My day as a Mannequin Exhibit at the Essex Fire Museum

Mannequin-man's blog

Mannequin man

 My day as a Mannequin Exhibit at the Essex Fire Museum

mannequin man - published 13/08/2015 (updated 24/10/2018)

Family Fun day at the Essex Fire Museum

Today was one of the Essex fire museum's family fun days. I had arranged to meet the museum's coordinator at 09:00. I found the museum fairly easily. It's actually on the site of a working fire station, but there were clear signs to the museum's car park, which I followed and parked up. I entered the museum through one of the open shutters. The first thing I noticed was that although the museum is not vast, it is packed with exhibits, the most impressive being the collection of vintage fire engines. I met the coordinator and we set about a quick tour around the museum.

The main reason for my visit was to plan ahead for H!, as this will be the perfect time to spring a surprise on museum visitors. My goal was to find a good position to stand, ideally taking the position of an existing mannequin, wearing the mannequins clothing. The position needed to be not too secluded, whilst still in the main flow of visitor traffic, but not out in the open, as that would give the game away to everyone once the surprise had been spring. I also wanted to get a feel for the place and suggested getting made-up as a mannequin to try a few of the potential locations and see the visitors' reactions.

After about 10 minutes of looking around the museum, I found two potential locations.

Fire Fighter

The first, in one corner was with a collection mannequins wearing Fire-fighter's uniforms through the ages; one of the mannequins was wearing a uniform form the 70's, just like Fireman Sam, with yellow PVC over trousers, blue tunic and a yellow cork helmet. I thought this would be a great position to take for H! because the visitors would be taken around and I'd be standing close to the group, so could scare the living daylights out of them.

ARP Warden

The other position I noticed was in the other corner of the museum in a World War II diorama showing the uniforms worn by the Auxiliary Fire Precautions (ARP) Wardens. The display consisted five mannequins all wearing different types of uniform issued from through the war. One mannequin in the centre, was wearing a blue ARP boilersuit overall which looked fairly large which I thought would fit me and would not be too hot and uncomfortable wear Since today's audience was going to be mainly small children, I thought replacing the centre ARP mannequin would probably work the best as there was a trailer fire pump in front of the mannequins, which would create distance between me and the visitors helping the younger visitors to feel less scared when I moved.

We then moved the mannequin out of the display and proceeded to remove his clothing; and of course, for anyone who has dressed or undressed and mannequin, there was the normal comedy moment when the mannequin's arms fell off. The boots seem to be stuck fast, but I had my own, so that was not an issue.

Putting on the make-up

I then went off to get changed. It took me a bit longer than normal, probably just over an hour, to get made-up. I had noticed that all the mannequins were very pale and I had decided to try and match their colour as close as I could, so I had specifically bought some white liquid latex, which I had just sourced on the internet. As a base, I used some of my Kryolan skin coloured one liquid latex (W3) to which I added some white to get a lighter shade. Unfortunately the result was very runny, it wasn't going on smoothly and wasn't very sticky. After 15 minutes I decided to abandon this approach and had to remove all the latex that had been applied and start again. This time I tried using some darker Kryolan latex (W4), which is thicker for some reason, as the base and added less white. This worked a lot better and the application was much smoother, although the colour was more pink. After a further 30 minutes, I'd finished applying the latex to my face but the hair piece, also latex, wasn't sticking at the back; I usually use a hair-dryer for this, but the changing room didn't have a socket, and there was nowhere else practical to change.

After waiting for the make-up to finally dry, I started to get dressed, first putting on the ARP Warden's boilersuit, then my boots. Then I put on green scarf and the gas mask bag around my neck, finally topping it off with the wardens black, steel helmet. I tried using the strap on the helmet, but it was too tight and squashed the latex too much wrinkling it, spoiling the effect.

Getting into place

Just as I was about to go out to the museum I heard some children's voices outside, "drat", I thought, I'm not going to be able to get into position without being seen. I waited for a while and then tried to make a dash to the corner, but there were some obstacles to get over to get into the scene with the other mannequins, and unfortunately, some of the children saw me moving into place. Children being children, were not being very discrete and were giving the game away and soon there was a crowd, all looking at me. During this time I stood motionless, not blinking. Some of them stated shouting, "Are you real?", as they began to doubt that I had ever moved. I let the audience disperse slightly and then gave some of the children a wave. A few of the children found me a bit scary, but if I waved to them in a friendly manner, suddenly their eyes lit up, and they would wave back enthusiastically, waiting for me to respond. They would frequently come back and wave at me expecting me to wave back which sometimes I did, but sometimes I would remain motionless. On numerous occasions there were large crowds of expectant children, all waving at me, waiting for some sort of response.

One of the things that I found very satisfying was when a new group came past and commented on the mannequins, without realising that I was real. As part of the activities, there was a quiz, so families would stand and scrutinise the scene, looking for clues, so I had to hold the pose and not blink for ages.

Unfortunate at about 13:00 the heavens opened with a heavy downpour  which pretty much cleared out the museum, apart from a few families. This was a good opportunity to try out one of the other mannequins position's, specifically the fireman that I had seen earlier. We then started to undress the mannequin, removing his blue tunic and helmet, and then we tried to remove his yellow over trousers; this wasn't easy as the boots were firmly stick again, so they found me some alternative trousers. After changing into the fireman's kit, I took my position with the other mannequins in fire-fighter kit. One child, who had been fascinated with me earlier, asked me to play a trick on his father, who had just arrived to pick him up. So I go into the mannequin stance, and waited. The father looked like he was going to walk past me, so I jumped out to surprise him, to the child's delight.


In conclusion, a great day, great reactions, only spoilt slightly by English weather. I also concluded that the Fireman's uniform display would be a great position to stand for H! as I'll be quite close to the audience and be able to give them a good scare, because frankly, that's what it's is all about.

See event pictures ARP Warden Uniform Exhibit At The Essex Fire Museum

Related Content

See all Posts Mannequin-mans's Blog