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Wax Museum celebrates 55 years of bringing history to life

By Staff | Jul 6, 2018

July 1 marked the 55th anniversary of the opening of the John Brown Wax Museum in historic Harpers Ferry.

During the celebration, visitors were greeted with discounted admission prices and given a chance to win door prizes donated by surrounding merchants.

The wax museum has been a favorite site to visit in Lower Town since it was opened in 1963. Original owner of the museum, Dixie Killam a well-known entrepreneur in Jefferson County who resided in Harpers Ferry commissioned artist Earl Dorfman to create the wax figures.

Dorfman, who created thousands of figures over his lifetime, fashioned 88 figures with real hair and glass eyes for the displays in the John Brown Museum, including one figure of Killam that can be found in the scene depicting the Kennedy Farm House. The figure of Killam can be found in the right corner, with his face turned from the viewers, because his presence was not historically accurate.

Barb Olson and husband, Dean, from Mankato, Minnesota, commented on how lifelike the figures looked after they completed the tour Sunday afternoon.

“We watched a video on John Brown on our tour bus on the way here, Olson said. “The tour here made it much more real.”

Museum Manager Alyssa Lavasseur said the museum has changed hands several times following Killam’s death, but has always maintained the historical integrity it was founded upon. Current owner Ted Staley took over the reins in 2010.

“Other than new flooring in one section of the building, nothing has been changed,” Lavasseur said. Maintenance is done on the figures and the building to ensure that everything remains in good repair. She explained that temperature control is a key component in the maintenance, as is the constant watch to make sure there are no leaks in the building.

The exhibit providing a complete history of Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, his subsequent trial and execution spans three floors of the museum, and offers recorded messages outlining the scenes portrayed by the wax figures.

Levasseur, who has worked at the museum since 2015, has a love for history and takes great pleasure in sharing the history of John Brown with those who visit.

“History comes first. A lot of people who come in don’t know who John Brown was,” Levasseur said. “I want them to know who he is, so when they walk around downtown they can really know about the history.”

She went on to say that Harpers Ferry was and remains a tight-knit community. With regard to the museum’s anniversary celebration, Levasseur said merchants in the Lower Town immediately stepped up to support the 55th anniversary of the museum by donating gift cards for visitors and promoting the celebration through social media.

The John Brown Wax Museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from mid-March to mid-December. For more information, visit the museum Facebook site or their website at www.johnbrownwaxmuseum.com.