“Oh, mom, look it’s Hitler! I’m so gonna take a picture with him!” A giddy American tourist, with a digital camera strapped around her wrist, drags her mom over to a wax figurine of the infamous megalomaniac, trying to figure out the best pose to reflect this unusual meeting. She opts for a wide grin and a hand artfully arranged upon the Führer’s shoulder.
Just a few feet away, President Obama and his wife Michelle stand smiling in the background, in a replica of the Oval Office.For over 200 years, London’s Madame Tussauds Wax Museum has housed hand-crafted wax figurines of history’s most infamous people, giving tourists the chance to feel like they are included in a world that is otherwise very exclusive.
Madame Tussauds wasn’t always a spot for ordinary people to mingle with celebrities. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the museum started functioning as a commentary on popular culture, rather than a source of direct news, due to the rapid growth of print news and public literacy making current affairs more accessible.
And, although the museum was hit by three major disasters in the 20th century, including the Blitz bombing in 1940–in which Hitler was one of the few figures to survive unharmed–millions of visitors have still flocked to the museum. Since first opening in 1835, there have been over 500 million visitors–more than the combined populations of North America and Australia.
Setting The Stage
From the moment you step out of the gilded elevator and into the first exhibition, where a display of fake paparazzi furiously flash their cameras, the illusion is set.
Rounding the corner of a wall with a ‘Madame Tussauds welcomes you to our A-list party’ sign, you enter a chic grand hall, complete with Swarovski crystal chandeliers, waterfalls, and flattering low-lighting.
Hollywood’s hottest celebrities, from Johnny Depp to Nicole Kidman, are dressed in their finest ensembles. Without ropes and bodyguards, you can literally rub shoulders with the stars. But you may have to queue for the chance to get up close and personal with pop singer Justin Timberlake–he is the museum’s most-hugged star, running up the most expensive dry cleaning bill for his stylish white Savile Row suit.
The Horror, The Horror!
Besides letting museum-goers mingle with celebrities and world leaders, Madame Tussauds also provides a more gruesome experience in its Chamber of Horrors. Not for the faint of heart, the Chamber is a spooky, prison-themed labyrinth where live actors, dressed as deranged prisoners, pop out at unsuspecting customers, just waiting to illicit shrieks of horror.
The final stop in the museum is the Spirit of London tour, in which visitors ride in an old-fashioned black cab and are transported through 400 years of London’s history–ending in a strategically-placed gift shop where you can purchase the perfect frame for your photos with Justin and Hitler.