Robert Avery has dreamed of creating a museum that shows off wax figures of famous Philadelphians for the better part of two decades. Despite Avery’s assurances that his “Philadelphia Wax Museum” will someday be a thing, you shouldn’t hold your breath it’ll happen soon.
Avery, a 38-year-old Air Force employee for the Department of Veterans Affairs, hasn’t lived in Philadelphia since 2008 and is currently stationed in “the South” (he won’t specify which state). Though he says he hopes to soon move back to Pennsylvania or the Washington, D.C. area, there aren’t any concrete plans to do that.
Meanwhile, social media accounts he created for the “Philadelphia Wax Museum” that have existed for years (including a Facebook page with 47,000 likes) continue to stay live, though Avery admits he’s done little to nothing over the past several years to fundraise, saying: “nothing as far as raising funds to get the first wax figure created has occurred.”
To this day, people still visit Avery’s website and inquire about the Philadelphia Wax Museum. They think it exists.
But it doesn’t. There is (still) no physical space. There are no wax figures. The Philadelphia Wax Museum is no longer registered with the IRS as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Its creator, though he grew up here, doesn’t live in Philadelphia anymore. The only thing that remains are promises from Avery that the Wax Museum will one day happen and that he has people in Philly who can run the museum in his absence, though he wouldn’t name those people or connect them with Billy Penn.
But don’t worry. Avery says 2017 is his year.
“A great story has an antagonist,” he said in a phone interview. “With my story, the antagonist would be time. Just time.”
Avery grew up in East Falls and says he believes his vision for the Wax Museum came from “a higher place.” He was able to travel outside Philadelphia through his position with the Air Force, and he said he wants kids in Philadelphia to visit a wax museum, see who they could become and feel inspired “to do great things.”
So Avery, who didn’t have any experience in opening a museum, started a website dedicated to the “Philadelphia Wax Museum,” as well as the aforementioned Facebook page that — though it hasn’t been updated since July — remains popular. On the Wax Museum’s website, there’s still a link to a PayPal account to donate to, but that now reads “this recipient is currently unable to receive money.”
In 2012, Avery publicly took heat after local blog Phillesbian.com pointed out that the Wax Museum had posted on Facebook that it supported Chik-Fil-A after the fast food company’s CEO publicly denounced same-sex couples, saying his company operates on “biblical principles.”
Still, the museum seemed possible. A commercial had been created. And in January 2013, word spread that the Philadelphia Wax Museum might have been interested in a space on Delaware Avenue. There were even grandiose renderings like this one:
After a closer look though, some of the renderings appeared to have come from another project. And Avery hadn’t actually raised the money he needed to make those renderings a reality.
The next month, The Philadelphia Daily News ran an extensive piece about the project, describing the Wax Museum project as a figment of Avery’s imagination and found that his personal LinkedIn page included recommendations from fake people.
Avery said the Daily News’ story was unfair, but led to some of his supporters giving small contributions to keep the project alive. It’s unclear how much money Avery raised through outside funds over the years for his project, but he says the vast majority of what has been spent came from his own pocket.
Now, Avery says he’s working to raise the thousands of dollars he’ll need just to create the first wax figure. His ambitions have tamed, and he’s no longer picturing a massive museum overlooking the Delaware River. Instead, he’s envisioning a small storefront in East Falls or Germantown that will start with just one wax figure and grow from there.
At one point, he talked about making Will Smith the first wax figure. Other candidates, a least according to this 2011 “commercial,” included Michael Vick, Bill Cosby, Rocky and Pink. Avery says maybe, in an olive branch to the LGBT community after that Chik-Fil-A incident, he’ll make the first wax figure a prominent LGBT leader. “I want to make amends,” he said.
Even though the Philadelphia Wax Museum appears no closer to reality than it did several years ago, Avery says it’ll still happen. He does admit, though, that it’s been too long.
“My ambition blinded me,” he said. “I was so passionate about it.”