Wax Museum of St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
A personal vision can be lonely when others don't easily see it. That's the case, we think, with the Wax Museum of St. Louis, also known as Laclede's Landing Wax Museum. Whatever its name, it's original.
The museum's history is a riddle; its owner, Michael Scauzzo, the man with the vision, stays out of the spotlight. We believe he's been stung by past criticism, made by those who've been unable to appreciate what he's created. According to Sammie Mosley, his museum manager, Michael is working hard to make his place in a popular St. Louis tourist area bigger and better. Frankly, the museum is terrific just as it is right now.
Don't expect a super-polished Hollywood Wax Museum or Madame Tussauds experience. The Wax Museum of St. Louis fills three floors, a basement, and a sub-basement of a building well over a hundred years old. Floors creak, hallways wind like a maze, staircases are everywhere. The place is dark and labyrinthine. Sammie said that's deliberate, because Michael wanted it to be exciting like a funhouse.
Part of the fun is trying to figure out who you're looking at (For example, we thought Johnny Cash was Steven Seagal). Props help. Michael Jackson is recognizable in his red glitter jacket, but his face looks more like Ray "Ghostbusters" Parker. Thomas Edison (who resembles President Lyndon Johnson) holds a light bulb; George Washington Carver holds peanuts. Both are brilliantly grouped in a room whose theme seems to be people with crazy hair, including Salvador Dali, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and someone we guessed was Howard Hughes.
Michael is willing to bend history, logic and science to create visually memorable displays, an approach we wish more wax museums would follow. Neil Armstrong, for example, stands on the moon, gazing wistfully up at the blue earth through the vacuum of space, without his helmet ("Otherwise you couldn't see his face," said Sammie). In classic wax museum shorthand, the Allied leaders of World War II have improbably gathered for a summit meeting in a bombed-out building, but it instantly conveys the mess of war. Douglas MacArthur has somehow flown in from the Pacific; Winston Churchill gives a cheery V for Victory sign.
The museum also has what may be the only Flip Wilson/Geraldine dummies on display anywhere, a nod to African-American cross-dressing comedy. Sammie beamed with pride. "It's history!" she exclaimed, adding that most young people think a black man dressing as a woman on TV was invented by Jamie Foxx or Martin Lawrence.
The museum's three above-ground floors are devoted to celebrities, historical figures, and Jesus. Its basement and sub-basement are reserved for its Chamber of Horrors -- and Michael has spared no expense in assembling a wide-ranging and gruesome collection. "His vision was to have horror without getting too spooked out," said Sammie. "No people coming in and grabbing you." Amid prerecorded screams, sirens, and buzzing electrical equipment, we saw gut-exploded corpses and torture tableaus, cinematic serial killers such as Jason and Freddy, and a memorable collection of insane, gore-spattered clowns accompanied by maddening circus music.
The sub-basement, with its rock walls, is like a claustrophobic dungeon. Michael again pushes the envelope with a wax diorama of heroin junkies ("Drugs are horrible," said Sammie) and the museum's final display -- of Satan and Hitler. "Hitler was a demon, a horror person," yelled Sammie over audio of Hitler ranting mingled with police sirens, a Phantom of the Opera organ, and machine gun bursts. And was that Bob Marley we saw back there with the heroin junkies? Wow.
"He's got a big imagination," said Sammie of her boss. "I think he did an amazing job." We agree.