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Grand Prairie, Texas: Southwest Historical Wax Museum (Gone)

Classic wax museum was destroyed in a fire in 1987.


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Southwest Historical Wax Museum - Burnt Memories

[RA:We asked veteran wax museum designer Drew Hunter which single figure would he have tried to save from the awful fire that destroyed the Southwestern Historical Was Museum in 1987] :

It's really difficult to decide which of "my children" I'd have saved from the Wax Museum inferno. (Yeah, I know, it's a cheap reference to Vincent Price in "House of Wax", but I guess it goes with the territory...)

In keeping with your own revered method of listing things, I'd have to choose between:

1) Lon Chaney as "The Phantom of the Opera". Why? Well, we decided to take a pretty good figure of Howard Hughes out of the show, so I took the head home one night and -- atop my kitchen counter -- re-worked it into a fairly decent representation of Eric, the Phantom. Scary, eh? He was housed in a nice set, including the obligatory pipe organ, in "Dr. Blood's Theatre of Horrors". Interestingly, the infamous fire is believed to have started in the area just above that set.

2) The head of Hank Ketchum. This would've been a real prize, because it was a great wax head which was on display for years. But -- after the first year of display or so -- nobody ever saw it! What? Why?

Hank Ketchum was an outlaw who was hanged somewhere in Texas. Unfortunately, when he was hanged, the rope decapitated him! There are (or were) on file graphic, on-the-scene photos of the aftermath. In the original wax recreation of the event, guests peeked through a wooden enclosure and saw hank's head lying in a bloody pool. Pretty soon, however, the museum management covered the head with a burlap cloth, with only the anatomically correct, gory neck stump protruding. (I suppose seeing the man's face was too revealing, while the dangling red neck meat was OK???) And, being clever Texans AND show people, the museum managers had a pump installed in the head which constantly pumped out red food-colored water. A tad thin for blood, but it did the trick. I loved to stand nearby when school kids who'd been bused to the museum for an "educational" outing peered through the knotholes in the wall and squealed, yelled "OOOH GROSS!" -- or simply threw up.

3) The resurrected Jesus. This was the final display in the wax museum. The figure had beautiful, mesmerizing eyes, and stood in the classic, arms outstretched, palm-revealing, look-at-my-wounds stance. Every now and then an irate guest would complain that his eyes weren't the correct color. We'd ask "How do you know what color they were?", and very often the guests would reply -- "Because I've SEEN him!!!".

There you are -- take your pick!

You know, only one wax figure survived the fire. Everybody called her Sally. She was named after one of the two owners of the museum (they were sisters -- and by the way -- are you aware of the wax museum murder the year before the fire, in which the OTHER sister was poisoned? Really.) Anyway, the wax Sally was actually a redressed figure of a lousy Raquel Welch, decked out in red & white western cowgirl garb. (Puh-leeeeze!) She stood in an old ticket booth in the front lobby.

The fire was blocked from destroying the lobby by a fire wall, but smoke and heat took their toll. Sally ended up like the figures seen burning in the beginning of the "House of Wax", with eyeballs slipping out of place, skin slithering down her cheeks in rivers and hair scorching. She ended up cooling with the most magnificent set of "wax-cicles" dripping from her fingertips!

And, to add a bit more linkage to the classic film (sort of!), we kept her and installed her blackened body beneath a white sheet -- about to be dipped into a bubbling wax vat -- as the mad wax sculptor's victim in the horror section of the all-new "Palace of Wax". She stayed in that position for a couple of years, until the museum held a Halloween contest in which some lucky local soul had his likeness made and replaced Sally as the victim. I don't know whatever happened to her head & hands (that's my impression of Bette Davis in "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte" you needed it, right?).

[Drew Hunter, 09/23/2000]

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