Editor’s Note: On Friday, April 5, Fodor’s digital editorial director Jeremy Tarr and his wife spent the night at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in Hollywood. They did not return. What follows are the field notes, photos, and videos that were recovered.
7:15 p.m. We arrive at our very peculiar lodgings for the night: Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. I’ve stayed in a lot of odd lodgings but never before surrounded by dozens of celebrities who exist in the uncanny valley between human and otherwise. For this weekend only, all seven Madame Tussauds in the U.S. are opening their doors and allowing guests to book a sleepover via the hotel reservation site Booking.com. It’s part of Booking’s “Experiences”—extraordinary offerings that can be booked exclusively through the site. Last year, Booking invited Miami visitors to reserve a jet-skiing package with DJ Khaled. And now, it’s sweet dreams at Madame Tussauds. Booking plans to continue these offers, but has been mum as to what will be next.
So, we enter. The museum is still open—it doesn’t close until 10. We’re met by a manager, who’ll be giving us a tour, and a top-hatted “selfie butler,” who’ll be taking our photos.
We’re shown our “room.” It’s not really a room, but a cordoned off area of the third floor, hidden beyond velvet curtains and a red rope. In the middle of it, underneath a disco ball and with a twin bed on either side of her, is Lady Gaga. She’s wearing her outfit from the 2010 Brit Awards—a lace mask and bodysuit and Marie Antoinette hair. She’ll be our roommate. Large windows overlook the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Across the street, I can see the Roosevelt Hotel, many of the guestrooms have their curtains open, some have guests within, a few of whom are staring out—toward us. I ask if our windows are tinted. They are not. I guess Lady Gaga isn’t the only one who’ll be on display tonight.
7:30 p.m. We’re on the tour. I’ve actually never been to a Madame Tussauds before. This place is nuts. Good nuts, but still nuts. The third floor, where we’re sleeping, is one big room with a random assortment of celebrities—Rihanna, Demi Lovato, Meryl Streep, and Betty White. All just hanging out. Downstairs on the second floor is Old Hollywood: Bette Davis, Fred and Ginger, Rhett and Scarlett. Moses is parting the Red Sea, Lawrence is looking at Arabia, E.T. is ready for bicycle flight, and Hitchcock is getting ready to film the shower scene.
INSIDER TIPEach wax figure costs $200,000—and even though you can touch them, be gentle. A couple of years ago, some drunk guy punched the Rock in the face and shattered him.
Then there’s the Horror Room. This is not a cheap knock-off horror like in every horror film about a wax museum—from Vincent Price in House of Wax to Paris Hilton in the remake of House of Wax—but the real deal. There’s Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff as both Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy. I pose. And there, next to them are It balloons, the Poltergeist television, Jack Torrance’s “Here’s Johnny” door, and over there Hannibal Lecter is standing in the corner smiling. I’m in my happy place.
8:45 p.m. We’re heading out of the museum to go to dinner. I ask our guide what the plan is when we return. “Well,” he says, “you’ll have free reign of the museum all night.”
“And we’re alone,” I ask.
“There will be a night manager and if you need anything, you’ll have a Walkie Talkie.”
“Does anything unusual ever happen here at night?” I ask.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, has anyone ever seen anything strange?”
“Well,” he says. “There’s a ghost.”
“A ghost, you say?” I shiver. “Go on!”
And so he tells me about the ghost of Victor Kilian, an old character actor who was beaten to death not far from the museum. They say his ghost wanders these parts—he’s even been spotted next door at the Chinese Theatre. And a few staff members at Madame Tussauds have seen his apparition hanging around Bette Davis, who he worked with on All This, and Heaven Too.
I can tell my wife isn’t thrilled. She knows this evening will now be dedicated to a ghost hunt.
9:30 p.m. We’re eating at the Hard Rock Café. It’s next door to Madame Tussauds and it’s part of the Booking.com package. I’ve never been to a Hard Rock before. It’s full of tourists. I live in Los Angeles, so it’s a little strange to be eating in a restaurant full of tourists, but it’s nice that this experience comes with grub. There’s a band playing. They’re not bad. I order a steak. It’s cooked well. My wife has a burger. It’s pretty good. I have a gin. It’s definitely gin. The manager comes by just to say hello. He’s a very nice man. I showed up in a good mood and I’m still in a good mood.
I tell my wife about this movie from the ‘80s called Waxwork where wax statues come to life and one by one turn people into the exhibits. She’s not amused by this dinner conversation.
10:45 p.m. We return to the museum. The gates have been lowered and we need to call to enter. Inside, it’s eerie silence. Earlier, there was music playing throughout, but they’ve now turned it off. They waited until the last guests have left. And we’re not guests. We’re temporary residents.
There are still some workers here. One of them offers to take us to a virtual reality escape room. There’s a wax statue here of a man wearing a virtual reality headset. I’ve never seen this guy. It’s not a celebrity.
“Who’s this guy?” I ask.
“Oh him? I don’t know. Not everyone here is a celebrity.”
It’s true. There are a few regular Joes. Extras, I guess. There’s one taking photos on the third floor.
“Are they modeled after the employees?” I ask.
“No,” he tells me. “Not sure where they come from.”
“Maybe they’re just visitors. Turned to wax. Like in the movie Waxwork.” He ignores me. My wife rolls her eyes. We go into the virtual escape room.
I’m bad at both escape rooms and virtual reality, so this does not go particularly well. But, I’m also in awe. We go from the moon to Ancient Egypt to Medieval Times and witness a Tyrannosaurus Rex scream at us. We keep getting lost and stuck. Eventually, a museum employee has to talk us through it to, you know, escape. I can’t help but thinking that we’ll be locked in the wax museum tonight—will we be more successful escaping from it in the morning than we are from this virtual room tonight?
Walking back to our rooms, I eye Bette Davis. I swear she’s looking right at me, eyes following. The last of the workers have left and the night manager is in her office. Now, it’s just us, the ghost of Victor Kilian, Lady Gaga and the rest of her little monsters.
12:30 a.m. It’s starting to get genuinely spooky in here. We put on our pajamas, bathrobes and slippers (both provided by Booking.com), grab a bottle of wine and leave our room to wander. My wife wants to go to the ’90s room—that’s where Snoop Dogg and Tupac inexplicably hang out with Selena, who apparently is the most popular of all the wax figures (fans actually line up to take a picture with her). That’s also where there’s a giant ball pit that overlooks Hollywood Boulevard. We lounge here for a while, drinking wine in the pit as if it were a hot tub.
When we leave, we pass a room that my wife says is decorated exactly as hers was when she was a kid—NKOTB bedspread, 90210 and “I Want to Believe” posters, a Teletubby on the bed. And—what’s this upon the inflatable chair? A Ouija Board!
“We’re summoning the ghost of Victor Kilian,” I declare.
My wife rolls her eyes. She has no interest in this—but she loves me, so she indulges my idiotic whims. I race through the museum to the foot of Bette Davis. We sit down, put our fingers on the planchette and I ask, “Is the ghost of Victor Kilian here?”
Yes. My wife throws her hands off the planchette.
“You moved that,” she says.
“I didn’t! I swear!” It’s true. I didn’t. I ask another question: “Do you mind that we summoned you?”
Yes. My wife looks at me suspiciously.
“Do you mind that we’re staying here tonight?”
Yes. My wife is getting angry.
“Do you want us to leave?”
“Stop,” she says. But it’s already spelling something out.
Y O U W I L L N E V E R L E A
Before it finishes, we ditch the Ouija Board and run back to our room. Lady Gaga will protect us tonight.
And now—the lights just went out. It’s nothing to be concerned about. They told us they were going to turn the lights out. It’s OK. We’re just going to sleep. They’ll wake us up tomorrow at 8 a.m. and bring us Starbucks. It’ll be fine.
1:45 a.m. I wake up suddenly. I look outside at the Roosevelt. There are still lights on in the rooms. I look over at Lady Gaga. She’s still there. I look over at my wife—and she’s not. She’s gone. She probably went to the bathroom, I think to myself. The bathroom—which is nothing snazzy, just the regular visitor bathroom—is on the other side of the floor.
Past all the wax statues.
In the darkness.
I wait a few minutes, and I wait some more. Finally, I go searching for her. The only illumination comes from my phone and the blue stage lights surrounding a demonic-looking Demi Lovato. They’re all tinged with evil—Lorde and Taylor Swift and Conan O’Brien. Even Betty White looks menacing.
She’s not in the ladies room. She’s not in the men’s room. Where is she? I shine my light all over the third floor. Nothing. I go downstairs. To Old Hollywood. Through the Old West, haunted in the darkness by Butch and Sundance, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. And into the Horror Room. My happy place.
There’s still light here. It’s coming from the Poltergeist television. And there she is. There’s my wife. Sitting in front it just like Carol-Anne.
I ask her if she’s all right, but she doesn’t say anything. Without even looking at me, she stands up and walks away. I follow her. All the way to the ’90s room. To the ball pit. She gets in, lies down, and buries herself.
I wait for a moment. She knows how scared I can get. She’s playing a joke. She’s thinks the Ouija Board was a joke, so she’s just getting back at me. She must be. Right? So I wait. I know at any moment she’ll jump out at me. I hate jump scares. So I keep waiting. This is taking too long. I’m tired. It’s late. “OK, this isn’t funny,” I finally say. But still nothing. And then I go in. I call for her. But, nothing. I wade through the ball pit. Nothing. She’s gone. She’s completely gone. She’s disappeared completely into the pit. Vanished.
2:15 a.m. She’s not here. I’ve been looking everywhere. I’m looking for the night manager. Where’s that Walkie Talkie? Did I leave it in the bathroom? The Old West?
2:30 a.m. They’re after me. They’re all after me!
EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s where the notes end. A video was found on his cellphone, timestamped at 3:15 a.m.
No one knows what’s happened to them. Maybe the ghost of Victor Kilian stole them away. Maybe the statues woke in the night and tormented them. Maybe they’re now a couple of extras, scattered throughout the museum, committed to Madame Tussauds forever. Or, maybe, just maybe, all of this was a fantastical enactment of what he wanted to have happened, and in fact, they woke at 8 a.m. the next morning, had Starbucks, went home and talked about what a uniquely peculiar, but thrillingly memorable evening they had at a wax museum slumber party.