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Madam Tussaud’s: The Good Kind of Creepy

May 22, 2013

Never in a million years did we think we’d put a picture of One Direction on our website. Technically we still haven’t, because these are just wax statues.

Admit it, there’s a movie star out there that you’d give anything to meet.  You’ve probably had daydreams while writing a social studies paper about actually standing next to some of those historical type people in the text book, too.  And, we know your deep dark secret – haven’t you wished, way down inside, somewhere in the depths of your guts, right near your gizzard, that you could be in the same room as those One Direction lads?

Well, your dreams might just come true –in a waxy, glassy eyed, could possibly melt if you breathe on them too much sort of way.

Getting ready for our trips, we’ve studied some pretty influential and important people.  We know all their vital statistics – birthdate, deathdate, all their major accomplishments, and even their likes and dislikes – did you know Chris Columbus liked pina coladas and taking walks in the rain and Henry VIII had a thing for chicken pot pie?   We know some of the silliest details of their lives, yet, the only visual we ever get of these people is some two dimensional portrait that hardly shows us anything more than their big noses, funny haircuts, and ridiculous clothes.  What about how tall they are?  How fat they are?  What it’s like to stand toe to toe with them?

We can see all that.

Thanks to Madam Tussuad’s Wax Museum, we can see the people of history brought to life.  Madam Tussaud’s has been  in London for more than two centuries, building wax statues of some of the most famous and infamous people of history, art, music, the stage, and the screen.  Not just to entertain and amaze us, but also to bring us the news.  Seriously, the news.  I’ll be honest, the place is a little creepy, but it’s creepy in a “I can’t look away” kind of way rather than a “the ice cream man is staring at me” sort of way, so I’m kind of looking forward to seeing it.

Perhaps this will wash the One Direction nonsense out of your brain.

So, how did all this waxiness begin?  Well, during the time of kings and queens, royal folks always had a bit of a weird practice.  Upon the death of a famous royal, a wax maker would mold a wax face modeled after the dead person to be placed over their real face.  Remember now, it wasn’t like today where the funeral would take place just days after the death.  Back then, it could be weeks before the dead were laid to rest.  The public would come from all over the kingdoms to pay their respects to their leaders, and only then be ready to accept their new line of rulers.  Because of this long wait between death and burial, wax faces were placed over the real ones so the face would maintain its original charm!   You know who did that really odd job, right?  The original Madam Tussaud.  Her first big jobs were to sculpt death masks for King Louis XVI of France and his wife, the French Queen, Marie Antoinette.  This pretty much made her the ROCK STAR of molding wax faces for famous dead people (yes, you just read that sentence).

Now, I also said that these wax figures brought the news of the day to life.  A few hundred years ago most news was spread by CNN – Communities, Networks, and Nice people.  Well, not quite the same as our CNN I suppose.  Back then, word of mouth was the only real way to spread anything worth spreading.  People used to tell the most amazing stories, but we all know what happens when stories are told…they change.  When someone passes a story down from one generation to the next, it’s like a giant game of telephone – everyone adding their own flavor to the story and embellishing their favorite parts.  By the time it goes through a few people, it’s a different story.  Think about the story of Robin Hood.  We know that that story has surely been altered a ton over time, characters added and taken away, Robin’s deeds changing and becoming more heroic, even Robin himself going from a peasant to a soldier to a lord as the story evolved.

We found this in a Google search and had to share it. We don’t know how they measured all the dead celebrities in the museum, but this is very amusing.

Sculpting with wax was cheap and fairly easy, so many people started to tell stories with wax masks to represent the characters in their stories.  They’d tell the news of the day with these wax masks – so imagine, instead of having to just hear about Lindsay Lohan’s latest lunacy, or see Ceelo fight with Xtina, or some gossip about who Taylor Swift broke up with this week – you’d actually have an artist with masks for all these newsworthy folks – only they’re newsworthy folks of the 1800s instead.

Eventually, story tellers began to travel Europe with wax figures of famous people and use them to tell their tales.  In London today, there’s still such a place.  Within the walls of one really old building are a ton of real looking dead and living people.  Want to see the Beatles?  Well, they’re there, along with Brad Pitt, One Direction, Lady Gaga, Beyonce,  Hitler, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, the sparkly vampire dude from Twilight, Johnny Depp, Charles Dickens, Albert Einstein, President Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., David Beckham, and even fictional characters like E.T., Wolverine, The Terminator, Jack Sparrow (yes, that’s two Johnny Depps), Sherlock Holmes, and, yup, even though it’s in London, you can see good ole Captain America.

A visit to Madame Tussaud’s isn’t just a look at wax celebrities, but a glimpse into England’s past.  For only a small fee visitors can really see what historical figures and pop culture stars look like.  Not only that, but England (as some of you will soon see) seems a bit obsessed with wax figures – they’re in the Canterbury museum, populating Warwick Castle, and in all sorts of touristy spots in Stratford.  It used to seem odd, but not that we know the history of the wax figures in England, but now maybe we can understand why.  The history is just one reason to visit Madam Tussaud’s, but having the chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with Harry Styles or JLo, knowing that you’d be so comparatively hot that you could literally melt their hearts, might be an even better one.

We’re just trying to share some of the interesting and strange things we learn about the world around us.  This article is from Mr. Doerr, who has been with TAP since our Italy trip back in 2009.   Mr. Doerr is the group’s worrier.  There’s not a problem TAP could ever encounter that he hasn’t planned for.  Right now he’s mostly worried how other history teachers will look at him when they find out that he did back to back Wikipedia searches today, looking up both King Louis XVI and One Direction while writing this article.   If you are affiliated with Minooka TAP (student, teacher, parent, family member, or past traveler) and you’d like to submit an article, please email us at

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