A wax museum is a tourist attraction that is common all over the world. One of the most famous and enduring is Madame Tussauds. During a visit to Madame Tussauds New York, I discovered that the real star is the woman herself. Before photography, people could only depend on illustrations to see what famous figures looked like but then along came Marie Tussaud with her traveling show of wax figures. What people may not know is that back in the 18th and early 19th century, traveling waxworks shows were like People magazine. Regular folk could catch up on what their favorite aristocrats were wearing, see tableaus of ghastly true crimes in the Chamber of Horrors, and check out the latest politicians. While Madame Tussauds was not the only waxwork gig in town, this little powerhouse of a woman created a place where respectable men and ladies could be entertained at a reasonable price. Her wax replicas were often taken from live models depicting the person exactly through the use of a custom molding for their face. For the French royal family, she even commissioned costumes from Rose Bertin, Marie Antoinette’s famous dressmaker when she made a tableau of the royal family sitting down to a public supper.
After fleeing revolutionary France and a deadbeat husband, Madame Tussaud took her show on the road and traveled throughout England for many years before settling in London. Some of her original wax figures are still housed there, including the death masks of the King and Queen of France. Her story not only depicts the progression of her art but also that of a single mother trying to make her business
During a recent visit to Madame Tussauds New York, my daughter was predictably excited to see the celebrities of the day like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga, but to my delight she was also excited to see the figures of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. because she had just learned about them in school—a pleasant surprise to me that she was really paying attention in school. If we ever find ourselves in London, we will be sure to pay a visit to the original Madame Tussauds to see some of her original waxworks.
Madame Tussauds tickets are fairly steep at $35 for adults, so if you don’t have a tourist museum pass, you can look around for discount coupons at all the tourist kiosks around town or at the hotels.