There is only one place in D.C. where you can sit next to Rosa Parks on a bus. Once you take your seat on the bus, voices shout at you and imaginary hands pound the back of your seat. Parks remains calm – because she is made of wax.
The world-famous Madame Tussauds wax museum opened a Washington branch on Oct. 5. Located at 10th and F streets, Madame Tussauds contains 50 life-sized wax figures of various celebrities, politicians and historical figures.
“Here we are definitely going to skew more toward political figures and historical icons,” said marketing and sales manager Shame Lloyd.
Madame Tussauds sets itself apart from many other museums considering visitors are encouraged to touch and interact with the exhibits. There are no barriers, velvet ropes or alarms.
“There’s nothing between you and interaction with the figures,” said Lloyd.
Lloyd said that this allows visitors to feel as though they are standing next to a real person instead of a statue. In the civil rights room visitors can stand next to Martin Luther King and recite the “I Have a Dream” speech. Further along in the same exhibit is a replica of the oval office, where visitors are encouraged to make themselves at home.
“(This is) the only place you can come and sit in the oval office and kick your feet up on the president’s desk,” said Lloyd.
In creating a wax statue, sculptors must undertake a meticulous process. At least 250 different measurements must be made and more than 150 photos must be taken.
“(Sculptors) create a 360-degree view of the person,” said Lloyd.
This process can also be very hard on the person who is being replicated.
“A celebrity sitting will take about two hours,” said Lloyd.
To create skin tone alone, 20 different colors are used. To build color in the face sculptors use 10 layers of oil paints. Sculptors try to reproduce every freckle and tattoo by painting them on by hand. The statues have their hair washed and their makeup redone on a regular basis. Sometimes the person who is being replicated will donate his or her clothes to be put on the statue in the museum.
Visitors had varying reactions to the museum, but seemed to have a positive experience overall.
“I thought it was quite nice,” said Barbara Wilson, who came in with a group of adults and children. “I think the kids enjoyed it.”
Some of the models are more accurate portrayals of their live counterparts, some patrons said.
“Some of them looked really fake, but then there were some of the other ones that looked really realistic,” said Amy Pasture.
Anne Marie Grosholtz, who came to be known as Madame Tussaud, was born in Stasbourg France on December 1, 1761. She then moved to Paris and learned how to make wax figures from Dr. Philippe Curtis.
After Curtis’ death, Tussaud inherited his collection and toured England for 33 years. She then set up a permanent museum in London. Since then, Madame Tussauds has expanded to Amsterdam, New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
This article appeared in the October 25, 2007 issue of the Hatchet.