Most people associate the word museum with places such as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Met in New York, or the Louvre in Paris.
But for our two tweenage children, 11 and 13, who would rather eat liver every day than go to a museum – as we have obliged them to do in the past – this time we caved and settled for Madame Tussauds wax museum on a trip to the Big Apple.
Going to Madame Tussauds right in the heart of Times Square (madametussauds.com) was our leverage for visiting our favourite city yet again – the kids were growing weary of it – because they were dying, absolutely dying, to see the wax figures of their favourite musical boy band, One Direction.
So we went, but make no mistake: even though Madame Tussauds is not a “museum” in any true sense of the word, and although it’s a bit creepy to gaze upon hundreds of mannequin personalities who look like they were killed and stuffed (is “taxidermized” a word?), it was pretty enjoyable in a “look at this one, look at that one” kind of way.
And if the number of people lining up outside were any indication, Madame Tussauds has nothing to worry about in terms of its popularity as a tourist attraction.
They and we were shelling out good money to see the five floors of exhibits, the “4-D” short film, pose with our favourite wax figures, and have “official” Madame Tussauds photos taken sitting next to One Direction.
Does life get any better than that?
Seriously, the New York Madame Tussauds, much like the flagship museum in London and the 15 others around the world, is nothing if not determined to keep up with what’s most popular.
New York was just one of the ports of call made by One Direction’s Niall, Zayne, Liam, Harry and Louis as they wend their way around the world to other Madame Tussauds museums.
Hope they’re not getting too jet-lagged!
What impresses visitors to Madame Tussauds is not just the obvious, meticulous care and preparation taken to create each wax figure, but also the sheer variety and scope.
Historical figures, Hollywood, pop, TV, and sports stars, famous cartoon and other “characters,” political and world leaders, cultural figures – they’re (almost) all there in all their glory or infamy, some looking eerily just like their photos, others just the tiniest bit off.
They ranged from Benjamin (Franklin) to Bieber (Justin), and included just about everybody else you could think of, alive or dead: “Branjolina,” Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Charlie Chaplin, Jackie O, Taylor Swift, etc., etc. There was even a special section devoted to New York and my own personal favourite, Frank Sinatra.
You want to hug Barack Obama? Go ahead! Unlike at real museums, at Madame Tussauds, you can step right up and touch everything. Just hope no one flinches.
As was made clear, creating a particular wax figure is expensive (about $150,000) and takes up to four months. Hairs are painstakingly inserted individually, and more than 250 measurements and photos of a subject are taken to make it accurate. Red silk recreates the veins on eyeballs.
The actual Madame Tussaud was an 18th-century French woman and housekeeper for a physician who opened a wax museum in Paris in 1767. After he died, she took over and in 1835 established the first permanent Madame Tussauds in London.
It has since grown into a multi-million dollar empire. Madame Tussauds New York opened in 2000.
Some 500 million people have visited a Madame Tussauds museum, so they must be doing something right.