, going to monuments, going to memorials), I decided to try some lighter fare.
The lightest that I could find was Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. Yep, a wax museum. I hadn’t been to one in over ten years at least. It’s fair to say that I came in with pretty low expectations.
And yes, it was pretty cheesy, but it was also a lot of fun. You have to keep in mind that I’m a president geek, and it starts off with a series of vignettes with each president, in succession order. This fact alone made the museum pretty wonderful to me and I ended up barely paying any attention at all to its other parts. Why would I want to spend any time with George Clooney or Taylor Swift when I can cosy up to Rutherford Hayes??
The fact that you can cosy up is one the charms of this particular museum. There are no velvet ropes here. There are no glass cases. There are no museum guards tsk-tsking you if you get too close. In most cases, the figure is just standing there. You can walk up to them and get as close as you want.
I’m thinking that they tried fairly hard to match the wax figures to the size and shape of the actual historical personage. Sure enough, I towered over the wee little fellow, James Madison. Historically, most presidents actually average somewhere around six feet and yes, most of them were taller than me.
Probably for obvious reasons, the presidents that we know only from paintings or from photographs are the ones that look most lifelike. Once you get to Nixon and after, the resemblance between the actual figure and the wax figure begins to fade because you have witnessed how they move in real life and the wax figures look just a bit off.
Although interestingly enough, they do have a wax figure of Nancy Reagan, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t look exactly like her. I’m guessing that this probably says something about the basic artificiality of her appearance in real life. On the other hand, the Hillary Clinton figure was laughably bad to an almost unrecognizable extent.
Some of the presidents were sitting down. I think the idea is that you could sit next to them and have your picture taken in a seemingly more informal setting. Fair enough. However, they had Abraham Lincoln sitting in what appeared to be a playhouse box. The box was covered in presidential bunting and the seats were old-fashioned red upholstered. I’d just been to Ford’s Theater (it’s just around the corner) and in fact, it looked startlingly like the booth at Ford’s. Was it really the intention that you were supposed to take a picture of yourself with Lincoln at the setting in which he was assassinated? I didn’t see a derringer that you could use as a prop to really make your photo pop. If you came with a friend, one of you could play Henry Rathbone (I told you I was a geek, look him up, it ends well for him!).
I was amused by the fact that Franklin Pierce’s haircut almost looks like Tim Burton’s. Eisenhower and Grant were both in their military uniforms (I can’t remember now, but I think Washington was as well). Interestingly enough, Zachary Taylor, who was also swept into office due to his military prowess in the Mexican American War (Old Rough and Ready!) was not. Clearly an oversight of epic proportions.
I particularly liked standing next to the little known presidents, the Franklin Pierce’s, the Rutherford Hayes’, the Chester Arthur’s. You see the famous presidents regularly; I liked that even the nonentity presidents got to have their own little moment in the sun.
And oh yeah, there were also some celebrities, but who the fuck cares?