Waxy Washington’s Unfatherly Wink

Museum Building site of Albany Trust State and Broadway circa mid 1800s
Long before Albany had the New York State Museum anchored to the southern end of the Empire State Plaza, the city had its own on the corner of State St. and Broadway. On September 18, 1809, the Museum was first advertised by its proprietor, Henry Trowbridge. While it was called a museum, it dealt more in the curiosities than the history and culture of the world around it. One such account from an 1868 edition of the Southport Chronicle (a newspaper based in Connecticut) published a humorous story of an event that took place in the Albany Museum on our nation’s 76th Independence Day.

A funny incident which happened at the old Albany Museum, in the good old times when the drama, wax figures and other curiosities were in vogue at that place, in thus related:
On the 4th of July, 1852, a patriotic addition to the show being desired, Charles Salisbury, a comical genius, notorious for his practical jokes, was chosen to represent George Washington, and, of course, was dressed in the traditional costume. The doors had just been open for the evening performance and visitors had commenced thronging the curiosity rooms, when a mischievous idea struck Mr. Salisbury, who, opening the door of one of the waxwork cases, unobserved, took a position among the figures and tried to look as immovable as possible. A queer countryman, his wife and daughter, a young miss of 18, were the first who entered. As the young lady approached Washington, he bestowed on her a most unfatherly wink.
“Good gracious, ma,” exclaimed she, “that figure of Washington winked at me.”
“Nonsense, child,” exclaimed ma, “you are so conceited you think everybody is in love with you.”
But at this moment she was almost speechless herself, for the venerable Washington has applied his fingers to his nose in a very suggestive manner.
“Oh, William!” she exclaimed, grasping her husband’s arm, “do look at that.”
“What is it?” asked William; “why I believe you women folks are crazy.”
At this moment Gen. Washington struck a belligerent attitude and uttered a terrific yell. In an instant the whole party tumbled down stairs, pellmell, and related the wonderful story, while Washington quietly slipped off to his dressing room, laughing in his sleeve at the joke he has practised.

The Albany Museum was closed three-years-later in 1855. Most of the items within, including the wax models, were sold and ended up as a floating museum on a Mississippi River riverboat. No word on whether the imposter George Washington made his way west or not.

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