Online shopping can be addictive, even if you’re not necessarily buying anything. Just the browsing alone can be satisfying, sifting through thousands of products on ASOS you’ll never wear, methodically dropping Sephora products into your online cart only to peacefully click away when it’s all done. Maybe you’ll make a note to yourself to swing on back to a particularly tantalizing sale after you get your next paycheck, which is exactly what I’ll be doing after seeing an entire community of haunting Amish wax figures for sale in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
This is an incredible deal! There are 40 life-size wax figures of Amish people, some mechanical, for sale in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, according to a Craigslist ad that will haunt me forever. Most of them are men, some of them are women and children, and there’s a dog. “The wardrobe can be exchanged to suit your historical or theatrical needs,” the ad reads. But please don’t only buy the 32 male figures or one of the five women or mix and match, because the seller really wants to sell them as a set. In an email to Jezebel, the seller Dana DiCicco, who Philly.com reports is selling them on behalf of her uncle who ran the Amish Farm and House Tourist Attraction, said that the Amish figures have only been up for three weeks and there’s been some interest, including a shipyard which was interested in buying them to create a scene.
And with $350 for the adults, $250 for the children/dog, this is a completely reasonable $13,950 purchase. How often do you come across a nearly village-sized collection of wax Amish people with such piercing, dead-eyed stares (I mean god those eyes will just follow your every move around the room for sure) at such a fantastic price?
But if, like me, you closely follow competitive wax figure sales happening in the wilds of Pennsylvania, you’d know this has happened a few times before. In 2016 a collection of 28 wax Amish children, some animatronic, went up for sale on Craigslist in Bird-in-Hand, PA (yes that’s a real Amish town.) They were once part of a “Weavertown One Room School House,” Gizmodo found, a now defunct “authentic one-room school” with animatronic students. When a furniture maker named Sharon Beiler bought the schoolhouse to use as a studio, all these creepy wax children just came with the property. Eventually she sold some of them to a Brooklyn collector for a museum display.
DiCicco told Jezebel that she actually took a little inspiration from Beiler’s viral listing, playing up the creepy factor in her own Craigslist post. “I noticed that about two years ago, an Amish Schoolhouse tried to sell some wax figures and it was reported on because of how creepy they looked,” she writes. “It was ‘creepy’ Amish dressed figures in dark pictures in a basement. I recognize that any reporting on these figures, even if it’s because they are ‘creepy,’ would be good advertisement.”
And then in 2007 a group of historical wax figures like Benjamin Franklin and Davy Crockett, originally from the National Wax Museum of Lancaster County Heritage, were sold at auction when the museum shuttered. It was actually from this museum where DiCicco’s wax Amish group came, as they were originally part of a barn-raising scene at the wax museum, which was owned by the founder of a Lancaster amusement park called Dutch Wonderland. In 2017, the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania closed down and auctioned off its weird wax presidents as well, with some going for over $8,000 a piece. One PA Amish wax attraction still standing is a “Biblical Tabernacle reproduction” at the Lancaster Mennonite Information Center.
The figures in the 2018 barn-raising group sale, the 2016 Amish children sale, and the 2007 historical figure sale were all created by the same person: Earl Dorfman, a former department store window display manager who ran Dorfman Museum Figures Inc. out of Baltimore, Maryland starting in the late 1950s. He made thousands of figures for museums across the country, including Gettysburg and Lancaster, each with real human hair (implanted strand by strand, are you screaming, I’m screaming), before dying in 1995. “Earl Dorfman believed that most wax museums had blood and gore as their themes,” reads his obituary in the Baltimore Sun. “He chose instead to have his figures placed in institutions where visitors, especially children, could learn history.” Okay, sure, but they’re still terrifying.
But while it makes a little more sense to have a wax figure display of famous presidents and celebrities, it’s a little more confusing as to why there are wax displays of Amish people in literal Amish country, or why there’s such a strong connection between wax figure displays and Mennonites. The answer might best be found in the barrier that Amish communities already set up between themselves and the outside world. In his 1952 book Amish Society, Amish community scholar John A. Hostetler points out that the more tourist-y activities in Lancaster County, like museums, restaurants, and amusement parks, ultimately keep the spotlight off of actual Mennonite communities.
“The tourist enterprises and their guides appear to be performing a service for the Amish by routing tourists into staged attractions in the name of education, convenience, and sensitivity,” he writes. “The Amish themselves are somewhat protected from personal encounters with them, and the tourists find a place to spend their money.” Basically, the more the Amish could direct tourists towards wax reproductions of their daily lives, raising barns, going to school, their religious traditions, the less they actually had to interact with secular people.
But now, as many of these attractions clearly struggled to stay afloat, Craigslist becomes flooded with listings for animatronic Amish children—animatronic Amish children who are INFURIATINGLY out of my price range! For now, I can only hope this wax Amish community finds a loving home, because each and every one of them so obviously comes to life at night. I can just see them now, trapped in a basement somewhere, desperately hoping to raise another fake barn together over and over and over and over in front of tourists for eternity.