For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, author and performer Trav S.D. traces the historical ups and downs of very short-statured entertainers from medieval times through the era of P.T. Barnum and dime museums, to side shows and circuses, to vaudeville, to movies and television. Along the way, we trace the evolution of the Little Person’s image in popular culture, from one of cruel derision in the age of the court jester…to one of glamour, as personified by sex symbol and Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage…to a virtual return to carny days on reality tv.
Dioramas and panoramas, freaks and magicians, waxworks and menageries, obscure relics, and stuffed animals–a dazzling assortment of curiosities attracted the gaze of the nineteenth-century spectator at the dime museum. This distinctly American phenomenon was unprecedented in both the diversity of its amusements and in its democratic appeal, with audiences traversing the boundaries of ethnicity, gender, and class. Andrea Stulman Dennett’s ‘Weird and Wonderful: The Dime Museum in America’ recaptures this ephemeral and scarcely documented institution of American culture from the margins of history.
Weird and Wonderful chronicles the evolution of the dime museum from its eighteenth-century inception as a “cabinet of curiosities” to its death at the hands of new amusement technologies in the early twentieth century. From big theaters that accommodated audiences of three thousand to meager converted storefronts exhibiting petrified wood and living anomalies, this study vividly reanimates the array of museums, exhibits, and performances that make up this entertainment institution. Tracing the scattered legacy of the dime museum from vaudeville theater to Ripley’s museum to the talk show spectacles of today, Dennett makes a significant contribution to the history of American popular entertainment.
“The book should prove interesting to readers of American social history, and particularly enjoyable for museum and entertainment professionals.”
“This book was a great read and provided the information I was hoping to learn about nineteenth-century dime museums. All the information on the subject seems to be scattered about and often lacking. This book ties it together in a succinct yet informative text.”
“Weird and Wonderful is a well researched and very readable account of the (mostly) 19th-century phenomenon commonly known as dime museums. While they were themselves short-lived, the influence of dime museums extends far and wide throughout our culture – from Discovery Channel programming and blockbuster museum exhibits to freak show revivals and viral videos.”
“This is an important book—the indispensable book—for understanding America in the age of Trump. It’s an eye-opening history filled with brilliant insights, a saga of how we were always susceptible to fantasy, from the Puritan fanatics to the talk-radio and Internet wackos who mix show business, hucksterism, and conspiracy theories.”
Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER •
“The single most important explanation, and the fullest explanation, of how Donald Trump became president of the United States . . . nothing less than the most important book that I have read this year.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.
Over the course of five centuries—from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials—our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we’ve never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies—every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody. With the gleeful erudition and tell-it-like-it-is ferocity of a Christopher Hitchens, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails.
Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the culture of twenty-first-century America, if you want to know how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred, you must read this book.
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News
Award-winning poet and critic Kevin Young tours us through a rogue’s gallery of hoaxers, plagiarists, forgers, and fakers―from the humbug of P. T. Barnum and Edgar Allan Poe to the unrepentant bunk of JT LeRoy and Donald J. Trump. Bunktraces the history of the hoax as a peculiarly American phenomenon, examining what motivates hucksters and makes the rest of us so gullible. Disturbingly, Young finds that fakery is woven from stereotype and suspicion, race being the most insidious American hoax of all. He chronicles how Barnum came to fame by displaying figures like Joice Heth, a black woman whom he pretended was the 161-year-old nursemaid to George Washington, and What Is It?, an African American man Barnum professed was a newly discovered missing link in evolution.
Bunk then turns to the hoaxing of history and the ways that forgers, plagiarists, and journalistic fakers invent backstories and falsehoods to sell us lies about themselves and about the world in our own time, from pretend Native Americans Grey Owl and Nasdijj to the deadly imposture of Clark Rockefeller, from the made-up memoirs of James Frey to the identity theft of Rachel Dolezal. In this brilliant and timely work, Young asks what it means to live in a post-factual world of “truthiness” where everything is up for interpretation and everyone is subject to a pervasive cynicism that damages our ideas of reality, fact, and art.
~ ~ ~
“A wild, incisive, exhilarating tour through Western culture’s sideshows and dark corners. Like a sideshow barker, Young writes with unbridled enthusiasm, a showman’s conviction, and a carny’s canny, telling a story that at times defies belief. And every word of it is true.” ― Los Angeles Times
~ ~ ~
“Kevin Young . . . reflects on hoaxers and events as diverse as P.T. Barnum, Rachel Dolezal, the forged Hitler Diaries, Binjamin Wilkomirski’s fabricated Holocaust memoir, James Frey, Stephen Glass and Lance Armstrong. What could be timelier in the age of post-truth politics, science denial, and fake news?” ― Newsweek
~ ~ ~
“[Young’s] scrupulous feel for archival traces ― for the urgent materiality of memory ― is one of the superpowers he brings to both his poems and nonfiction. The newest example is Bunk, Young’s enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine. . . . Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective. . . . Bunk, a panorama, a rumination, and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return. . . . Bunk is a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony.” ― Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review
Admiral Dot – Sixteen years old; Twenty-five inches high. 19lbs.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Mignon the Penguin Girl
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jumbo was once the biggest elephant in captivity. He lived from December 25, 1860 – September 15, 1885. He was actually the first African elephant that reached modern Europe alive. In 1962, he was captured by hunters and then later sold to dealers. He was eventually traded to the London Zoological Gardens for a rhinoceros and had lived in the London Zoo for approximately 16 years.
In 1882, Jumbo was purchased for $10,000 by Phineas Taylor Barnum (the founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus). Jumbo was then shipped to the United States. This purchase was profitable for Barnum because it not only was a great addition to his circus, but it also started a new trend. People were wanting all things to be Jumbo. They would even have Jumbo jewelry and neckties.
Jumbo had toured with Barnum’s circus for three years. Unfortunately, his life ended in September of 1885. He died from a railway accident in Ontario, Canada and had left the world in tears. However, even though he was dead, he wasn’t all the way gone. This is because his bones were preserved. They were displayed at both Barnum’s circus and later at museums. For many years, they were displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. However, the skeleton was eventually put away because over time, people forgot who this huge elephant was.
Students standing by the giant Jumbo taxidermy in the year 1922.
“In 1842, [P.T. Barnum had a chance encounter with] that miniature concoction, who was to make him rich beyond belief and famous beyond his wildest dreams. Four-year-old Charles S. Stratton was no bigger than a doll. All at once, at seven months, measuring 25 inches and weighing 15 pounds, the child had simply stopped growing. … Sherwood Stratton, the boy’s carpenter father, was only too happy to rent his little son out for a trial month at $3.00 a week plus room and board. … Barnum whisked the youngster away to New York City, where speedily printed museum posters testified to the thorough Barnumizing Charles Stratton underwent; the four-year-old carpenter’s kid from Bridgeport had been transformed overnight into General Tom Thumb, an 11-year-old marvel just arrived from Europe and engaged at ‘extraordinary expense.’ … Barnum himself was the schoolteacher, training his small charge, first in manners, then in memorizing little quips and speedy comebacks, finally the words and actions for a number of dress-up roles he would play. … Tom, who was a natural mimic, would strike poses and in other ways imitate well-known individuals, including Cupid, Samson, a Highland chieftain, Hercules, an English fox-hunter, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon. … From later-published scripts we know [how their routines] started off: ‘You being a general, perhaps you will tell us what army you command?’ ‘Cupid’s artillery,’ the General would reply. . …
“Instead of being bitter over his littleness, Tom seemed to glory in it, almost as if it were his own special blessing. He loved to strut out on the stage and show what he could do to an audience. … Of course, Tom’s childhood suffered from his full-time occupation as an adult. At five he learned to drink wine at meals, at seven to smoke cigars. … He loved money and hoarded it. … At the start of 1845, Barnum allowed the Strattons to become full partners in the Thumb adventure [and they became] ‘absolutely deranged with such golden success.’ …
“By 1862, Barnum was watching his wealthy Bridgeport neighbor Charles Stratton (alias Tom Thumb) sail his yacht and drive his thoroughbreds and smoke his imported cigars. … [Barnum soon added as an act] Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump [who] was a 21-year-old beauty from Middleborough, Massachusetts, [and] only 32 inches tall. … Tom Thumb took one look at the museum’s dainty addition and fell head over heels in love. … [Sixteen years later] in 1878, Lavinia’s sister Minnie died painfully while giving birth to a full-sized baby, not the miniature child she and her husband had expected. … [After this and another friend’s tragic death], Tom Thumb was never the same. … [In 1883] Tom died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 46.”
David Lally talks about his new play “Fifty Shades of Gilded” being presented at The Metropolitan Playhouse as part of their “Gilded Stage Festival’ from Jan 13th the 26th, 2014.
P.T. Barnum, looking to create one last great spectacle before he passes to the great beyond, creates a live staged competition,”The Greatest Reality Show on Earth”. David talks about the new play and the characters that inhabit it from Nellie Bly to Nikola Tesla.
For tickets and more information go here.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~