A Dream that Endures
The past two years, countless stories of resourceful and resolute attractions have made headlines, showcasing their determination to remain in business and succeed amid all the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. One inspiring example is Museo de Cera de la Ciudad de Méxi-co—the Mexico City Wax Museum.
The museum resides in a large, classic, and striking home started by the famous architect Antonio Rivas Mercado at the end of the 19th century and completed in 1901 to serve as the home of a prominent Mexican politician, José Natividad Macias Castorena. Upon his death, Castorena’s family rented the home to a museum of musical instruments, but this venture failed, and the place fell into a state of disrepair.
Enter Mario Rabner. Born in Mexico, he was living in London in the 1970s when the idea of building a wax museum in Mexico City came to him.
“First, I contacted the management of a very famous wax museum in London, but they were not interested at all,” Mario says. “So I decided to go forward on my own.”
After visiting more than 30 homes in Mexico City, he came upon the Castorena house. He rented it from the family, and after extensive renovations, restored it to its original glory. Then, in 1979, he purchased it.
Mario proceeded with his dream of creating a wax museum but faced other big hurdles.
“The greatest challenge was overcoming the lack of financial resources and the difficulty with banks afraid to lend money to someone not experienced in the business, as there weren’t any other wax museums in Mexico,” he says. “Other important challenges were to find artists who could sculpt wax figures and all the other tradesmen needed to produce a quality show.”
He finally found the artisans to create the elaborate wax figures and opened the museum. But not long thereafter, on Sept. 9, 1985, a magnitude 8 earthquake in Mexico City killed an estimated 10,000 people, cut electricity to the city, and leveled more than 400 buildings, while damaging thou-sands of others. Fortunately, the museum survived.
The museum’s current director general, Mauricio Rabner, nephew of Mario, tells Funworld how his institution turned tragedy into opportunity following the earthquake.
“The building next door to the museum was severely damaged, so a few years later, we bought the property and signed a franchise agreement with Ripley Entertainment,” Mauricio says. “In 1992, Ripley’s Believe It Not! Odditorium opened next to the wax museum.”
However, 1992 also brought another calamity—this one in the form of perhaps the worst thing imaginable for a wax museum.
“Unfortunately, there was a fire caused by a short circuit that consumed almost everything,” Mauricio says. “We had to rebuild the old house as it originally was and, of course, make all the wax figures again. The venue was closed for many months.”
But yet again, the museum persevered and overcame the monumental challenge. Today, Museo de Cera de la Ciudad de México features 14 rooms, each decorated according to the wax figures exhibited there. Luminaries from cinema, TV, music, sports, science, politics, religion, and even digital content creation are represented, including the Dalai Lama, Lady Gaga, Harry Potter, Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, LeBron James, Pope John Paul II, and the current presidents of both Mexico and the United States.
“We have 250 figures in the show, and we add five to eight new figures every year,” Mauricio says. “Twenty talented Mexican artists create and maintain our figures on a daily basis, including experts in human modeling, professional makeup artists and stylists, painters, tailors, and dressmakers, plus figure conservation experts.”
Many of the internationally famous individuals on exhibit have collaborated directly with the museum in the creation of their figures. An extensive number of photographs are shot for each figure, anthropomorphic measurements are taken, and masks are used to obtain accurate facial molds.
“Our museum has become an icon and a must-visit in Mexico City,” says a proud Mario, 43 years after he turned his dream into a reality. “It has been considered for quite some time one of the best wax museums in the world, based on the quality and likeness of the wax figures and the beauty of the place they are housed.”