Public bids farewell to wax figures at former American Civil War Wax Museum

By JENNIFER WENTZ | The Evening Sun, Hanover, Pa. | Published: March 16, 2014

Abraham Lincoln: $1,500.

John Wilkes Booth: $350.

Bidding farewell to a piece of Gettysburg history: Priceless.

Crowds packed the former American Civil War Wax Museum in Gettysburg Saturday when it auctioned off more than 300 exhibit items.

Many of these items, including approximately 95 life-size Civil War figures dressed in period clothing, had stood guard over the museum's hallways and display booths for more than five decades.

Following a change in ownership, however, the museum — now called the Gettysburg Heritage Center — is undergoing renovations to create exhibits that focus on the experiences of Gettysburg's townspeople during the infamous battle.

These changes mean figures and displays many locals remember from their childhoods had to find new homes.

"I'm sort of sad to see this part of Gettysburg history depart," said Michael Birkner, president of the Gettysburg Borough Council. Birkner and his daughter, Joanna, browsed the exhibits Saturday, which were displayed throughout the auction. He had no plans to bid on anything, but he wanted to make a final visit to a place that holds nostalgic value for many Gettysburg residents.

One such resident is Michael Flaherty, of Gettysburg, who was considering purchasing one of the display booths to turn into a play area for his children Saturday.

"I remember when I was a kid, this was one of the scariest places you could imagine," he said of the wax museum.

Linda Faul, who used to live in Gettysburg, drove from New Jersey to say goodbye to the exhibits. Like many people Saturday, she had no plans to buy anything.

"(The wax museum) is a part of history," she said. "It's just nice to see it one more time."

So, who would buy a life-size Civil War figure?

Philip Gallant, for one. He purchased a figure from the 54th Massachusetts display for $440.

Gallant owns The Antique Circus near Baltimore. He believes the figure he bought is made out of real wax, even though the auction catalog did not list it as such.

Because most of the museum's figures consist of vinyl and plastic materials, this one is especially valuable, Gallant said. He expects to sell it for more than $1,000.

Some other notable museum figures sold Saturday include Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant from the Appomattox display, George Meade from the Northern Military Leaders display and Jesus Christ from the Stonewall Jackson display. Each of these figures sold for close to $1,000.

Less significant players in the war, by contrast, generally cost bidders between $100 and $500.

As buyers clear out their auction purchases throughout the week, they will make way for new exhibits at the Gettysburg Heritage Center.

The center, which was acquired by Gettysburg-based FutureStake Inc. in August, hopes to create a more interactive experience for visitors with additions including two 3-D videos and two "smart tables," similar to oversized iPads, center President Tammy Myers said in February.

Work on the gallery is expected to be completed by Memorial Day weekend. Renovations to the center's gift shop and theater are expected to be finished by April 1.

Borough President Birkner said while he will miss the old exhibits, he is excited to watch the changes unfold.

"It's not the end," he said. "It's the beginning of a new chapter for the museum."


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