Archive for the Human Anomalies (Freaks) Category

The Ongoing Saga of the Hottentot Venus

Posted in African American Interest, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2017 by travsd

First of all, we no longer say “Hottentot”. The proper name for this tribe of Southern African hunter-gatherers is Khoikhoi; Dutch colonists dubbed them “Hottentot” in mockery of their click-based language shortly after first encountering them in the 17th century. In the 19th century, when Africans were often exhibited in Europe and America as curiosities and “missing links”, khoikhoi were among the more popular examples, due to their small stature and the condition present in many of the females known as steatopygia, which refers to large accumulations of tissue in their buttocks and thighs.

More than one woman was exhibited by Europeans as a “Hottentot Venus”; the best known was a woman named Sarah (sometimes Sara or Saartje) Baartman (sometimes Bartman, Bartmann, or Baartment), ca. 1790-1815. Baartman was brought to London in 1810 by two unscrupulous men and exhibited as a freak on the stages of Picadilly for four years. In 1814 she was acquired by another man who brought her to Paris where she was exhibited by an animal trainer and examined by scientists from the Museum of Natural History. When she died in 1815 her body was dissected and a plaster cast was made of her body, and the results were on public display in Paris for over a century. Her remains were finally returned to South Africa for a proper burial in 2002.

In 1995 Suzan-Lori Parks fictionalized Baartman’s story and transferred its themes of racist colonial exploitation to her OBIE-winning play Venus. The Signature Rep has revived the work as part of their season devoted to Parks’ plays. Performances began this week, with an opening day announced for May 15. Tickets and more information are here at the Signature Theatre’s site. 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Littlest Lovers: Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Little People, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA, Valentine's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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“There’s someone for everybody” goes the old matchmaker’s expression, and perhaps no words rang truer on February 9, 1863, the day that professional little person Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church, New York. (I believe that’s Lavinia’s sister Minnie Warren as Maid of Honor; and Commodore Nutt as Best Man). This little stunt, the “Fairy Wedding” by the press, lightened people’s hearts during the depths of the Civil War. We present it to you in the same spirit today.

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It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, however; the two were a real couple. But even so, their boss P.T. Barnum was probably not too unhappy when the big event resulted in coverage like this:

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“I love you completely, my own, my all. But above all, I love this front page coverage in Harpers!”

Klinkhart’s Troupe of Midgets

Posted in Circus, German, Little People with tags , , , , , , on November 30, 2016 by travsd

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I stumbled across this image the other day and got curious. I could only find a few facts: this troupe of little people was managed by German born Oscar Klinkhart (ca.1897-1975). They were with with the Al G. Barnes show between 1926 and 1931. According to some sources, they were later with Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus and got stranded near Riverside, California ca. 1936, where they founded one of the many legendary “Midgetville” communities. Later Klinkhart retired to Logsden, Orgeon.

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Circus Amok 2016!

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Bearded Ladies, Circus, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Dime Museum and Side Show, Jugglers, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on September 12, 2016 by travsd

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We were fortunate to catch opening day of Circus Amok’s 2016 touring season yesterday at the Abrons Arts Center. It’s a more stripped down, lean and mean show this year, with a smaller cast and fewer sets, elaborate masks, or costumes (and, I believe, a shorter show).

I hope I won’t get in trouble by saying I liked it BETTER. This kind of cut-to-the-chase brevity, simplicity, and economy is a vaudeville VIRTUE, and that’s what I saw yesterday. One act in particular, mixing opera and two performers playing the same accordion, was a BOFFO vaudeville turn. Another act — the sight of artistic director, star, m.c. and woman-with-a-beard Jennifer Miller escaping from a straightjacket to the tune of the old disco hit “I Will Survive” — made me weep at the sheer beauty of it, even though I’d seen it many times before! And weeping is vaudeville (it certainly isn’t burlesque, sideshow or circus). And yesterday WAS September 11 — I imagine I was subconsciously mining every particle of pleasure out of the show I possibly could. I enjoyed it that much. And that’s vaudeville, too. It was either vaudeville or sunstroke. (The concrete outdoor amphitheater at Abrons is like sitting at the focal point of a solar panel.)

But cooler weather is upon us! And Circus Amok will be playing (for free!) at a public park near you (if you live in New York City) through September 18. The full schedule is here.

And now some more pictures!

This very funny ringer did walkaround. It says something about New York that it took me a second to make her as a clown. I've seen crazy people on the street with this much powder or white cream on their face at least 3 dozen times

This very funny ringer did walkaround. It says something about New York that it took me a second to make her for a clown. I’ve seen crazy people on the street with this much powder or white cream on their face at least 3 dozen times. Anyway, she got the whole crowd to yell and scream, which is very fun, because you couldn’t help picturing what people on the sidewalk must have thought as they were walking by

Balancing the ladder on her chin was plenty impressive, but I couldn't resist wishing a little person would appear and clamber up the ladder and jump onto that nearby balcony

Balancing the ladder on her chin was plenty impressive, but I couldn’t resist wishing a little person would appear and clamber up that ladder and jump onto that nearby balcony

No lions were harmed during the production of this circus

No lions were harmed during the production of this circus

More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People

Posted in BROOKLYN, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Little People, ME, My Shows with tags , , , , , on July 27, 2016 by travsd

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Today happens to be the birthday of both Fleming W. Ackerman (a.k.a “Colonel Speck”) and Major Edward Newell (a.k.a. “General Grant, Jr.”). (Click on the links to learn more about these illustrious Little People.

If the odds of a Little Person being born are small, and the odds of a performing Little Person even smaller, think how small the odds of TWO performing Little People being born on the same day! Seems to me an auspicious time to announce here my upcoming talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, entitled More Than Munchkins: An Illustrated History of Performing Little People. 

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For centuries Little People have been a mainstay of popular entertainment. In this illustrated talk, I will trace 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.

The talk will take place Monday August 22, 2016 at 7pm at the Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Ave, Brooklyn. Tickets are $8

More info and tickets are here: http://morbidanatomymuseum.org/event/more-than-munchkins-a-history-of-performing-little-people-an-illustrated-lecture-with-trav-s-d/

Happy Fourth from Jolly Ema

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Fat Women and Men, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Independence Day, Women with tags , , , , on July 4, 2016 by travsd

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I could learn nothing about Jolly Ema beyond what it tells on this postcard, and the weight they give (if it does indeed say 620 lbs) is probably a matter of creative interpretation. But this I do know: she was clearly patriotic, and probably filled her paper plate with copious second and third helpings of BBQ at the sideshow picnic (yes, I know they didn’t have paper plates back then, just surf with me). At any rate — a relic from a time when Americans of this girth were people we bought tickets to see as curiosities, and weren’t roaming the shopping malls in huge numbers. In fact, think of Jolly Ema as you celebrate today. Or do as I will — and try to forget her.

R.I.P. Katherine Dunn

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Circus, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), ME, OBITS, Women with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2016 by travsd
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The rare beauty who identified with those born different

In the sideshow world there are two kinds of human anomaly: the born freaks (your little people, your giants, your conjoined twins, etc) and the made freaks (your bearded ladies, your tattooed people, etc). Katherine Dunn’s imagination brought us something NEW; the made born freak….synthesized through radiation and chemistry. The concept isn’t worlds away from the X Men, only  the superpowers aren’t accidental. And then she mixed it with a good power-jockeying family soap opera, say, Dallas AND a sympathetic touch that helped us find common ground with “the other”. Long about 1989 that made for mighty riveting reading. I had the good fortune to read Dunn’s Geek Love at around the same time I discovered the Coney Island Circus Sideshow, and P.T. Barnum’s memoir Struggles and Triumphs and much else, and it created a perfect storm of carny mania. Pretty much changed my life! The edition I had looked like this:

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So we are saddened to hear that this brilliant and visionary author, who SO plugged in with the zeitgeist has now passed away at the age of 70, another benchmark of the passing era. She sure left this world way better than how she found it.

For a much more thorough appreciation of Katherine Dunn and her impact read my old pal Sheila O’Malley here. 

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