My sixth-grade class traveled to Washington, D.C., for a massive gathering of school safety patrols from around the country. While we were there, we took in all of the monuments and memorials, of course. We looked at loads of famous buildings and swarmed through the Smithsonian, with its impressive collection of richly varied artifacts.

So, what do I remember most clearly about that sixth-grade trip?:

— One of my classmates bought a really tiny camera from a street vendor. (It probably cost no more than two dollars, but it was super cool.)

— One of my classmates bought some realistic rubber vomit, and used it to prank our chaperon, the chief of police.

— The wax museum.

I was absolutely fascinated by the wax museum. Some of the figures were amazingly lifelike, others were stiff and utterly horrible. It didn’t matter; I loved them all.

The battle of the Alamo was a stop-motion frenzy of looming disaster. President Richard Nixon sat awkwardly behind a desk, his facial expression a bit too relaxed and engaging. (He looked more like a game show host than the shifty-eyed, tortured soul that we’d come to know from TV and magazines.) Gen. Douglas McArthur and his assistants waded ashore in the Phillipines (“I shall return!”), their pants legs eternally wet. (How did they do that?? My sixth-grade mind was boggled.)

In the years since, I’ve seen some really great wax figures — in museums in Hollywood, in London, and elsewhere — and some stunningly terrible ones, at those very same museums. (Why did the Elvis Presley figure in Madame Tussaud’s in London look like an effeminate cross-dresser? It was deeply odd, but memorable.)

I never had a chance to visit Tussaud’s London Wax Museum in St, Petersburg, Fla., but I have a post card that shows an amazing tableau from their “Chamber of Horrors”: The 1963 assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby.

Somehow, Tussaud’s team of modelers was completely unable to capture any sense of horror or historical resonance; Instead, when I look at Oswald’s pose and expression, I’ve always envisioned him drunkenly singing a spirited sea shanty:


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