Roadside America

National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland

This eclectic museum brings the African American experience to life, but some sections are definitely not suitable for children.

As a fan of both history and wax museums, I was thrilled to discover this museum in Baltimore’s struggling northeastern neighborhood of Oliver. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum features over 150 life-sized wax figures representing a range of personalities from African American history, as well as a few ancient ones as well.

The museum’s depiction of ancient history is, for lack of a better word, imaginative. In the entryway, a large figure of a dark-skinned Hannibal the Great sits on a war elephant. Hannibal, a Carthaginian leader who fought the Romans circa 218 BC, was ethnically Phoenician, not from Sub-Saharan Africa. Likewise, the museum depicts Egyptian pharaohs as black when they were actually Middle Eastern in origin. Some even had red hair.

Perhaps the most controversial exhibits have to do with the Atlantic slave trade, lynching, and racism. It’s estimated 12 to 12.8 million Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic over a span of 400 years under horrible conditions. The wax exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination.

Visitors descend into the bowels of a slave ship, viewing scenes of rape, torture, decapitation, and depredation. The exhibit devoted to lynching is even more graphic, with mutilated body parts on display. I think we can all agree it’s important to learn about history’s worst aspects as well as its best, but these exhibits are definitely not appropriate for sensitive viewers.

The remainder of the museum is devoted to influential African American figures in history, sports, education, entertainment, and politics. What a cool way to see these historical figures come to life! Each display is accompanied by an informational panel describing the person and his or her accomplishments.

The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, at 1601-03 East North Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland, is open year round, but hours and days vary according to month and season. General admission for adults is $15, with discounts for seniors, college students, and military members. Admission for children aged 3 to 11 is $12, but I would highly recommend sticking to the more family-friendly exhibits on the main and second floors.

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