Sid Vicious, Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten
Sid Vicious, Joey Ramone, Johnny Rotten

Rock Legends Wax Museum

Field review by the editors.

Niagara Falls, Ontario

Pop culture is gradually entering our civic statuary, but we'll still probably never see public tributes to social outliers like Sid Vicious and "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott (although an earlier generation might have said the same of Elvis and Jimi Hendrix). Traditional wax museums typically ignore all but the most mainstream pop music stars.

Rock Legends Wax Museum.

Which is why the Rock Legends Wax Museum is special: it's a sculptural art gallery of rock superstars, many of them cultural misfits who can't be seen anywhere else assembled in one place. Trent Reznor, Angus Young, Marilyn Manson? All here.

The museum is the work of Pasquale Ramunno, an Italian immigrant, and his three Canadian-born children. The Ramunno family opened a rock music souvenir store in Niagara Falls in 1983. The kids ran the place while Pasquale, born in 1937, remained an artist and sculptor (he's enshrined in the Niagara Falls Arts and Culture Wall of Fame). After a few years Pasquale's son, Nick, had an idea: Niagara Falls was famous for its wax museums; why not build a rock 'n' roll wax museum and have his dad make the dummies?

Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne.
Gene Simmons, Ozzy Osbourne

Pasquale sculpted a Frank Zappa and a Jim Morrison, the kids were impressed, and the Rock Legends Wax Museum opened above the store in 1997. Over 70 wax musicians now are featured, from Buddy Holly and Little Richard to Snoop Dogg and Slipknot. All of them are the handiwork of the steadily-sculpting Pasquale.

Rock Legends' narrow focus, plus the fact that there really isn't any other place quite like it, makes the museum a kind of waxy Rock Hall of Fame (especially since the official Rock Hall of Fame + Museum is too protective of its cultural pedigree to feature wax dummies). The outside facade of the building shrieks rock excess, with signs mimicking a giant guitar and keyboard, and painted faces of rock luminaries.

Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and Eddie from Iron Maiden.
Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and Eddie from Iron Maiden.

The relative rarity of a dedicated rock wax museum makes the choice of who is and isn't displayed seem fraught with significance. According to Pasquale's daughter, Maria, visitors often ask why certain artists -- rock legends all -- are missing. "I tell them, 'Well, because they're all hand-made, by one person, and he can only make so many.' It just takes time."

Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin.
Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin

There's also a process. According to Maria, the three kids will suggest new musicians to Pasquale, who then decides which ones he wants to create. "He's very picky," said Maria. Even the rockers who make the cut don't necessarily make it into the museum. "He was working on an older John Lennon for, oh, I don't know. Many years," Maria said. "He kept making it and destroying it, making it and destroying it" (It's still not in the museum). "He's doing the same thing now with Bon Jovi."

The selection is further complicated by the fact that Pasquale, a silver-haired senior citizen, is not a fan of rock music. "It's not his thing," said Maria. "He likes opera."

This apathy on the part of the gatekeeper happily removes any musical favoritism (beyond what his children inject in their suggestions; we were wondering how The Cure's Robert Smith made it). Pasquale bases his final selection, said Maria, purely on who he finds most visually interesting (okay, so Smith is an odd dude), and on which people he feels he can best capture in wax.

David Bowie.
David Bowie

Pasquale's love of opera can be seen in his dramatic faces: the flared gums of Metallica's James Hetfield, the corpselike gristle of Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. Johnny Rotten's teeth are too perfect, which makes them more menacing; Ozzy Osbourne's expression makes it look as if his head is about to explode.

The frustration felt by some fans because all of the waxworks are behind glass -- they are works of art, after all -- was lessened when Pasquale made a second, more mature Ozzy, and sat him at the entrance to the museum so that people could pose with him for photos. Fan favorites, including Michael Jackson and Gene Simmons, were also accessible when we visited.

The faces resemble or strongly evoke the subjects; there are a couple of stumpers, but the identifying labels are hard to miss if you're really not sure.

Even if Pasquale lives to be 150, he'll never catch up with the always-increasing roster of rock luminaries -- and those who don't meet his artistic criteria are just out of luck. "I think Rod Stewart would make an awesome piece because he's very theatrical," said Maria. "But I can't convince my dad of that yet."

Rock Legends Wax Museum

Address:
5020 Centre St., Niagara Falls, ON, Canada
Directions:
At the top of Clifton Hill, on the west side of Centre St. just north of Victoria Ave.
Phone:
905-354-6255
Admission:
Adults $10.00
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

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In the region:
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