Continued from a previous post, featured prominently in the mural are local landmarks like The Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Charles and I spent an afternoon touring the exhibitions and gathering reference at the museum itself. Not only would we have to include the building in the mural, but we also had to fit in a hand full of notable African-Americans from Baltimore.
The museum sits on the corner of East North and Bond Street and houses a wax figure tour of African-American History in life-size diorama form. Most of the exhibits are small and fit just a figure or two posed in an environment appropriate to the subjects history. For example, Billie Holiday looks like she’s singing in a club and the Tuskegee Airmen stand on a runway. Unfortunately the most memorable exhibits of the museum couldn’t be put into the mural. Aside from those profoundly influential historical figures like Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass, the museum also features some startling displays of the atrocities visited upon African-Americans in their few hundred year association with the white man. Namely the Middle Passage and Lynchings.
The Middle Passage Exhibit draws visitors in by passing them through the hold of a slave ship circa 1750. Wax figures of all ages are seen chained and bound in horribly insufferable conditions. Torture devices hang on the walls and a display of the women’s quarters on the ship are passed off as a “rape” room. It’s a hard pill to swallow and one walks away overwhelmed. The Lynching Exhibit will leave viewers with a similar feeling. Traveling down to the lower levels of the building this display covers the walls from floor to ceiling in newspaper articles, letters and journals describing just about every lynching in US the last 150 years. The display’s brutally maimed bodies rival those of a Grindhouse Movie and includes a collection of lynching “Trophies” in jars. Sometimes I just can’t believe the stuff we do to each other.
The top floor is more of a Baltimore specific experience. Notable community leaders abound and their histories trace some proud Baltimore traditions. Overall The Great Blacks in Wax Museum is an enlightening experience and it’s clear to see the museum holds a strong place in the heart of the community. Charles and I left there, thoughts swirling with the history of the city. Building and rebuilding in our minds the underlying forces of the neighborhood through time. Next it’s off to the mural to prep the wall. Let’s get paintin’ !