I’m so unsettled and captivated by this incredible photograph of wax figures burnt and melted after the massive 1925 fire that destroyed Madame Tussauds wax museum in London. I think wax models alone are already pretty creepy, but I don’t think even the Chamber of Horrors can touch the pathos of this unintentionally gruesome scene. With missing heads and appendages, charred skin and clothing in disarray, the uncanny wax models truly look like the causalities of some great trauma.
I’ve been trying to unearth more photographs of destroyed wax models from the fire, with no luck. However, I did come across this newsreel which shows the destruction of the fire, and some of the wax figures within the rubble.
Almost as interesting are some of the colorful quotes taken from 1925 news stories about the fire:
- “London is not often the scene of spectacular fires, but thanks to the liberal supply of wax fuel the world-famous building in the Marylebone Road created a blaze last night which was the most thrilling fire spectacle witnessed in London for years.”
- “The fire at Madame Tussaud’s was a most wonderful spectacle, with multi-coloured flames shooting high in the air…Ten thousand onlookers watched the progress of the fire, and when they heard the wax models sizzling shouted to the firemen: ‘How’s Deeming?’ and ‘How’s Crippen?'” (two criminals whose wax likenesses were included in the Chamber of Horrors)
- “The fire brigade was under the command of Mr. A. R. Dyer, who was brought to the scene from a theatre where he had been spending the evening with some friends. Despite the fact that he was in evening dress he took an active part in the operations.”
- “A cheer came from the assembled thousands when the salvage men came out carrying a large cage in which was the renowned Mme. Tussaud’s parrot. The parrot was found lying at the bottom of its cage stupefied as a result of the smoke and the intense heat, but after a few moments in the open air it revived…Then it startled everyone by remarking, ‘This is a rotten business.’“
- “It is strange to think of the number of eminent, and highly respectable people being burned in effigy in London. Madame Tussaud’s famous waxworks spread its net far and wide, and at least forty people of the present Parliament and scores of notabilities outside were represented in wax in these burning galleries. Criminals represented in the Chamber of Horrors, however, will have no feelings in the matter, as they are all dead.”
// Image from Wassenbeelden Museum (via Theory of Disease/firsttimeuser). Photographer unknown.
In the mid-’80’s Steve Taylor turned a similar hypothetical situation into a fun commentary on brevity of life, celebrity in his “Meltdown” music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyawtDc2M4g .
He made and invented some of the wax works that went into maddam tussauds. 1920 1935
I’m a bit late finding this page. A great photo. My great grandfather Richard Bayley was a wax modeller who made some of the heads for Madam Tussauds in the late 1800 – early 1900. I wonder if he made any of these? He died in 1926, just year after the fire. He lived nearby, so he probably watched it burn….heartbreaking all that work.
I´ve never seen something like that before. Very creepy!
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Thank you so very much for posting this article. I had seen the disturbing photo several times as a small photo at the bottom of news websites article promoting other odd interesting stories. I would never click on the photo but yesterday when looking at a website with rare WW2 photos it was mixed in with no caption. I was very disturbed by the photo especially cause I was thinking the 2 heads were real. Since I don’t like horrors I was rather upset by it.
I kept researching, Googling today to find out when the photo was about. I kept thinking it couldn’t be real people. So I was so relieved when I found the photo again with your article. Whew! Not real people, just wax mannequins destroyed in a fire. Still creepy but at least I can sleep better tonight. Well I hope so as my husband a huge fan of horror and tonight wants to watch the old movie Prince of Darkness. Lol.
Anyway, Thanks again!!!!
This reminded me of my visit to the Capuchin catacombs on the outskirts of Palermo. The dead there were really dead, but the general effect is not that different, as though it were the idea of it, finally, that gets to us. If you’re interested, you can see what I thought about the place, and its contents, here http://charleslambert.wordpress.com/2010/03/29/the-finest-dead/
The news reel looked more like footage from Hamburg circa 1943 after the firestorm, where real bodies imitated the looks of the wax figures among the rubble.
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Wow! What an incredible photograph!
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Looks a lot like a slightly degenerate party that just all got a little out of hand. Too much datura drunk.
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Wow….like Ana said…”disturbing.”
When I saw this in my feed, I thought that the sculptures would be more mangled… I see now that that would’ve had less impact – this is far more disturbing.
I completely agree. There is just something so uncanny about the figures…the stuff of nightmares.
I LOVE your blog!