Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum
The Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum is a tourist attraction in downtown Hot Springs (Garland County) and the only wax museum in Arkansas. The museum was established in 1971 in the historic Southern Club building at 250 Central Avenue, directly across from the Arlington Hotel and straddling Hot Springs National Park. The museum features over 100 life-size wax figures of real and fictional characters and over thirty scenes, as well as gambling paraphernalia and an exhibit, a gift shop, and a seated 4D virtual reality ride.
Josephine Tussaud (1900–1985) was the great-great-granddaughter of Marie Tussaud (1761–1850), a French wax sculptor and founder of the famous Madame Tussauds Wax Museum of London in 1835, but the establishment in Hot Springs is not affiliated with the Madame Tussauds international chain. The museum is housed in a two-story, 14,000-square-foot building that is modeled in the Romanesque Revival style and features egg and dart molding, arched one-over-one windows, and much of the original lighting, wallpaper, and décor. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 1985.
The building has a rich local history as the Southern Club, built in 1893 to serve the many tourists who were flocking to Hot Springs at the time to take advantage of the medicinal properties of the hot thermal water that gave the city its moniker. After many evolutions and changes in ownership, and after gambling was officially abolished in the 1960s, the building opened as the Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum on May 7, 1971. The museum has thrived in the downtown area since that time. The long-time manager/owner E. L. “Al” Lane sold the property in 2002 to Stacy and Don Roberts of Roberts Family Attractions, proprietors of several other popular tourist attractions in the area.
The wax replicas housed at the museum were all produced by Gems Wax Models of London. They are made of beeswax and a secret chemical compound. The hair is human, imported from Italy and sewn onto the figures one strand at a time. The eyes are optical glass from Germany made individually for each figure.
Inside the double-glass front doors of the building is a ten-and-a-half-foot-wide marble staircase, which is next to the first escalator in Arkansas. The escalator, which no longer operates due to irreparable water damage, is part of the opening scene, or “Stairway of Stars,” showcasing famous faces in history. A life-size wax Barack Obama is located at the foot of the escalator, and other notables—including Jimmy Carter, Elizabeth Taylor, and Pope John Paul II—take their places on higher spots in the display.
The museum features seven detailed “Worlds of Wax” that include scenes of religion (the Last Supper), the grotesque Chamber of Horrors, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, the Royal Family, the Kennedys, the World of Make Believe (replete with life-size pumpkin/carriage and Cinderella), and political figures throughout history. Numerous presidents are featured, from George Washington to Donald Trump, with the Bushes gracing the front window and Bill Clinton showcased farther inside. The museum is open seven days a week.
For additional information:
Hoffman, M. “Spa Wax Museum Gets New Owners.” Sentinel-Record, July 13, 2002.
Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum. https://seehotsprings.com/wax-museum (accessed April 19, 2022).
Virginia G. Pitts
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