Arts & Culture
Thu August 28, 2014
Natural Bridge: A New Chapter Begins
Natural Bridge, the geologic wonder that captivated early America, is heading toward a revival as a Virginia state park. That will likely bring more hiking and biking to the famous 215-foot tall formation. But that means that some of the more unique sideshows, like the wax museum, are being pushed aside.
On a recent visit, tourist Todd Artz from Pennsylvania emerged from the Museum calling it a 3-D history book.
“It was excellent. It tells the history of everything down here. And because I just found it’s losing the lease here, it should stay here.”
But its operator decided to close the doors and sell off the figures after Natural Bridge’s interim owner, a non-profit organization which will hand the 16-hundred acre property over to the state, decreed that a wax museum was not the best use of the site.
“I'm not making the decisions at Natural Bridge, so I can't say to them, 'Hey it might be a good idea to keep this wax museum."
That's Ken Smith, the ever-touring senior editor of RoadsideAmerica.com, who has long hailed the non-natural attractions that make Natural Bridge so much fun for travelers. Smith was also fond of the nearby Haunted Monster Museum, the campy creation that burned to the ground two years ago, the zany pet project of the man known as the Blue Ridge Barnum, Mark Cline. He’s also the force behind Foamhenge - another attraction that may close. It’s a full-size astronomically-oriented replica of Stonehedge.
"Well, if you like Foamhenge, I made it. If you don't like it, then I didn't."
The creator of Natural Bridge, according to the sound-and-light show playing nightly, was God. And at the wax museum, an aging audio system conveys two more big Bible stories-- Adam and Eve and the Last Supper-- which bookend a magical history tour.
“While surveying Natural Bridge, it is told that Washington scaled some 20 feet to carve his initials on the southwest wall.”
While some scholars dispute that tale, they agree that Thomas Jefferson bought the bridge from King George for just 20 shillings. In the online close-out sale, the Wax Museum offered up Jefferson himself for $2,800, but a clerk indicates that a Christian attraction in Ohio has already purchased many of the figures.
Longtime museum-goer Krystal Wray of Roanoke brought her children in for one last tour before the museum closes September 2nd.
“Things are a little dated. It is good memories though."
Natural Bridge's interim owner, The Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, borrowed over $9 million from the state to buy the property with hopes of recouping the cash from tourists by boosting admissions - from last year’s 150,000 to half a million, with a long-term goal of one million visitors per year.
First, however, the Bridge that once shared the American limelight with Niagara Falls will have to reclaim its mantle as the top attraction in its own neighborhood. Nearby Virginia Safari Park, a drive-thru zoo, claimed itself on track for more than 150,000 visitors last year. Natural Bridge will be handed over to the state once the loan is repaid.