Archive for the Missing Links/ Wild Men Category

The Monkey Girl and the Alligator Boy

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Hairy People, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Skin Conditions with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Percilla Roman Bejano (1911-2001). Born covered head to toe in fur, and possessing two rows of teeth, she was billed as The Monkey Girl and exhibited alongside chimpanzees and orangutans in Lauther’s European Wonder Show starting at age three. The act did especially well in the aftermath of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In 1936 she was signed over to the Johnny J. Jones’s Exposition’s “Wonders of the 20th Century” exhibit. There she met and fell in love with Lobello, the Alligator Boy (1914-1995), who was covered head to toe in reptilian scales. The two married in 1938, and were now thenceforth billed as Londo and Lobello, the World’s Strangest Married Couple. In 1945, they toured with a Ripley’s Believe it or Not show. In the 50s and 60s they traveled with their own outfit; and they performed in the James E. Strates shows as late as the 1970s. By the 1980s they had retired but for the occasional tv appearance. When Emmitt died in 1995, Percilla kept her face clean shaven thereafter.

To find out about  the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Eko and Iko (George and Willie Muse)

Posted in African American Interest, Albinos, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2013 by travsd

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Eko and Iko were actually George Muse (1893-1971) and Willie Muse (1892-2001), two Albino African American “twin” brothers from Roanoke, Virginia. The lore is that they were kidnapped from their hometown as children, and taken on the road by first the Al G. Barnes Circus and then Ringling Brothers. Their hair worked into woolly dreadlocks, they were billed variously as the “White Ecuadorian Cannibals”, the “Sheep Headed Men”, the “Sheep Headed Cannibals”, then finally the handle that took: the “Ambassadors from Mars” or the “Men from Mars”. (It was the fancy tuxedos that justified the diplomatic title).

In 1927, when they came through their hometown with the circus, they were reunited with their mother, who was appalled to learn that though they had been performing for 18 years, they had never been paid anything beyond their room and board. She attempted to sue for $100,000. The young men missed performing, though, so they went back on the road in 1928. In the 30s they worked Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island, and toured Europe and the Far East. In 1937, they rejoined Ringling Bros.; by the time they retired in 1961 they were with Clyde Beatty. George passed away in 1971. Willie was 108 when he finally followed his brother in 2001.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Clico, the Wild Dancing South African Bushman

Posted in African American Interest, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men with tags , , , , on April 11, 2013 by travsd

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Clico (1857-1940) was actually Franz Taabosh, a Bushman native of what is now South Africa. Fond of, and skilled at, his native Khoisan folk dances, the four foot tall Taabosh was first presented to white audiences in his native country by a man named Captain Hepston, who became his manager. Success at home inspired them to tour in England and France in 1913. From here, they jumped to the U.S. in 1917, where Taabosh performed at Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island, and toured with the Ringling Brothers sideshow.

The act had its stereotypical aspects. The name Clico derives from the “click” sounds of his native language. The leopard skin costume he wore was pure showmanship, and his patter included nonsense about how he needed to have chimpanzees with him in order to sleep at night (chimpanzees are not native to the Kalahari desert, where Taabosh is from). On the other hand, his dances were the real McCoy, making his performances of greater artistic, anthropological, and moral value than the scores of other wild men, many of whom were professional geeks (i.e., bit the heads off chickens), presented in the most terrifying light possible, and for the most part were African Americans who weren’t actually from Africa. Clico retired in 1939 just a few months before his death.

To find out about  the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Julia Pastrana, Exploited in Life and Death as a “Missing Link”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Native American Interest, Women with tags , , , , on February 15, 2013 by travsd

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Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) was a Native American woman from the mountains of Mexico, born with a rare confluence of conditions: only four and a half feet tall, she was covered in coarse black hair, with a jutting jaw and brow ridge, swollen lip and gums, and unusually large nose and ears.

It was perhaps inevitable in that day and age that she would be discovered and wind up in American museums and sideshows. Starting in 1854, one begins to find her advertised by various promoters, invariably promoted as a “missing link”, with claims that she was half gorilla, orangutan, or even bear! Her showmanship value was enhanced by the fact that she spoke Spanish and English in addition to her native tongue, and could sing and dance.  Her career was to be shortlived, however, for tragic reasons.

Circa 1856 she fell into the hands of one Theodore Lent, who was apparently a cruel taskmaster who eventually married her just so he could retain his control over her. In 1860 while on tour in Moscow, Julia gave birth to a baby who suffered her same condition. Both she and the baby died within days. Lent continued to exhibit their mummified remains for a time, then sold them. The mummies of Pastrana and her baby changed hands many times over the years and eventually wound up in a Norwegian horror museum.

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In recent years the remains were rediscovered and an effort was made to have them properly buried in Pastrana’s native country. In February 2013, the burial took place, with all appropriate honors, to headlines around the world. See links here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/12/arts/design/julia-pastrana-who-died-in-1860-to-be-buried-in-mexico.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/12/mexican-ape-woman-buried-_n_2673491.html

http://news.yahoo.com/mexican-ape-woman-buried-150-years-002722588.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-21440400

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever interesting books are sold. 

Charles Darwin’s Impact on the Show Business

Posted in BUNKUM, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, ETHNICITIES/ IDENTITIES/ REPRESENTATIONS, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Native American Interest with tags , , on February 12, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin (1909-1882). His On the Origin of Species was published in 1859 and gained widespread acceptance circa the 1870s, although speculation on the topic, including competing theories by the likes of Jean-Baptiste LaMarcke and Herbert Spencer, had emerged decades earlier.

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Always one to hitch his wagon to a coming thing, in 1860, P.T. Barnum began presenting Zip the Pinhead, the first of countless “missing links”. Scientific curiosities, real or contrived, had always been a cornerstone of his American Museum. While Barnum offered many Americans their first glimpse of a live whale (a legitimate, educational thrill), he also fobbed off on the public the Feejee Mermaid, which was just a monkey torso sewn to a fish tail. The “Missing Link” concept more resembled the latter. It was based on a faulty understanding of Darwin’s theory (one that plenty of people sadly perpetuate to this day): the idea that modern humans evolved from modern apes. That being the case (goes the reasoning), granted you believe in the truth of evolution, then somewhere between these apes and human beings there must lie a sort of intermediate species, half-man and half-ape.

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Actually science says that modern men and apes have evolved along separate lines for millions of years, branching off from common ancestors many ages ago. DNA tells us that our closest relatives among the great apes are the chimps and bonobos, and we diverged from them about 7 million years ago. Not only is there nothing “between” us — only “preceding” us — but these events happened towards the end of the Miocene Epoch. In short, the idea of finding a “missing link”, even in the most remote jungles of the 19th century, is  roughly in a league with belief in Bigfoot. (For those who believe in Bigfoot, my apologies).

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Still, the public ate it up, it fired their imaginations, and so Barnum continued to pour it on, exhibiting such other unfortunates (usually retarded adults) as The Wild Men of Borneo, the Aztec Children, and the Wild Australian children.   Some of Barnum’s competitors toured the country with exhibits such as Julia Pastrana and Krao, the Missing Link. 

In time, mostly due to the education of the public, the implication that these people were half-ape was dropped, although exhibitions of anthropological and ethnographic interest continued to be popular well into the 20th century. Not just places like Coney Island, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Robert Ripley’s Odditorium (all of which exhibited live humans from other cultures). But even such institutions as the University of California, which exhibited Ishi, “North America’s last wild Indian”, from 1911 to 1916. Ringling Brothers and other sideshows were still exhibiting “Ubangis” and other tribes people into the 1930s.

Ishs, demonstrating his former habitat

Ishs, demonstrating his former habitat

To find out more about show biz past and present consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Koo Koo the Bird Girl

Posted in Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Movies with tags , , , , , on January 6, 2013 by travsd

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Minnie Woolsey (ca. 1880-1960) was born in Georgia, U.S.A. with a rare condition that caused her to be small in stature with a prominent, bald cranium, a small chin, large ears, and a case of mild retardation. She was also nearly blind and toothless. Originally billed as Minnie-Ha-ha, she was originally exhibited at carnivals dressed in an American Indian costume. “Koo-Koo” was the character assigned to her by Tod Browning for his 1932 movie Freaks, in which she dances an impressive shimmy. In her Koo-Koo costume (a feather suit and headpiece) Minnie does indeed somewhat resemble the Warner Bros. cartoon character Tweety Bird. Koo-Koo also happened to be the pre-existing carnival persona Betty Green, also known as the Stork Woman, also in the movie Freaks. This has caused a lot of Koo-Koo-Konfusion.

Koo Koo continued to be Minnie’s sideshow persona for many years, although in later years she is reported to have been “The Blind Girl from Mars” at Coney Island.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Krao

Posted in Asian, BUNKUM, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Missing Links/ Wild Men, Women with tags , , , on December 18, 2012 by travsd

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Today it has become necessary to teach you about KRAO.

The mystery of KRAO.

The enigma of KRAO.

All eyes are on KRAO.

I said, “KRAO”.

Why is this man holding the naked KRAO?

Male? Female? Man? Beast?

Or sole inhabitrix of the liminal Krao-space?

The facts will speak for themselves. Born in what is now Laos in the 1870s, the girl was covered head to toe in coarse, black fur, with an equine mane running down the center of her spine (a condition known as hypertrichosis). She also had extra teeth, and was double-jointed. She was discovered at age six by The Great Farini (actually a Canadian performer and impresario named William Leonard Hunt), who took her on a tour of Europe, then the dime museums and circuses of America.

Not only was she billed as “Darwin’s Missing Link”, but the dodge fooled many scientists and doctors into believing she was a member of a sub-human, tree-dwelling tropical race called the Krao-Moniek, or Man-Monkeys. Far from being on the simian end of the spectrum, however, it turns out that Miss Krao was well read, spoke several languages and played the violin. The stupid apes were the ones who paid money to see her and swallowed the con. In her last years she lived in Brooklyn, working as a bearded lady in New York’s many dime museums, and the sideshows of Coney Island. She died in 1926.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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