Tales of Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition

Drawing by Francis Tussaud. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

Madame Tussaud oldest son Joseph was wandering around the Baker Street exhibition one day. He saw an old gentleman standing in front of a display of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time, to reduce the amount of dust in the display, the curtains over Napoleon’s camp bedstead were closed at night. The old gentleman appeared to be desirous of seeing the display and so Joseph raised the curtain. There was Napoleon lying-in-state on the bedstead. He was wearing a green uniform and the cloak that he wore at Marengo. His arms were crossed over his chest and he held a crucifix. At that point, the visitor removed his hat to study the figure more closely, and it was then that Joseph discovered that man was actually Napoleon’s nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

“There stood his Grace, contemplating with feelings of mixed emotions the strange and suggestive scene before him. On the camp bed lay the mere presentment of the man who, seven-and-thirty years before, had given him so much trouble to subdue. No feeling of triumph passed through the conqueror’s mind as he looked upon the poor waxen image, too true in its aspect of death; he rather thought upon the vanity of earthly triumphs, of the levelling hand of time, and how soon he, like his great contemporary might be stretched upon his own brier.”[1]

Prince Albert. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Another interesting incident at Madame Tussaud’s occurred in 1840. One day a man named Francis Birch came into the exhibition on Baker Street between six and seven o’clock in the evening. An assistant named Mary Ann Jones was sitting in the upper end of the show room and noticed Birch. Birch was in front of a display of Prince Albert, who was about ready to place the wedding ring on the finger of his royal bride. The display was “inside the railing, which was put up in order to prevent the spectators from brushing against, or by any other conduct injuring, the objects presented to their view.”[2] The assistant realized something was wrong and went to the display as Birch walked away. It was then that Jones noticed the wedding ring Albert had been hold was missing. Jones went immediately to Madame Tussaud, who sent for a constable. The constable, on questioning Birch, asked him why he had taken the ring. Birch denied that he had it or that he had taken it, and, when searched, the ring was not found in his possession. When Birch was taken before the judge, he determined that there was not sufficient evidence to justify detaining Birch and discharged him.

Entrance tokens for Madame Tussaud and Sons. Courtesy of British Museum.

Another story about Madame Tussaud’s exhibition involves a Norfolk farmer who went to London in 1849. After visiting the cattle show, he decided to visit Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. He paid his money at the door and entered to find he was the only visitor. He wandered around and was astonished by the wax effigies. After a time, he saw some ladies and children arrive and as he stood in front of one of the displays, he said, “What ugly, grim looking people some of those kings and queens were.”[3] Then according to the Norfolk farmer the following ensued:

“The lady smiled, and answered, ‘I perfectly agree with you; they are.’ My attention was soon arrested by hearing one of the party, pointing to a figure, mention Lord Nelson, when, proud of having been born in the same county with the illustrious sailor, I could not help exclaiming, ‘Ah, he was from my neighbourhood;’ upon which one of the ladies advancing, said to me, ‘Then you are from Norfolk; pray can you tell me anything about poor Mrs. Jermy, in whose melancholy fate I so deeply sympathise?’ … ‘No, madame, for I have been some days from home.'”[4]

Scarcely did the conversation end, when Madame Tussaud suddenly appeared. She asked the Norfolk farmer how he had gained entrance. He told her he paid his money at the door and entered. Apparently, however, the exhibition was to have been closed for a private party and astonishingly the woman he talked to was no ordinary woman. It was Queen Victoria who had come with the royal children and their attendants.

Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1872, Richard Southwell Bourke, 6th Earl of Mayo was serving as Viceroy of India. While visiting the convict settlement at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, a convict stabbed him, killing him. The Earl of Mayo’s body was returned to Ireland, and, soon after, his likeness appeared at Madame Tussaud’s. One day, the Earl of Mayo’s housekeeper came to Madame Tussaud’s exhibition and unexpectedly found herself face-to-face with her late employer. Not realizing it was a wax figure, she promptly fainted.

One rather humorous story that happened at Madame Tussaud’s occurred long after Madame Tussaud was dead. One patron devised a way to gain free admission into the exhibit and it was Madame Tussaud’s grandson, Joseph, who noticed. He watched a buxom and portly matron reach the pay station wearing a overly large skirt that was further enlarged by her crinoline. However, what caused Joseph to be curious was “the shuffling of her feet [that] was accompanied by an unaccountable sound of pattering,’[5] and, so, Joseph kept a close eye on her. It did not take long for him to discover the source of the pattering. Once inside, at her first opportunity, she hid from view, “cautiously raised her crinoline … [and to his amazement] out stepped two little boys.”[6] Joseph did nothing, but thereafter whenever he told the story, he always noted that “the expression on her face at the success of her subterfuge was one of radiant satisfaction.”[7]

References:

  • [1] Tussaud, John Theodore, The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s, 1920, p. 154.
  • [2] Marylebone, Bell’s New Weekly Messenger, 28 June 1840, p. 7.
  • [3] Gleanings, Hereford Time, 20 January 1849, p. 6.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] J. T. Tussaud, p. 341.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 342.
  • [7] Ibid.

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