In blacked-out rooms and shadowy doorways, limbless figures stand guard, watching over a building seldom ever entered – and perhaps with good reason. Still, those who dare to venture into this place may well find loose floorboards creaking underfoot and – certainly – timeworn paint peeling from the walls in curls, like a tree shedding its bark. Creepy doesn’t capture it.
An extended family of life-size figures call this space home, their faces and bodies disfigured and fragmented by neglect and the passage of time. Discarded limbs from some of these unsettling inhabitants can be seen piled high, seemingly ripped from their torsos, as if victims of a gruesome – albeit bloodless – massacre. A coffin, meanwhile, lies open, perhaps awaiting an unsuspecting occupant.
This eerie building is, in fact, an abandoned wax museum discovered by A.D, an urban explorer and photographer whose images of the location can be viewed here. A.D. happened upon the forgotten museum while out walking with a friend. When passing a row of derelict structures, the pair noticed that one of the doors was ajar, and – somewhat bravely – they opted to venture inside.
In the subterranean space they entered, the duo immediately found themselves face-to-face with a woman in a ragged, stained dress that at one time may have been white. Her featureless face was raised upward, her wrists manacled in rusted chains.
A.D. goes on to say, “After the initial shock passed, we entered the house and were even more spooked out by the number of mannequin parts lying around the floor surrounding the white… [figure], who turned out to be a model of Harriet Tubman.”
However, undeterred by their creepy surroundings and that unsettling Tubman mannequin, the pair decided to investigate the upstairs section of the building.
Moreover, within the dimly-lit rooms of the upper floors they discovered bizarre and eclectic relics: mounds of scattered limbs, timeworn prints, and the upper bodies of waxworks representing individuals from a bygone age.
Shabby clothes were strewn about, too, and these, the duo presumed, were once sported by the mannequins. Along their travels, the explorers also found two ominous-looking masks squinting and grimacing in the half-light.
Indeed, the pair encountered quite a number of intriguing – if rather creepy – items within the building’s peeling walls. When climbing up a spiral stairway, for instance, they spotted a diminutive broken doll that almost appeared to be tracking them with its eyes as they ascended.
A.D. goes on to add, “Before we left, we noticed a closed door in the basement behind the Harriet Tubman figure and decided to take our flashlights and explore into the dark. There were more mannequin parts all along the ground as well as old equipment.”
And in the blackness that surrounded them, their lights had illuminated something truly sinister. As A.D. explains, “When we came around the corner, we froze in shock at the sight of an old coffin in the corner of this dark basement.”
The explorer adds, “We reluctantly opened the coffin to make sure there was no actual body inside, and to our relief, it was empty. We quickly took photos of the coffin and left… abiding by the code of ‘Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.’”
Moreover, relics just like these are constantly being uncovered by people like A.D., who is part of the burgeoning urban exploration movement. Urbex enthusiasts seek to unearth hidden worlds and treasures in abandoned structures across the globe, often also capturing them on film.
A.D. explains his own purpose for taking shots like these by saying, “My goal as a photographer is for the viewer to experience what I experienced… For them to feel the darkness, the loneliness, and the excitement of discovering something that has been forgotten.”
This explorer searches for wonder and aesthetic grace in the unsightly and the banal, and the wax museum has been among his most incredible finds to date.
Furthermore, although the museum certainly seems to have been forgotten, it’s worth noting that the practice of making the eerily lifelike figures it contains has a long and prestigious – albeit somewhat morbid – history.
The creation of wax mannequins is thought to have arisen from the funereal rituals of European kings and queens in the medieval era. During this period, it was the custom at such memorial ceremonies to have the deceased royal’s body transported atop a coffin. However, this practice had the adverse side effect of accelerating the corpse’s decomposition on hotter days.
As a solution to this problem, wax substitutions of the late regal individual’s head and hands were used – and were frequently then showcased within the church following the service. Furthermore, these effigies, perhaps bizarrely, became a form of tourist attraction – acting as the precursor to the waxwork museums found across the globe today.
A.D.’s eerie discovery, meanwhile, remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, not least because the photographer does not wish to reveal the exact location of the place. However, given the Harriet Tubman figure and Civil Rights Movement paraphernalia to be found at the site, it seems likely that this was once some tribute to African-American history.
Regardless of the museum’s exact former incarnation, though, A.D.’s amazing find undoubtedly serves as a fascinating snapshot of the past. It’s also something of a chilling thought that somewhere these freakish mannequins are slowly decomposing, with tangled limbs and contorted expressions, as they patiently wait for the door to open once more.