Heroes on display (WITH GALLERY)

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

Burlington wax museum project enters seventh year

BURLINGTON — What began as a celebration of history at Burlington Elementary School has started to amass a bit of history of its own, becoming a tradition for second graders there.

The school hosted is seventh Living Wax Museum exhibit on Thursday, with 41 students from both of the grade’s classes taking part in the event.

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Students appeared in costumes as figures from both the past and present, with subjects covering politics, the arts, sports, activism, science and other fields.

Students tour the Living Wax Museum at Burlington Elementary School on Thursday. (The Ironton Tribune | Heath Harrison)

There were returning favorites, such as John F. Kennedy, Harriet Tubman, Babe Ruth and Cleopatra, while new additions this year included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks and civil rights figure Ruby Bridges.

Students chose the figure to portray, which are narrowed down to ensure no duplicates. These often mirror the students’ interests.

For instance, the teachers pointed to Zane Chaney, who has an interest in riding, who chose to portray professional rodeo star Lane Frost. 

Students researched their subjects and wrote a multi-paragraph report on them, Stacie Rutherford and Courtney Ray, the teachers who helmed the exhibit said.

They said this report is written in first person, taking on an autobiographical form.

“They learn about overcoming obstacles,” Rae said. “Not letting bumps in the road keep them from achieving their goal and not falling into the mindset of ‘I cant do it.’”

“And they learn about the ‘Why’ behind it,” Rutherford said.

For the costumes, they came from a variety of sources. Students and family designed some, while 11 sponsors and the school’s Parent Teacher organization contributed. The teachers said many are donated after the exhibit and, after seven years of hosting the event, the school has acquired a collection of 38 costumes for students to choose from.

In addition to global and national figures, there were two in the exhibit who were prominently from the Tri-State. Former NFL and Marshall University football player Randy Moss was portrayed by one student, while another Jaden Young, chose to portray Phil Carter, a Marshall University social work professor who led the efforts to desegregate downtown Huntington in the 1960s.

As a local from the present day, Carter put Young in the unique position of being able to hear the thoughts of his subject about the exhibit.

Left, Jaden Young portrayed Marshall University social work professor and civil rights activist Phil Carter (seen, at right, last year at a street dedication in his honor in Huntington) in Burlington Elementary School’s Living Wax Museum on Thursday. (Photos by Heath Harrison)

“It’s definitely a first for me,” Carter, who was shown a photo after the event, said of having someone portray him. “I appreciate and am honored by Jayden and his parents.”

Carter, who said he was contacted by Young’s family as part of the research, noted said he was impressed that the student “at a young age is cognizant of the kind of effort put forward to bring about social and political justice.”

Carter, who was celebrated last fall by Huntington with a portion of Ninth Street dedicated as Phil Carter Plaza and was honored a few months earlier by the state of West Virginia for his athletic career, said that, while he has received many honors in the past year, seeing Young’s project was one of the most important.

“It is something that can resonate with the students,” he said. “And that area is so full of Black history.”

The Living Wax Museum was started in 2016 by Ray, Mary Matney and Amanda Clay and has taken place each year, except for one skipped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The teachers pointed out that students who took part in the initial exhibit are now in the eighth grade.

They said they are happy to have established a tradition at Burlington and hope to have a large celebration when it reaches its tenth anniversary soon.

The focus on history will continue this week for the school, with guest speakers planned on Monday and Tuesday for Black History Month, while students will take part in a field trip on Tuesday visiting four sites on the subject, including the nearby historic Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, which has received grant funding for restoration to open as a historic site next year.

— A second gallery of photos for this event will run with Wednesday’s edition of The Tribune