At first, it’s the costumes on the so-called wax figures at the Colorado Characters Wax Museum at Wilmot Elementary that draw people in.
The wax figures — really fourth-graders portraying figures from Colorado history — are dressed in elaborate dresses and hats and old-fashioned suits to portray characters whose names are familiar to Coloradans: Emily Griffith, Baby Doe Tabor, Molly Brown, Thomas Cunningham Bergen and Dwight Potter Wilmot.
Some of the costumes are put together by parents, others are rented from costume shops. Fourth-grader Riley Johnson, who portrayed Baby Doe Tabor, wore her great-grandmother’s hat and gloves.
Then the speeches bring the wax figures to life with details especially interesting to fourth-graders. Most said they knew little about the historical figures when they started their research.
The wax-museum program last Thursday was the culmination of the Colorado history unit. Students researched their characters and created biography posters, according to fourth-grade teacher Kathleen Langowski. They wrote and memorized their speeches and created their costumes and props.
The biography posters described the historical figure, provided facts about the person’s life and quoted the person.
Ben Arent, who portrayed explorer John Wesley Powell, talked about how Powell traveled down the Colorado River and was the first to navigate the Grand Canyon. He said he chose Powell because his family goes to Lake Powell, and he wanted to learn about the person the lake was named after.
Ashlyn Mullaly, dressed as Molly Brown, talked about how Brown lived in Leadville, donated more than $10,000 to charity and survived the sinking of the Titanic. Ashlyn chose to study Brown because both are redheads, and Ashlyn is interested in the Titanic’s sinking.
Timothy McDonald, who portrayed Thomas Bergen, and Jake Huckman, who portrayed Dwight Wilmot, told listeners about the history of Evergreen and how Wilmot Elementary came to be. The area north of Evergreen had been named Elk Park, Timothy said, but Thomas Bergen renamed it Bergen Park. Jake said Dwight Wilmot owned a ranch where Evergreen High School and Wilmot Elementary are now.
A lesser-known historical figure, Martha Maxwell, the first woman taxidermist, was portrayed by fourth-grader Bella Graham. Maxwell was a self-taught taxidermist, and Bella had a 2-foot-tall replica of a mountain goat at her side as she gave her presentation.
Bella said she chose Maxwell because she didn’t know what taxidermy was and wanted to find out.
Parents moved through Wilmot’s main hallway from character to character, pressing a button to bring the historical figures to life. They were impressed with the students’ knowledge, and the effort they put into their projects and speeches.
“It’s nice that they learn about the people who built Colorado,” said parent Doug Arent.