In this photo from Feb. 25, a historic landmark of Baltimore, “America’s First Black History Wax Museum” is painted on the wall of The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. (Photo Courtesy of Sierra Austin/Morgan State University)

By Sierra Austin
Special to the Afro

Now that Baltimore City has lifted more of its pandemic restrictions, tourists’ destinations are working on plans to safely welcome more visitors back this summer. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is among those destinations making moves to get back on the road to recovery.

According to Visit Baltimore, the nonprofit organization designed to market Baltimore as a tourist location, Baltimore has lost “$7 million and counting” in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum said 2020 saw a financial loss of more than $200,000. 

Joanne Martin, owner and co-founder of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, admitted that when the museum shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19 she was not sure what to expect and feared that a mounting deficit would be, “a clear indication of COVID-19’s impact on our financial stability.” 

The museum reopened Aug. 28, 2020, with an Emmett Till exhibit on the 65th anniversary of his murder. Upon reopening Martin said the museum was busier than expected, and a number of tourists mentioned they were disappointed by the museum’s closing in March. Martin said the museum is internationally known for its interactive programming. However, during the reopening, that type of programming had to be put on hold due to social distancing and safety concerns.   

Though the museum has seen an increased number of visitors since its reopening, Griot In Residence Deborah Pierce-Fakunle said, “Visitorship has declined. The programming has certainly declined. We are unable to do a lot of things.”

Pierce-Fakunle added, “We’ve had to improvise the programming and do it online but
it’s certainly not the same.” The Blacks in Wax Museum continues operations both
in-person and virtually as COVID-19 restrictions lift.

National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in East Baltimore. (Photo courtesy Visit Baltimore)

“Typically, there would be buses lining North Avenue and that has certainly not been the case due to protocols and people being afraid to travel,” said Martin.

Safety concerns have also prevented the museum from hosting its annual street fair in the 1600 block of North Avenue, typically scheduled for the last Saturday of February. The museum’s street fair normally consists of performances from partnering youth programs, community organizations, vendor’s booths, live entertainment, music and food. 

Martin said that not being able to have the street fair due to the pandemic has changed things. “When COVID-19 shut us down, it also shut down those opportunities for vendors and the community,” said Martin.

Darren Rogers, founder of I AM MENtality, a Baltimore based nonprofit committed to aiding youth in becoming leaders through mentoring, said access to places like The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum is an important resource especially for youth in Baltimore. His group has visited the museum.

“It was an amazing experience. We got a lot out of it,” said Rogers. He added compliments about the tour guides for their in-depth knowledge, which helped his students understand more about Black history and their self-worth as Black youth.

Martin said that is why the museum is working hard to ready for summer visitors as more people get the COVID -19 vaccine and feel more comfortable with travel. The museum’s protocols still require visitors to wear masks. The social distancing guidelines remain in place so visitors will have both and educational and safe experience. 

The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum accepts both virtual and in-person tours by scheduled times via the museum’s website

The museum’s hours of operation are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Sierra Austin is a Strategic Communication major at Morgan State University.