When Stefanie Villiotis, 14, came to visit Washington with her eighth-grade classmates from Silver Trail Middle School in Florida, it was a thrill to get a picture of herself with President and Mrs. Obama. It didn’t matter that first couple standing beside her was made of wax – they certainly looked real enough!
“I sent it to my dad and said I met the president!” Stefanie said, showing off the picture on her phone. After spending a long day touring monuments on the Mall and seeing the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the kids from Silver Trail landed at Madame Tussauds wax museum in downtown Washington. They immediately spread out, exploring the exhibits to see and touch the lifelike wax sculptures of celebrities, top athletes and every U.S. president. The kids’ cameras were clicking and their jaws were dropping — sometimes at the funny things their classmates did.
“This dude’s hair is glorious!” said Remington Laguerre, 13, as he stroked the hair of Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president — causing his friends to roar with laughter.
“They’re so realistic; they look like they’re staring at you,” said Sharon Yu, 13.
“I like how they set up areas where you can take pictures,” said 13-year-old Jonelle Joseph, who had her picture snapped with Abraham Lincoln — sitting in a model of the theater box at Ford’s Theatre.
Madame Tussauds opened in D.C. three years ago — the 12th Madame Tussauds museum worldwide. But last month, the D.C. location opened a new part of the museum: a Presidents Gallery showing all 43 chief executives from George Washington to Barack Obama. Broken into small rooms that cover certain moments in the country’s past, it’s like a 3-D journey through American history.
“We had a few presidents when we first opened up, but people kept asking for more presidents,” said Dan Rogoski, general manager of the museum. “It makes a lot of sense for the nation’s capital.”
Madame Tussauds makes its creations over several months, usually using paintings, photographs and videos to get its subjects just right, whether they are presidents or popular actors. Some of the figures look more like the real person than others. At the museum earlier this month, the kids from Silver Trail thought the Will Smith sculpture looked the most lifelike. Grown-ups at the museum thought former president Jimmy Carter was the most realistic presidential figure.
For the kids from Silver Hill, the trip to Madame Tussauds was the perfect, interactive break from everything they had learned at museums and monuments through the day.
As Dominique Jean, 13, put it: “It feels so real.”