BY JOEY SWEENEY
There was a brief time in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s — the Gen X-ers in the room will remember it well — when it seemed that there was a vast conspiracy to haunt the dreams of American children through the use of animatronic wax figures. To visit Disneyland, the local department store Christmas Village, or even a boring old school trip to somewhere historical was to encounter up-close a terrifying vision of the future, where children — your own kind! — were slow-moving robots with dead eyes and oddly disconnected conversational points.
To put it mildly, they penetrated the consciousness and were part of a general trend that has put childhood itself on the run: By the mid-1980s, the show Small Wonder , itself a harbinger of a robot-child future, was on the air; ten years later, Adderall was introduced in tablet form; and some time since then, parents started getting arrested for allowing their children to walk to school. The droids had done their bidding so far as the children were concerned; the Internet, we can presume, was invented to take care of the adults.
But what of the sad, old animatronic wax figures, now rendered useless by either this dastardly task completed, or simple good taste? A window presents itself today on Craigslist, as some poor soul cleaning out the basement of the Weavertown One Room Schoolhouse & Museum in forlorn Bird In Hand, PA has drawn the straw to sell an entire lot of these things. The seller, it seems, is ready to make deals:
“I have 28 wax figures. I'm asking $300 EACH. There are 4 mechanical. I'm selling 1 figure with a desk for $300. There out of the weavertown one room school house in bird in hand pa. They were made by dwarfmans in 1969. They were appraised at $450 to $800 each. Would love to sell as a set . If your interested in all please contact me. Please NO low balling. I had several offers that I turned down! I have no problem with offers if you buy the 28 as a set (no low balling) and no scams. I take cash on pick up . I can also take credit card but prefer cash.”
The seller’s statement offers a window into a thorny personality who is perhaps both bedeviled by the figures but also perceptive of their putative dollar value in the marketplace. (It is here that we must admit: We have no bead whatsoever on what a good deal for an animatronic wax figure of a Pennsylvanian Dutch child would be. In fact, it begs more questions than it asks: Is this a purchase of art? Or something else?) But even his own description of the items on offer contains, we believe, an error. As we went down the wormhole of this strange sale, it would seem that the wax figures were created not by “dwarfmans,” but by Dorfman Museum Figures, Inc., of Baltimore. Dorfman, it appears, is the last word in “museum figures” since 1957; there's a very good chance you have encountered their work before, whether in waking life or otherwise. And to peruse their website is to be almost stunned by the array of services Dorfman to this day provides. Here is but one:
"Choose from over 800 heads.
Old, young, angry, sad, happy, ethnic, male, female. We have sculpted the likeness of over 800 people and can use the existing mold to make another head. This saves you the cost of sculpting a new head, and allows you to see what the head looks like before ordering."
Don’t believe them? Peruse their galleries of prefab heads. “Old Caucasian Male Heads” alone yields an unsettling, nightmarish multitude of options. Indeed, it would be hard to choose just one.
The same would go for the former denizens of the Weavertown One Room Schoolhouse & Museum. If one were able to rescue but one of them (complete with school desk for one low price and, we assume, ongoing studies), how would you decide? Queries to the source would be no help, either, it turns out. As of this writing, attempts to reach the Weavertown One Room Schoolhouse & Museum were unsuccessful; the phone line takes no messages, its website would seem to have gone offline, and its Facebook page has not been updated since 2013.