When many of us hear the words roadside kitsch, of course, what first comes to mind are things like those giant muffler men and that selfie of us with the world’s biggest ball of belly button lint that we took on our cross country family road trip last year; however, there is perhaps nothing that represents weird tourist attractions quite like America’s wax museums do. We’re not talking about the Madame Tussaud’s that seem to have opened up in nearly every major American city these days. Don’t get us wrong – they’re great, and their figures look like they were made straight from the DNA of the celebrities their portraying.
However, what we’re talking about is those local wax museums usually located near some of the best tourist traps in the country that beckon all of us who like the places we visit to be a little different than ordinary tourist destinations. The figures might be a bit dusty. They’re sometimes posed funny and it’s often a guessing game trying to figure out who they’re supposed to be.
You usually start by walking into dark halls (good wax museums are always dark) filled with tableaux of whatever the theme happens to be which is usually the history of the place you happen to be in. Eventually, all of these halls and tableaux culminate in a large room for the grand finale. For example, at the former National Civil War Wax Museum in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the grand finale included dozens of wax figures in a giant tableau highlighting Pickett’s Charge. Afterwards, an animatronic Abraham Lincoln would rise up from among the dead and give his Gettysburg Address, complete with the Battle Hymn of the Republic playing in the background.
The former Natural Bridge Wax Museum in Natural Bridge, Virginia, began with Adam and Eve and ended with a grand finale of the Last Supper. In between were tableaux depicting moonshiners, a man trading his wife for a jug of whiskey, and a young George Washington carving his initials into the side of the Natural Bridge when he worked as a surveyor.
The former National Wax Museum of Lancaster County in Lancaster, Pennsylvania had a grand finale depicting an Amish barn raising complete with a rather plump animatronic Amish man talking us through the process step-by-step in his thick Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
You may have noticed I used the word “former” a lot and that’s because, unfortunately, a lot of great American wax museums that we loved visiting as children and adults on our family road trips of yesteryear are now gone, supposed victims of the age of digital media and instant gratification. However, there are a few that are still around and worth seeing before they, too, disappear from the list of American roadside attractions. Here they are in all of their glorious kitsch and in no particular order:
HOLLYWOOD WAX MUSEUM // Los Angeles, California
Whenever we put anything having to do with wax museums in America into Google search, this Vice article called “An Open Letter to the Worst Wax Museum in America” always came up. After reading the article, we knew right away this is the kind of place for us. Wax figures that resemble distance cousins of the actors they were meant to portray? Check. Figures seemingly purposely depicted in years-old scenes from actor’s worst film roles such as Jack Black’s Ignacio from the 2006 box-office bomb Nacho Libre? Check. Figures with wonky eyes and/or creepy death stares? Check and Check. Another bonus: It’s great location on Hollywood Boulevard (which is probably the main reason why it’s still operating today). Don’t just take our word for it. See the real stars of Hollywood for yourself.
JESSE JAMES WAX MUSEUM // Stanton, Missouri
You’ll find The Jesse James Wax Museum among the roadside attractions of Route 66 near Meramec Caverns – one of James’ supposed hideouts. At the Jesse James Wax Museum, you’ll explore the life of one of America’s most well-known bank robbers, sort of. The kitsch factor here is that what you’ll actually explore is the conspiracy theory that James’ faked his own death and lived to the ripe old age of 103. Whether it’s true or not is up to you to decide. Extra bonus (besides the gift shop): The museum is located next to a former Stuckey’s location that was converted into a now defunct toy museum, but you can still enjoy Stuckey’s trademark roof.
BIBLEWALK BIBLE MUSEUM // Mansfield, Ohio
Did you ever wonder what happens to wax figures after a wax museum closes? Well, if you’re Britain’s Prince Philip, you go to heaven (which His Majesty must be happy about). Unfortunately, Prince Charles has a harrowing experience with a whale. John Travolta takes on the role of King Solomon, and as expected, Tom Cruise becomes the savior of the world. (Wait. Aren’t they Scientologists?) That’s right, all sorts of celebrities can be found among the over 300 life-size figures in over 70 tableaux depicting stories from the Bible thanks mostly to other wax museum’s rejects. However, when you visit Biblewalk, don’t ask questions about the hidden celebrities. They don’t like to talk about it as they don’t want you to focus on Steve McQueen and Elizabeth Taylor, but rather the message of God’s Word – the Holy Bible – so please be respectful.
JOHN BROWN WAX MUSEUM // Harpers Ferry National Park, West Virginia
The John Brown Wax Museum is quintessential wax museum kitsch. First, it’s located in a building that was actually standing when John Brown raided the quaint village of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia back in October of 1859. Much of the museum is dark and the floorboards and steps eerily creak underneath your feet as you move from tableau to tableau and floor to floor as the life and death of John Brown is explained in brutal detail. (And, oh yeah, the place may be haunted as well, so there’s that.) The figures, made by iconic Dorfman Museum Figures in nearby Baltimore, are incredibly well done, but especially so are the John Brown figures with a crazed stare that seems to follow you from one tableau to the next. We won’t tell you anymore about the life of John Brown as the museum does such an excellent job of that. We will tell you, however, that this wax museum is definitely a musty must-see!
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN WAX MUSEUM // Lake George New York
Speaking of creepy and haunting, if you like your kitsch a little macabre with a hint of retro horror, then the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum is right up your dark alley. The theme here is monsters of course and you’ll find some of your old favorites like the Universal Classics: the Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman; however, there’s also the relatively new kids on the block like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Leatherface and Jason. The House of Frankenstein is like going to one of those famous chain wax museums and skipping through all of the celebrities, sports heroes and world leader and heading right to the Chamber of Horrors.
NIAGARA WAX MUSEUM OF HISTORY // Niagara Falls, New York
Is that George Washington or Rick Flair? (Wooooo!) Is that supposed to be Princess Diana or George Washington in drag? Is that Julia Roberts or a Tawny Kitaen wax figure reject? And why is Julia/Tawny in a wax museum on history anyway? Why is the atomic clock that supposed to keep perfect time an hour behind? These are the questions that you’ll be asking yourself as you pass through some of the tableaux of the Niagara Wax Museum of History.
In all fairness, though the wax part of the museum may be a little confusing, the actual museum part of the museum does offer some great artifacts on the history of Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. There’s the barber’s chair that Abraham Lincoln had his haircut in, the barrel that Annie Edson Taylor used as the first woman to successfully go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and a Hall of Presidents that goes all the way up to Jimmy Carter.
Of course, like all wax museums, you end up at the gift shop where you’ll be hard-pressed to find any souvenir t-shirts to remind you of your visit. What you will find, however, is as one Tripadvisor reviewer put it: “Visiting here is like going on an archaeological expedition through the ruins of 1970s kitsch.”
We’re in the car and on our way now!
So, that’s the whole ball of wax on some of our favorite wax museums that are worth planning a family road trip to. But as we said, do so as soon as you can before you end up waxing nostalgic about them when they are no longer around.
And if, in fact, you are looking to purchase a souvenir t-shirt, why not make a Stuckey’s stop and browse through our wide selections of souvenirs and gifts including everything from vintage souvenir t-shirts, caps, and mugs to rubber alligators, coonskin caps, and drinking birds and so much more of those quirky souvenirs that made Stuckey’s famous. (Well, actually it was the Stuckey’s pecan log roll that made us famous, but you know what we mean.)
And speaking of our world famous pecan log roll, why not pick up a few of them or some of our other fine pecan candies to take to the folks back home? And to keep those hunger pangs at bay until your back home, be sure to grab some of our delicious road trip snacks for adults and kids alike including our Pecan Divinity and other handy pecan goodies like our bags of flavored pecans or our mouth-watering popcorn treats including the one-of-a-kind delicious Hunkey Dorey popcorn mix.
You don’t have to wait for your next road trip to make a Stuckey’s stop, however because you can make one right here on the information superhighway and have Stuckey’s merchandise including our pecan candies, snacks, and Stuckey’s memorabilia delivered right to your home. Visit our website at stuckeys.com for more information.
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again.
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
For all of the pecany good treats and cool merch you’ll need for your next big road adventure, browse our online store now!
Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again!