Dick D. Zigun of Coney Island USA gave the Mad Marchioness and me the thoughtful engagement gift of the historic postcard above a while back, a fitting time to give a shout out to the great impresario behind the attraction it depicts, the Dreamland Circus Sideshow.
Samuel Gumpertz (not to be confused with Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labor), born 1868, ran away and joined the circus as an acrobat before he was ten years old. Over the next quarter century in addition to his time in the circus, he worked as an actor in melodramas and Shakespeare, was a trick rider in Buffalo’s Bill’s Wild West, and managed numerous theatre houses.
When Dreamland Amusement Park opened in Coney Island in 1904, it was Gumpertz who ran one of its most celebrated attractions: Lilliputia or Midget City, an entire miniature village populated by 300 actual little people. In less than five years, Gumpertz became general manager of Dreamland itself. One of his projects was to vastly build up its sideshow. When the park burnt down in 1911, Gumpertz immediately resurrected the sideshow and continued to run it through 1929. We have written about many of the famous acts who performed there during these years: Zip the Pinhead, 24 inch tall Baron Paucci, bearded Lady Olga, Lionel the Dog-Faced Boy, the limbless Mademoiselle Gabrielle, Martin Laurello (who could turn his head backwards), Clico, the Wild Dancing South African Bushman, Violetta the Armless Legless Venus, Susi the Elephant Skin Girl, and Jean-Jaques Liberra the Double Bodied Man.
In 1929, Gumpertz left Coney so that he could assume his new job: running the sideshow for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. He passed away in 1952.
To learn about the history of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.