New Orleans Nostalgia: Waxing Historic

The Musée Conti Wax Museum opened in 1964 at 917 Conti St. in the French Quarter. Unlike most wax museums, Musée Conti opened with a focus on one subject: the history of New Orleans. Organized in chronological order, it featured 31 scenes of big events, influential people and cultural milestones that defined the city from 1682 to 1910, including: the arrival of the casket girls; Jean Lafitte; the Battle of New Orleans; Congo Square; Storyville; and Jelly Roll Morton.

The 154 life-sized wax figures and costumes were made primarily in Paris, although the glass eyes are German; each figure was specifically built to the accurate height and size specifications of the historic figure. All of the full-size figures have heads of real human hair (imported from Italy), with each strand individually placed. In an astonishing attention to detail, each male figure was given a complete beard. If the figure was to be clean-shaven, the beard was shaved off, leaving a faint stubble behind.

It what may be the most talked-about scene, Napoleon decides to sell Louisiana while reclining in his bath, a washcloth cleverly placed to keep the scene family-friendly. The gold braid on his brothers’ uniforms was ordered from Hong Kong to save money, but each outfit still cost about $750 (in 1964 prices).

Set among the life-sized sets is one miniature scene that features a Mardi Gras parade circa 1900 on Royal Street. The 285 miniature wax figures include flambeaux carriers, mule-drawn floats, riders, spectators on the street and hanging out of buildings and even a balloon vendor (with balloons formed from hollowed pigeon eggs).

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