Presidential party

What better way to celebrate Presidents Day weekend than getting up close and personal with all 43 presidents — well, their lifelike wax figures, that is.

The Presidents Gallery at Madame Tussauds Washington opens this week with an unveiling of the museum's new $2 million exhibit featuring wax figures of the U.S. leaders, from No. 1, George Washington, to No. 44, Barack Obama. (Grover Cleveland, for those counting, was No. 22 and No. 24.)

"This is the only place in the world where you are able to stand next to them, put your arms around them and interact with all 44 presidents in three-dimensional fashion," said Dan Rogoski, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington.

When the wax museum opened in Washington in 2007, it offered visitors replicas of 14 presidents, adding Barack Obama in 2008. Plans for the dedicated Presidents Gallery were announced last February and artists went to work creating new figures of the remaining presidents.

Each figure takes three to four months to complete; artists must study hundreds of photographs and when available, video footage, to make the figures as true to life as possible. When photographs don't exist, artists rely on paintings and historical accounts. Each wax figure includes real hair (where applicable), inserted one strand at a time. One head of hair takes about 240 hours to complete.

There's no doubt the wax figures are works of art, but visitors are able to touch them and take photographs with them.

"That's what makes Madame Tussauds unique," said Rogoski. "We don't have velvet ropes or barriers. We encourage you to go up and touch the wax figures and put your arm around them."

The presidents are also life-size, said Rogoski, so museum visitors can really get a feel for the height and weight of each president. And with each wax figure comes a plaque that gives facts and interesting tidbits, some of which you might not know.

For example, President James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, was also the shortest president, standing just 5 feet, 4 inches tall. President William Howard Taft was the heaviest, weighing in at 332 pounds.

The presidents are also in period clothing and set among props to help make the experience authentic and educational.

The experience in the Presidents Gallery begins with General George Washington crossing the Delaware River and ends in the Oval Office with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

"It's not only all the presidents, it's a three-dimensional journey through American history," said Rogoski. "There are many different themed areas customers can immerse themselves in while going through that journey."

If you go

Madame Tussauds Washington D.C., 1001 F Street NW (at the corner of 10th and F Street); 202-942-7300 or 888-929-4632; Open Monday-Thursday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tickets: $15-$20. Closest Metro stop: Metro Center Metro Station, served by the Red, Blue and Orange lines. Also nearby is the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop, served by the Red, Yellow and Green lines.

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