The gruesome history behind Madame Tussauds

A wax figure of Meryl Streep. Source: Getty

If you’ve ever been to any major tourist location around the world, chances are you’ve stumbled across a Madame Tussauds wax museum or two on your adventures.

While many people use the museums as a way of getting up and personal with a wax figure that looks like the spitting image of major celebrities and popular figures, a lot of people are unaware of the gruesome history that started more than 200 years ago.

Today marks the day that Anna Maria Tussaud passed away. She died at the age of 89 in 1850, but her name remains well-known around the world. According to website On This Day, Tussaud’s methods of creating her iconic wax figures weren’t always as ethical as they are today.

Their report states that Tussaud was very much part of the royal circle in the 1780s and was once forced to create a cast of the real severed and bloodied head of Princess de Lamballe. Legend has it that de Lamballe was hacked into tiny pieces by the mob, but Tussaud had the important job of immortalising the royal – even if it meant using her bloody head as inspiration. 

In addition to de Lamballe, she also modelled the guillotined heads of Marie Antoinette and Robespierre, although many say she had created an array of other wax figures based on dead people. These figures went on to be displayed to the public in 1846.

Read more: Helen Mirren meets her three wax figures and checks out her own assets

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Years later in 1925, most of Tussaud’s famous attractions were destroyed by a fire. Those that survived perished when German bombs were dropped on one of her London locations in 1940. Thankfully, a lot of moulds and casts survived the attack, meaning that wax figures were able to be recreated.

These days, Tussaud’s famous museums are scattered all around the world in America, Asia, Europe and even Australia. While most celebrities consider it an honour to be immortalised, Mother Teresa is believed to be one of the few public figures to decline an offer to be made into a wax figures.

While celebrities don’t require their dead body parts to be turned into a wax figure, many opt to sit for measurements to make their figures as realistic as possible. Queen Elizabeth has had several wax figures made in her honour and is believed to have posed on numerous occasions.

Read more: Melania Trump gets a ‘terrifying’ new wax figure

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In most instances, the wax figures are slightly larger than the actual celebrity. This is because the wax shrinks over time, meaning they would end up much smaller than the real celebrity if they weren’t created slightly larger.

Everyone from the Obamas to Meryl Streep and even John Travolta have figures on display in various locations around the globe. 

Have you ever been to a Madame Tussauds museum around the world? Was it what you thought it would be?

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