The American Civil War Wax Museum has occupied a prime spot near the center of the battlefield for more than half a century. But it recently underwent an extensive renovation and wants to take a new approach to history. As part of those changes, it is preparing to unload dozens of its historical figures - most made of vinyl, not wax - in what the auctioneer calls a once-in-a-lifetime sale.
The March 15 auction will also feature diorama contents, tapestries, furniture and books. The items include soldiers, a Southern plantation scene and the Lincoln-Douglas debates' stop in 1858 at Knox College. Also for sale is an enormous reproduction of Gilbert Stuart's 1796 portrait of George Washington, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.
When the wax museum reopens later this year as the Gettysburg Heritage Center, its focus will have shifted to the experience of town residents before, during and after the July 1863 battle between the Confederates under Gen. Robert E. Lee and the federal troops commanded by Gen. George Gordon Meade.
"The Park Service does a fabulous job of telling the story about the battle," said Tammy Myers, who runs the facility for FutureStake Inc. "We don't all need to be telling the same story."
The company estimates 9 million people have walked through the wax museum since it opened in 1962, shortly before the centennial of the battle.
While much of what those visitors saw will be auctioned off, the plan is to preserve the scene from Pickett's Charge depicted inside the theater but revamp the presentation that accompanies it. Myers said there are also plans to repurpose a few of the life-sized figures for a new exhibit on the Underground Railroad.
The business changed hands about seven months ago and closed down two months ago for the construction project, which gutted most of the building's interior. The new attraction will have more interactive activities for children, including short videos about 19th-century life in Gettysburg, a thriving transportation hub with three weekly newspapers and gas streetlights.
Among the many businesses that serve the Gettysburg tourism trade, some have been taking a look at their operations these days, now that the 150th anniversary of the battle and Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" has passed, said Carl Whitehill with Destination Gettysburg.
The wax museum has been a mainstay of the central Pennsylvania town's tourist trek for decades, Whitehill said.
"It's a place that our visitors have become quite familiar with," Whitehill said. "It was certainly due for change. It's quite an anchor there, on one of our busiest streets."