Viva Florida 500! GreaterJax™ is a series of occasional pieces about Florida history and this year’s celebrations of 500 years of same in and around northeast Florida.
The first wax museum in the United States, Potter’s opened in 1948 at the corner of King St. and A1A, a prime location for another kinky Florida tourist trap.
A recent move to 31 Orange St. has made this favorite haunt a little less visible but no less loved – or creepy.
Meet George L. Potter
Well before 1948, the museum’s creator and founder George L. Potter made a fortune in real estate.
He made so much money, in fact, that he felt justified in indulging his childhood fantasy to open a wax museum.
While a child, Potter and his family traveled the world, and his favorite stop was Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, maybe the most famous wax museum in the world, full of wax figures of the famous to the life, tableaux and other grisly object lessons.
As Potter built his own museum, he spared no expense and hired Gems London Wax Studio to construction his first collection of what are now known as “costume figures.“
For the next three decades, he ran the museum and added to his collection.
In 1955 he even published a volume of biographies based on research done in support of of his museum – ‘Potter's Wax Museum and International Hall of Fame – Authentic Biographies of the World's Greatest People.’
Meet the creepy wax people
A testament to the skill of the figure makers is that their work is so life-like you expect any one of the creepy wax people to draw breath and speak to you.
But while you’re standing next to one, you won’t get any feedback beyond a creepy fixed stare.
Then every time you turn your head, one of the damn things moves.
Combine that with the kind of funky, formaldehyde odor that reeks in most museums, and a trip to view the collection feels and smells like you’re walking through a mausoleum that’s crawling with things just waiting to jump out at you.
Today at Potter’s, there about 160 creepy wax people – authors, artists, inventors, scientists, explorers, founding fathers, contemporary celebrities, as well as tableaux of recent events and even more gross object lessons.
Expect to see Moses and Henry VIII alongside Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, Johnny Depp as as Capt. Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter (the only no-brainer) and pop-diva Britney Spears.
To be cast in wax while you’re still alive is still considered something of an honor, but not nearly as au courant as in the 19th century.
Tiger Woods lives in wax at Potter’s, and soon you’ll be able to visit Robert de Niro and Halle Berry, too.
And if there’s anything creepier than a wax figure of a dead person, it’s a wax figure of a living one.
They move, too.
Whatever Potter may have thought about the creep factor, in public he proclaimed a visit to his museum a chance to learn about world history “face-to-fact with those who lived it.”
The museum even offers a 12-minute theater show that challenges the audience to “strive for greatness.”
After Potter’s death in 1979, the family maintained Potter’s Wax Museum until 1986.
It took about seven years for them to realize that they didn’t, after all, share his passion for wax figures and so sell about 80 of the 243 figures in the collection.
In 1987 former curator Dottie White re-assembled a core of 150 figures and reopened the museum at its second location on King St.
Today, in addition the other services they provide to patrons, Potter’s staff offers consulting and design services for theme parks and other tourist attractions.
Potter’s Wax Museum
- Admission: $10 Adults, $9 Seniors 55 & up, $7 Kids 6-12, Kids 5 & under FREE
- Online coupon: Good for $1 off up to 6 admissions
- Group tours available, min. 10
- Hours: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
- 31 Orange St.
- St. Augustine, Fla.
- Phone: 904-829-9056
- Email: email@example.com
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OFFICIAL BIO: K Truitt is a second-generation, native Floridian born in Jacksonville. Truitt worked in public higher education for 25 years and knows newspaper publishing, printing and graphic design. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org