When he was in office, Donald Trump often complained that he felt battered and under assault, but that did not compare with the physical beating a wax statue of the former president recently endured at a Texas attraction.
The figure of Trump at Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax in San Antonio had been punched and scratched so much lately that it was removed from display for repairs this past week.
The assault was not the first time a wax likeness of a president or celebrity had been marred, highlighting a history of such cases extending back decades.
Wax statues of politicians, including former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, have been temporarily removed from display after being damaged or vandalized, said Suzanne Smagala-Potts, a spokesperson for Ripley Entertainment, the company that operates the San Antonio location and a number of other wax and oddity attractions across the country.
“Sometimes it’s intentional; sometimes it’s not,” Smagala-Potts said. “Oftentimes, some people may feel more strongly toward a political figure than a celebrity.”
A wax figure of Adolf Hitler was beheaded in 2008 by a protester at a Madame Tussauds museum in Berlin. After it was repaired, the figure was returned to the museum behind glass windows and with two guards to protect it.
A wax statue of rapper Sean Combs, who is known as Diddy, was similarly disfigured in 2019 at Madame Tussauds in New York City after someone pushed the figure, severing its head, The Associated Press reported. Madame Tussauds and Louis Tussaud’s share similar names but are run by different companies.
Smagala-Potts said she did not know if the San Antonio site would post guards near Trump’s wax figure after it is repaired.
Assaults on the wax figure of Trump became more frequent around last year's election. Even after the statue was moved to the lobby — where attendants could see it — the jabs and scratches did not stop, according to the San Antonio Express-News, which reported on the removal of the figure.
Trump’s figure was on display in a city that voted decidedly blue in the last election, in a state that stands out as a Republican stronghold.
The figure, which sported the former president’s signature red tie and cuff links, was part of a rotating display at the museum, Smagala-Potts said. A wax figure of President Joe Biden is also in the works.
At attractions with wax figures, bad news coverage can lead to removing a figure or placing it in a less prominent position.
When Matt Lauer, a former “Today” show anchor, was accused of sexual harassment in 2017, his likeness was removed from Madame Tussauds in New York City. By contrast, an actor’s recent Oscar win might warrant moving a wax figure to a more visible spot.
With a $24.99 admission fee, the San Antonio site has more than 200 life-size figures on display. Some are available for visitors to take selfies with, including President Vladimir Putin of Russia; North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un; and actor Dwayne Johnson, known as the Rock.
Smagala-Potts said that rules about touching the figures varied at the company’s locations but that guests were encouraged to take photos with the statues. Damage is often a result of “wear and tear” where selfies are welcome, she said. A visitor might walk too close to or bump into the likes of Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga, for example.
It takes more than 20 artists more than 800 hours to complete a wax figure, Madame Tussauds said. The process includes more than 200 measurements, which are used to create a metal skeleton and a clay mold for the wax to be poured into. Artists rely on photos if the subject is not available in person.
The company said all of its figures were about 2% larger than the actual subjects because the wax shrinks. The heads and the bodies are made separately, because it takes more than a month to insert individual strands of human hair into the wax.
Madame Tussauds’ exhibits date back more than 200 years, although the first U.S. location opened in Las Vegas in 1999. Each site has a studio artist to do daily touch-ups and regular maintenance of the figures, said Brittany Williams, a company spokesperson.
“If a hand is held too tightly, or too many guests have run their fingers through the hair of a famous figure, our studio artists have a treasure trove of tools to fully restore the wax figure and place it back in the spotlight,” Williams said.