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Reluctant Pals of the Presidents

Bush and Gore in wax.Mindful of the upcoming election, we decided it was timely to revisit the National Presidential Wax Museum. All American wax museums, but especially Presidential wax museums, have an invisible gun pointed at their metaphorical heads. The moment a new Commander-in-Chief is elected, the public demands to see their new leader wrought in wax.

The National Presidential Wax Museum, in Keystone, South Dakota, seemed to hedge its bets in 2000, when they had both a G.W. Bush and an Al Gore on hand, Gore angrily pointing at Bush, as in a famous debate moment. Years later you can still find the angry Al Gore on display, though with the debate podiums removed he seems to be accosting Bush in a hallway (perhaps about Global Warming).

WTC scene.As we were putting together the photos for this Sight of the Week, we noticed that several of the museum’s dioramas share a palpable atmosphere of discomfort for the erstwhile companions of the Presidents.

1) President George Bush and a firefighter standing on WTC rubble, Bush’s arm thrown around the other figure. Recall the original 9/11 video moment: that firefighter kept smiling and was a good sport, but there was something awkward about the for-the-cameras comradship and GWB’s friendly flailing.

Apollo 11 scene.2) President Richard Nixon greeting the Apollo 11 astronauts, fresh from the moon and still in their sealed quarantine chamber. Those astronauts, still full of their space germs, weren’t going anywhere. With the press in tow, Nixon congratulated them from the other side of the glass, but it had to be uncomfortable and weird (and Dick had already horned in on their lunar First Step moment with an unexpected phone call from Earth).

LBJ sworn in.3) VP Lyndon Johnson being hastily sworn in after JFK’s assassination, while Jackie Kennedy stands next to him.

The last place Jackie wanted to be was standing next to her barely cold husband’s replacement.

Great American moments captured in wax. Presidents with people who wished they were somewhere else. It’s a brilliant thematic design, if it isn’t complete coincidence….

The most awkward scene captured at the National Presidential Wax Museum is an imagined moment, a gathering of Presidents who share a common trait: none of them were actually elected to the office. Imagine their initial delight at meeting leaders from history, past and future, quickly replaced by the horrible realization that they have been gathered because no one voted for them….

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National Presidential Wax Museum

609 Highway 16A, Keystone, SD
South of downtown Rapid City ten miles on US 16, then exit south on US 16A toward Keystone. Drive two miles, cross Hwy 40, then drive another half-mile to the south end of town. On the right.
Mar 11-May 26 9-5, May 27-Sep 4 8:30-8, Sep 5-Oct 31 9-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adult 12+ $12; 6-12 $9, Seniors $10
RA Rates:
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