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DC Museums: Wax Figures and Crime Fighters

In Washington, D.C., when your kids tire of monuments, memorials and first-rate museums, add some low-brow learning and laughter by touring Madame Tussauds DC and the National Museum of Crime and Punishment.

We admit it: we’re not fans of wax museums or of galleries that glorify blood-and-guts law breakers. Happily, neither museum goes ghoulish and both gift visitors with entertaining outings.

From across the street, a tall man in a black suit seems to be waiting for us just inside Madame Tussauds. Upon closer look, we discover our welcoming committee to be former president Richard Nixon. More politicos and history makers as well as sports and entertainment stars greet us inside.

We giggle at shaking Thomas Jefferson’s hand, sharing the fateful theater box with Abraham Lincoln and high-fiving Hillary Clinton. Hands-on quizzes add interest. Move a picture frame to discover which president received both a Medal of Honor and a Nobel Peace Prize (Theodore Roosevelt) or who kept a cow on the White House lawn (William Taft).

The real fun, however, is posing with and marveling at the “people.” Forget-about boardwalk quality statues with yellowed skin and vacant stares. Tussauds’ inhabitants look amazingly real as well as like their famous flesh counterparts. While we think Bob Dylan is too young and John F. Kennedy too bland, most of the other figures take wax sculpting to new heights. The skin and the painstakingly painted eyes breathe life into these statues, so much so that on the way out, we bump into one and say “Excuse me ” before realizing our mistake.

With 28,000-square feet on three floors, the National Museum of Crime and Punishment offers many ways to ponder the nefarious doings of thieves, kidnappers, gamblers and goons. The museum keeps the content interesting to kids by presenting lots of hands-on activities.

Read about the Salem witch trials and then go stick your hands and head in the Colonial pillory. Find out about bank robbers, the birth of submachine guns and modern weaponry, then test your aim by shooting the bad guys in a video vignette.
We also try safe-cracking (a success) and computer code breaking (abysmal failure) and learn the differences between knife wounds and bullet holes care of a morgue “body.”

We think it’s worth paying $7 extra at the ticket counter for the Top Detective Challenge. By following the clues, you and your kids wind through the galleries, hitting the highlights, having even more fun and solving a crime.

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