Madame Tussauds New York

March 28, 2012 — Madam Tussaud and her famous wax figures have a pretty amazing history that goes back all the way to the late 1700s. Hers is a global entertainment empire older than Disney and Ripley’s combined…and it’s based almost entirely on insect secretions.

Tussaud’s original name was Anna Maria Grosholtz. She was born in France in 1761 and learned her craft from a physician with an expertise in both wax modeling (which is how doctors would often replicate anatomy and pathology specimens) and in staging public exhibits of his work. Tussaud got the name we all know her by from her husband, and in the early 1800s she created a traveling show of her waxy charges.

In the 1830s, she made London a permanent home for her collection while continuing to expand it. For instance, she introduced the world to the Chamber of Horrors, which featured infamous criminals and victims of ghastly death. Her morbidity probably dates back to her time during the French Revolution, where she would make death masks of those freshly beheaded by the guillotine. Actually, probably even further back to helping her mentor create wax versions of Siamesed infant corpses and testicular tumors.

She died in 1850, and her museum was moved in 1884 a few blocks away from its original location to Marylebone Road, where it has remained since that time…while also growing into a world-spanning entertainment conglomerate.

All so I could see a 3D representation of Madonna during her underwear-as-outerwear phase.

Of course, I didn’t see the London site. I saw the Times Square incarnation. And, honestly, I was somewhat underwhelmed.

You know the deal on how this goes. You go in and get up close with extremely life-like wax models of celebrities and historical personages. The cool thing is they're arranged out in the open and randomly in the various rooms like it's a cocktail party, so you can get close enough to spill your drink on Robin Williams or Malcolm X. And you can take as many pictures as you want with whichever simulacrum you wish.

However, there was nothing really satisfying about that to me, and I think it’s because most of those people are constantly crowding into my media streams to get my attention already. I mean, I see George Clooney more than I see certain members of my family, so seeing a wax figure of him wasn’t that compelling. Also, when I could care less about Taylor Swift, I certainly can care less about her wax double. Same goes for Pope John Paul II.

Of course, back when Tussaud started this whole ball of wax, people rarely got to see either famous or infamous personages, so it’s no surprise that people flocked to put faces to names. Television killed the wax figure star.

And while it is somewhat interesting to flit from figure to figure, not knowing which familiar face you’ll see next, I have to admit that underlying my dissatisfaction with the experience was the price. You’re looking at $36.00 per adult at the door, so it’s almost vital to your future retirement plans to reserve tickets online for a slight discount or to find some other coupon deal for it. In our case, we were just wandering around Times Square, experience-drunk and drunk-drunk, and didn’t have the opportunity to finagle a better entrance fee.

Also disappointing was that there was no Chamber of Horrors there. There was a strangely out-of-place haunted attraction experience, though, called Scream. It featured no wax figures and was basically a short, dark, featureless hallway with a staff member or two shaking things behind the walls. I’d rather see wooden guillotines chopping off wax heads.

When I did get excited about the models, it was almost always for the few characters that were on display rather than the people. The Mummy, Dracula, and the Hulk were much more interesting to me than Beyonce and Wayne Gretzky. Which is why I waxed so enthusiastic about Count Orlok’s Monster Movie Gallery years ago. I guess it’s the difference between seeing Patrick Stewart wearing a four-buttoned blazer and Patrick Stewart wearing a Star Fleet uniform. Or better, yet, Johnny Depp in a punk rock T-shirt and Johnny Depp in his Edward Scissorhands costume (neither of which they had during my visit…instead it was Jack Sparrow).

Another factor is the crowds. We went on a week night in November, and were almost the only ones there, salving the experience considerably. But I've heard horror stories of crowds during the tourist season. If there’s even half a massive crowd thronging these figures, it’s certainly not worth the money to see how short Leonardo Dicaprio is in real life.

So in summary, it was just too little for too much money. Also, admittedly, it just might not be my thing, and you might have a blast there. Still, we went and took some pics, so I might as well get a site update out of it.

Skating in terror from the likes of the
Spice Girls and Lenny Kravitz.
If I have to sing Ring of Fire one more
Goddamned time...

Let me stand next to your fire.