Madame Tussauds wax museum opens presidential wing

Entertainment,Amy Seed

Celebrities such as Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie are no longer the only popular names at Madame Tussauds D.C. after the unveiling of nine new wax figures on President’s Day.

The new figures were John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Gerald Ford.

The debut announced the planned opening of the museum’s U.S. Presidents Gallery for fall 2010, said Janine DiGioacchino, general manager of the museum locations in D.C. and New York.

“We thought it would be a great way to honor the holiday and garner the most excitement for the project,” DiGioacchino said of the debut date.

The Gallery will cost over $2 million to create and will use both unused and existing space within the museum, DiGioacchino said.

Mayor Adrian Fenty was present at the unveiling on Tuesday along with Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development, a longtime supporter of the museum, and 30 children from Cleveland Elementary School. The children were given the opportunity to see the new figure of Grover Cleveland, the man after whom their school was named.

The museum previously had 15 presidential figures on display and will create the remaining 28 before the official opening.

“Now you might say 15 and 28 add up to 43, but Grover Cleveland served as U.S. President for two separate non-consecutive terms,” DiGioacchino said.

The presidents on display prior to Tuesday’s unveiling were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Recently joining the collection was Michelle Obama, and visitors can now have their picture taken with both the president and the first lady. In the same room, guests can also have their picture taken sitting at a replica of the president’s desk in the Oval Office as well as standing behind a presidential podium.

“I love the fact that you can get beside them, take pictures with them, and it feels like the real thing,” said Brandon Greenleaf, a D.C. native who visited the museum for the first time Tuesday afternoon.

Visitors have requested the placement of more presidential figures in the museum since its opening in October 2007, but the addition had to have good timing, DiGioacchino said.

“Each figure takes about three to four months to complete and requires an extensive amount of research and artistry, so we will unveil several throughout the year and the final grouping during the launch of the Gallery,” she said.

The order of debut will vary, as the presidents are not unveiled in order. More recent presidents will take less time to produce in life-like quality because of the amount of photographs and video footage available for study.

Earlier presidents will prove more of a challenge because resources are limited to historical accounts and paintings. It is likely these presidents will make their debut later than the rest, DiGioacchino said.

“Once the Gallery is complete, Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. will be the only place in the world where the public can see, interact and take photos with all 44 U.S. Presidents,” she said.

In anticipation of the Gallery, the museum wanted to commemorate Mayor Fenty’s involvement and support. While at the debut of the new figures, an impression of his hands was taken using a mold kit, which will be used as part of a plaque to hang in the entry hallway of the completed Gallery.

“When it launches this fall, the U.S. Presidents Gallery at Madame Tussauds D.C. will provide a unique and enriching educational experience for history buffs, students and general visitors alike.  We know everyone will love seeing and interacting with our new figures, and the Gallery,” said DiGioacchino.

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