Tussaud's London Wax Museum

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Tussaud's London Wax Museum, Exterior.

On March 2nd, 1963, Tussaud's London Wax Museum opened its doors at 5505 Gulf Boulevard, St. Petersburg Beach. The museum was initially quite popular, and would eventually showcase more than 120 wax figures in elaborate scenes from history, entertainment, and in a rather gory chamber of horrors.

WWII display at Tussaud's London Wax Museum.

The museum was the brainchild of Canadian T. Alec Rigby, a partner in the Ripley's Believe It Or Not! museums. Rigby also built several other Wax Museums and expanded the Ripley's chain into Canada as well as new American markets.

The Kennedy's and John Glenn figures at Tussaud's London Wax Museum.

Although many people remember the name of the museum as Madame Tussaud's, the original signage and advertising read "From Josephine Tussaud of England" with "London Wax Museum" being the primary business name. At some point in the 1970's it became "Louis Tussaud's London Wax Museum," after Rigby acquired rights to that name. Both Louis and Josephine were descendants of the famed Madame Tussaud; her first name was actually Marie. Ripley Entertainment still uses the Louis Tussaud name today for their chain of wax museums, while Madame Tussaud's Wax Museums (including the London original) are part of the Tussauds Group. A Josephine Tussaud's Wax Museum operates in Hot Springs, Arkansas, but is not part of either company.

Enchanted Forest at Tussaud's London Wax Museum.

John E. "Ted" Stambaugh, a former Saint Petersburg Beach city commissioner and mayor, had been involved in the original real estate deal for the wax museum's site and had stayed on as its manager. He bought the museum from Ripley's outright in 1978. Stambaugh tried to keep the place current, adding new, pop-culture figures like Freddie Kreuger from Nightmare on Elm Street and Rambo, but modern children used to the movement of Disney's Audio-Animatronic figures showed little interest in wax still-lifes. Tourism in the area and attendance declined.

Pirates display at Tussaud's London Wax Museum.

Jan 15th, 1989, turned out to be the museum's final day of operation. Plans had originally called for the museum building to be demolished to make room for the Bayside Village Market, where a new, relocated version of the museum was to be opened eventually alongside the retail stores. But a dispute with the local government over the size of the new museum's sign halted work on the relocation and the London Wax Museum never reopened.

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Postcard images from the author's collection.

My thanks to Tim O'Brien and Edward Meyer for their assistance in my research for this article.

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