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While their counterparts in Los Angeles and New York are posing for photos with pop star Lady Gaga or kissing actor Robert Pattinson on the cheek, visitors to Madame Tussauds in D.C. will soon be able to poke, prod and even hug their favorite U.S. president.
The museum will open a new gallery featuring wax figures of all 43 U.S. presidents Feb. 17, just in time for Presidents Day. The interactive exhibit will be the only place in the world where people can interact with every president, whether he’s as revered as George Washington or as little-remembered as Martin Van Buren.
“That’s what makes us unique to any other wax museum in the world — you can feel free to go up, put your arms around and touch the wax figures,” said Dan Rogoski, the museum’s general manager.
After receiving feedback requesting more presidents, the museum shifted its focus to history rather than celebrity. The museum hopes to attract tourists who already appreciate the many other educational museums around the city.
With its rich political history, D.C. is “the perfect market to do something like this,” Rogoski said. “I’m not sure we could do it in any other market.”
Madame Tussauds also hopes its new, historically focused gallery will encourage more schools to bring their students on tours.
“We want to be able to say to students, ‘Come on in,’” Rogoski said. “It’s a great experience for kids.”
Each president will be in one of 10 themed rooms staged to represent an appropriate time period or historical event, Rogoski said. Abraham Lincoln will sit in his box in Ford’s Theatre, Gen. Robert E. Lee will surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and John F. Kennedy and his wife will stand near astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
“Any historical time or event that took place over the course of American history will be represented,” Rogoski said. “It’s a three-dimensional journey through history.”
Other political figures will also be on display in the new gallery. Figures of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will grace the gallery, and activists Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be in a room dedicated to the civil rights movement.
When the museum first planned the new gallery in the summer of 2009, Madame Tussauds already had 15 presidents. Nine more presidents were added last February, and the museum will welcome the final 19 to D.C. next month. At the same time, the museum will open an additional 2,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space at a cost of $2.5 million, Rogoski said.
Each of the new presidents was built at Tussauds Studios in London for about $200,000 each. To build models of contemporary figures, artists take more than 200 careful measurements to match every aspect of the celebrity’s countenance. Since artists could not even study photographs for many of the presidents in the new exhibit, they used painted portraits and historical documents to put together the presidential likenesses.
The figures each took three to six months to complete.
“Everybody seems really excited,” Rogoski said. “We hope that everybody can come by and experience it for themselves.”