Who Was That Waxed Man?

One of these figures does not belong. (Hint: It's the one that does not have a number.) That's Meade reclining in front of me.

One of these figures does not belong. (Hint: It’s the one that does not have a number.) That’s Meade reclining in front of me.

Last summer I did a book signing at the Gettysburg Civil War Wax Museum, also known as the National Civil War Wax Museum and the American Civil War Museum. I’m not sure what its real name is, really. Truth be told, I never went through the exhibition area. I never saw all its wax figures in their life-size dioramas recreating historic tableaux from the Civil War era.

At least not until yesterday.

The museum, which dates back to 1962 and claims to have hosted up to 9 million visitors over its history, has changed ownership and is radically revamping its exhibits. This weekend it will hold an auction to sell off the wax (actually plastic) figures as well as all the props, furniture, paintings, and other artifacts that brought the Civil War to life. Or at least something that resembled–if you squinted and suspended a reasonable quantity of disbelief–this thing called life.

Horrors of the wax museum! This is General Meade as some 9 million visitors to the National Civil War Wax Museum knew him.

Horrors of the wax museum! This is General Meade as some 9 million visitors to the National Civil War Wax Museum knew him.

Among the artifacts to be auctioned off is a life-size George Gordon Meade.

I had to check it out. So yesterday my wife and I jumped in the car and headed south to Gettysburg for an auction preview. It was like getting a free ticket to the Wax Museum, except this time they let visitors go into the dioramas. And all the historical figures wore numbers, as though they had escaped from Civil War wax jail.

It was all a little creepy, but I guess a good wax museum should be. And it was tremendously old-fashioned, the kind of family entertainment that went out of style with coonskin caps and Ovaltine.  I have to admit, though, there is something endearing about these earnest displays and their somewhat grotesque inhabitants and I feel a little guilty when I poke fun at them. If it had stuck around longer maybe the museum would have become retro-chic and found a new audience. I know that for people who grew up around Gettysburg the wax museum–like the old Electric Map–was part of their childhoods. Time passes on; ways change. I suspect today’s youth would not find the exhibits to be particularly compelling.

In any event, I’m heading back down for the auction. It’s not every day you get to bid on a life-size Meade.

To be continued.

The Wax Museum answered the oft-asked question, "What would the surrender at Appomattox have looked like it enacted by zombies?

The Wax Museum answered the oft-asked question, “What would the surrender at Appomattox have looked like it enacted by zombies?

If two heads are better than one, what is this better than?

If two heads are better than one, what is this better than?

Stonewall Jackson lies mortally wounded in the Wilderness. He still has enough presence of mind to have the commander of the famed "Jesus Brigade" arrested for allowing too much straggling.

Stonewall Jackson lies mortally wounded in the Wilderness. He still has enough presence of mind to have the commander of the famed “Jesus Brigade” arrested for allowing too much straggling.

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