Lovely Horrors by Bill Nye
Story type: Essay
I dropped in the other day to see New York’s great congress of wax figures and soft statuary carnival. It is quite a success. The first thing you do on entering is to contribute to the pedestal fund. New York this spring is mostly a large rectangular box with a hole in the top, through which the genial public is cordially requested to slide a dollar to give the goddess of liberty a boom.
I was astonished and appalled at the wealth of apertures in Gotham through which I was expected to slide a dime to assist some deserving object. Every little while you run into a free-lunch room where there is a model ship that will start up and operate if you feed it with a nickle. I never visited a town that offered so many inducements for early and judicious investments as New York.
But we were speaking of the wax works. I did not tarry long to notice the presidents of the United States embalmed in wax, or to listen to the band of lutists who furnished music in the winter garden. I ascertained where the chamber of horrors was located, and went there at once. It is lovely. I have never seen a more successful aggregation of horrors under one roof and at one price of admission.
If you want to be shocked at cost, or have your pores opened for a merely nominal price, and see a show that you will never forget as long as you live, that is the place to find it. I never invested my money so as to get so large a return for it, because I frequently see the whole show yet in the middle of the night, and the cold perspiration ripples down my spinal column just as it did the first time I saw it.
The chamber of horrors certainly furnishes a very durable show. I don’t think I was ever more successfully or economically horrified.
I got quite nervous after a while, standing in the dim religious light watching the lovely horrors. But it is the saving of money that I look at most. I have known men to pay out thousands of dollars for a collection of delirium tremens and new-laid horrors no better than these that you get on week days for fifty cents and on Sundays for two bits. Certainly New York is the place where you get your money’s worth.
There are horrors there in that crypt that are well worth double the price of admission. One peculiarity of the chamber of horrors is that you finally get nervous when anyone touches you, and you immediately suspect that he is a horror who has come out of his crypt to get a breath of fresh air and stretch his legs.
That is the reason I shuddered a little when I felt a man’s hand in my pocket. It was so unexpected, and the surroundings were such that I must have appeared startled. The man was a stranger to me, though I could see that he was a perfect gentleman. His clothes were superior to mine in every way, and he had a certain refinement of manners which betrayed his ill-concealed Knickerbocker lineage high.
I said, “Sir, you will find my fine cut tobacco in the other pocket.” This startled him so that he wheeled about and wildly dashed into the arms of a wax policeman near the door. When he discovered that he was in the clutches of a suit of second-hand clothes filled with wax, he seemed to be greatly annoyed and strode rapidly away.
I returned to view a chaste and truthful scene where one man had successfully killed another with a club. I leaned pensively against a column with my own spinal column, wrapped in thought.
Pretty soon a young gentleman from New Jersey with an Adam’s apple on him like a full-grown yam, and accompanied by a young lady also from the mosquito jungles of Jersey, touched me on the bosom with his umbrella and began to explain me to his companion.
“This,” said the Adam’s apple with the young man attached to it, “is Jesse James, the great outlaw chief from Missouri. How life-like he is. Little would you think, Emeline, that he would as soon disembowel a bank, kill the entire board of directors of a railroad company and ride off the rolling stock, as you would wrap yourself around a doughnut. How tender and kind he looks. He not only looks gentle and peaceful, but he looks to me as if he wasn’t real bright.”
I then uttered a piercing shriek and the young man from New Jersey went away. Nothing is so embarrassing to an eminent man as to stand quietly near and hear people discuss him.
But it is remarkable to see people get fooled at a wax show. Every day a wax figure is taken for a live man, and live people are mistaken for wax. I took hold of a waxen hand in one corner of the winter garden to see if the ring was a real diamond, and it flew up and took me across the ear in such a life-like manner that my ear is still hot and there is a roaring in my head that sounds very disagreeable, indeed.