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Canada Sideshow Women

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ ‘Canadian Carnival Freaks…’

Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body by Jane Nichols book cover

Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900-1970s

by Jane Nicholas

“This book represents the first in-depth scholarly examination of the freak show in Canada, an institution with deep roots in our popular consciousness. Jane Nicholas has produced a significant addition to our understanding of the history of Canadian entertainment, attitudes towards children, and the social construction of able-bodiedness.”

Keith Walden, Department of History, Trent University

“In Canadian Carnival Freaks and the Extraordinary Body, 1900−1970s, Jane Nicholas seamlessly weaves together multiple histories: the history of the body, of children and childhood, of the working class family, of the cultural and social history of the carnival and the ‘freak show,’ among a number of others. Meticulously researched and sensitively argued, Nicholas adds immeasurably to our understanding of the central role that marginalized Canadians, particularly those with embodied differences, played in shaping broader ideas of normalcy, social acceptability, productive work, and cultural consumption.”

Mona Gleason, Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia

“Working backwards from the last CNE ‘freak show’ in 1973, Nicholas demonstrates the workings of state and business that made the shows fundamental to a burgeoning modern popular culture − hence consumer culture. She positions the freak show as integral to a ‘modern exhibitionary complex’ focused on the body as spectacle, an innovative approach to the power relations inherent in race, gender, and class, as well as the lesser discussed, but nonetheless critical, categories of age and ability. In this provocative and exciting book, above all a welcome addition to the growing historiography on disability, the author adds much to understandings of the ‘normal’ body as historically contingent, socially defined, and culturally performed.”

Cynthia Comacchio, Department of History, Wilfrid Laurier University

“Original, careful research combined with insightful analysis makes this book an important contribution to our understanding of popular culture and human variation.”

Robert Bogdan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Syracuse University

CNE Midway 1920 City of Toronto

AN EXCERPT

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Categories
Performing Arts Sideshow Video Women Writer

Coney Island USA – ‘Congress on Curious People’ – James Taylor – Guest speaker

“My Sideshow Mammas” is NOT a spiel on sex in the sideshow; nay nay. Sideshow historian and publisher of “Shocked and Amazed – On & Off the MidwayJames Taylor waxes poetic on the sideshow “freaks” (a title both women wore proudly in the show biz), the women who were “Mom” to him: Jeanie Tomaini, billed in her day as “The World’s Only Living Half Girl,” and Percilla Bejano, the famous “Monkey Girl.”

Jeanie Tomaini and her husband Al (The American Giant) Tomaini.

Percilla Bejano and her husband Emmitt (The Alligator Man) Bejano.

I bought James’ book several months ago before knowing he was going to speak at this ‘Congress of Curious Peoples‘ event at Coney Island USA. I had to record his talk!

To order “Shocked and Amazed – Collectors Edition” click here!

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Book Shelf History Sideshow Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Inseparable” by Yunte Huang

With wry humor, Shakespearean profundity, and trenchant insight, Yunte Huang brings to life the story of America’s most famous nineteenth-century Siamese twins.

Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs. Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”―a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself. 28 illustrations.

 

“Excellent… Mr. Huang compellingly makes his case that racism was a factor in these two self-made gentlemen landowners still being considered, late in life, as nothing more than a Barnumesque “freak show”… It’s not difficult to find in this, as Mr. Huang most definitely does, a comment on the times in which we live.”
– Melanie Benjamin, Wall Street Journal

“Engrossing…. give[s] an unvarnished look at the degradation and disparagement the brothers had to endure.”
– Jennifer Szalai, New York Times

Inseparable, Yunte Huang’s exuberant and vivid account of the ‘original Siamese twins,’ examines 19th-century American attitudes toward race and sex that resonate today ― a time when immigrants, people of color, those with disabilities and others are denied their stories and denied their humanity… By sharing his own experiences, [Yuang] reveals the poignant commonalities of immigrants across time and place, strangers making sense of a strange land, determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.”
– Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle

You can purchase the book here!

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Categories
Performing Arts Photography Sideshow Vaudevisuals Bookshelf Video

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – ‘Hubert’s Freaks’ by Gregory Gibson

HUBERT’S FREAKS: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus by Gregory Gibson 

From the late 1950s until her death in 1971, renowned photographer Diane Arbus took pictures of oddball performers at the now-forgotten Hubert’s Museum, a typical freak show in New York City’s seedy Times Square. One frequent subject was Charlie Lucas, first a freak himself, later an inside talker. In 2003, Bob Langmuir, an anxiety-ridden, pill-popping, obsessive antiquarian book dealer from Philadelphia, unearthed a collection of photographs and memorabilia, including Lucas’s journals and what he thought was Arbus’s photos. This trove of genuine American kookiness came to dominate his life. Following Langmuir’s quest—from the slums of Philadelphia to the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—as he gathered, priced and ultimately came to understand this collection, author Gibson (Gone Boy), himself an antiquarian book dealer, effortlessly twists these strands together with an emotional wallop. His toil in Hubert’s vineyard, Gibson writes of Langmuir, amounted to no more or less than the continuing archaeology of the old, weird America. Gibson’s laser focuses on Langmuir’s shifting state of mind as he struggles to master his personal demons and navigate the pitfalls of his own obsession gives this story its heart and opens a window onto a lost part of the American soul.

“Certainly, the freaks appealed to Diane Arbus. She counted performers like Suzy the Elephant Skin Girl among her friends, and she was fascinated with the ritualized goof of an act like that of Congo the Jungle Creep, so bad it was good. At the same time, she was completely serious in her study of this archaic form of American entertainment. In her 1962 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship, she listed sideshows as one of her subjects and mentioned: “Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus” among her working locations.

Revelations published a 1956 photo of the entrance to Hubert’s showing the upstairs penny arcade and Hubert’s ticket booth, bright lights and skeeball, posters advertising Susie the Elephant Skin Girl, Lydia Suarez the contortionist, and Princess Sahloo (aka Woogie.) Behind it all, off to the left, was the stairway leading down to that strange world.”

Listen to the Grind Tape

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Book Publishers Description

From the moment Bob Langmuir, a down-and-out rare book dealer, spies some intriguing photographs in the archive of a midcentury Times Square freak show, he knows he’s on to something. It turns out he’s made the find of a lifetime–never-before-seen prints by the legendary Diane Arbus. Furthermore, he begins to suspect that what he’s found may add a pivotal chapter to what is now known about Arbus as well as about the “old weird America,” in Greil Marcus’s phrase, that Hubert’s inhabited.

Bob’s ensuing adventure–a roller-coaster ride filled with bizarre characters and coincidences–takes him from the fringes of the rare book business to Sotheby’s, and from the exhibits of a run-down Times Square freak show to the curator’s office of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Will the photos be authenticated? How will Arbus’s notoriously protective daughter react? Most importantly, can Bob, who always manages to screw up his most promising deals, finally make just one big score?

This book is about the relationship between Hubert’s and Diane Arbus and her photography of the performers that worked at Hubert’s. A page-turner for those interested in the art world and the sideshow world and where they meet.

Read the LA Times Review here!

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You Can Get the Book Here!

Categories
Coney Island USA Exhibit Performing Arts Photography Sideshow

Chris Allison – @ 2009 at Coney Island Sideshow – “Coney Island Chris”

CAllison.5Chris Allison and I did a series of ‘promo’ shots for his “Coney Island Chris” website.

The side show at Coney Island was still active and run by John Strong.

Chris Allison had this to say about the day:

“I remember heading out to Coney Island that day to shoot pictures with Jim. We had no idea John Strong was going to be set up there. I had met John at the Sideshow gathering and thought lets see if we could shoot some pic’s on his lot. ….. John was very gracious to let us shoot wherever we wanted…. great pictures that day! Thanks John and thanks Jim!”

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