Archive for the Thin Men Category

Peter Robinson, The Human Skeleton

Posted in Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , on April 6, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Peter Robinson (1874-1947), best known as the human skeleton in Tod Browning’s movie Freaks (1932). While he was married to a bearded lady in that film, in real life he was wed to professional fat lady “Baby” Bunny Smith, who weighed 467 lbs to his 58, a kind of real life Jack Sprat situation.

Pete was born in Springfield, Mass. and is said to have gone professional circa 1895. He worked at Coney Island and for Ringling Brothers. He married Smith in 1924. In 1928 he toured with a revue called “A Night at Coney Island” which toured vaudeville theatres around the country (a rare experiment).

For more on the history of show businessconsult 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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Isaac W. Sprague, The Original Living Skeleton

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the original “human skeleton”, Isaac W. Sprague (1841-1887). His weight loss began at age twelve, although he wasn’t to join a sideshow until age 24 in 1865. P.T. Barnum hired him the following year for his American Museum and the traveling show he mounted when the former institution burned down. At the time of his death while performing at a Boston museum at age 46 he weighed only 43 pounds. The cause of his muscular atrophy was never identified.

To find out about  the history of show businessconsult 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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

John and Hannah Battersby: A Side Show Love Story

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Fat Women and Men, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , , , on February 14, 2013 by travsd

“Jack Sprat Could Eat No Fat; His Wife Could Eat No Lean…”

A love story for the ages! John Battersby (c.1831-1897) was a circus thin man who weighed at various times between 45 and 52 lbs during his working career. His wife, Hannah Perkins Battersby (1836-1889) was a professional fat lady who weighed over ten times as much as her husband (if some of the claims are to be believed, much more). That the affair was more than just a publicity stunt can be attested to by the existence of their daughter Rachel (b.1859)

John’s weight loss began when he was a teenager. An English native, he began working at Barnum’s American Museum at age 23. He met Hannah Perkins, who was from Maine, while she too was working for Barnum. It has been claimed that by her mid 20s Hannah weighed as much as 714 lbs, making her the heaviest woman of her time. She was also over 6 feet tall and three foot wide at the shoulder; to a certain extent then she was naturally large and not the product of intentional “fattening-up” (as some circus fat women were). Special accommodations often had to be made for her when she traveled due to her size and weight.

In 1873, John permanently damaged his spine and was confined to a wheelchair. He retired from show business and, according to accounts, his weight shot up to a hundred pounds. Hannah continued to tour however, while John made their permanent home in Frankford, Philadelphia. In 1889, Hannah died of an infection contracted after she fell off a stage in New Bedford, Massachusetts. John and their daughter Rachel then moved to Beaver City, Nebraska, and then to Almena, Kansas where he died eight years later. Rachel settled down in the area and married a police man.

Tales of the couple’s devotion to one another are rife, although it’s difficult to parse out the fact from the fiction when the primary sources are ultimately circus p.r. copy. It’s said that Hannah would cradle John in her arms like an infant when he was sick, and that she rescued him from one of Barnum’s museum fires by carrying him out of the building on her back. John was said to have jealously kept all reporters and photographers away from Hannah’s corpse as she lay in her 7 foot wide casket.

May we each have a person in our lives about whom the civilian equivalent may be said. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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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Eddie Masher: The Other Skeleton Dude

Posted in BROOKLYN, BUNKUM, Circus, Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by travsd

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Brooklyn native Eddie Masher (nee Hagner, 1892-1962), billed himself in side shows as the “Skeleton Dude”. However, one notes with interest that he begins to appear on the scene immediately after the original Skeleton Dude, John Coffey passed away in 1912. In 1913, there was a fracas in the papers about a lawsuit; Masher was suing a tailor who claimed he couldn’t make a suit thin enough for him (almost certainly a publicity stunt).

Perhaps such lengths were not necessary. I’ve heard accounts of the 5’7″ Masher’s weight at anywhere between 76 and 38 lbs. The Guinness Book of World Records seems to have split the difference, claiming that he weighed 48 lbs. I’ve read books that weigh more than that!

“Masher” means a guy who hits on the ladies — Hagner had essentially taken over the man-about-town character devised originally by Coffey. It appeared to work well for him. Both the Barnum & Bailey circus, and Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus Sideshow made use of his talents during his 24 year career.

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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John Coffey: The Original Skeleton Dude

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by travsd

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John Coffey (sometimes known as James) was the man who stood on the shoulders on the original Living Skeleton, Isaac W. Sprague, and thenceforth brought a little flair and panache to the role of “thin man”.

Born in Piqua, Ohio in 1852, Coffey didn’t began to waste away until he was nearly 30 years old. Doctors can only speculate why; eventually he was down to under 70 pounds. After billing himself as the “Ohio Skeleton” at a Chicago Dime Museum, he realized that there was something unsatisfying about just sitting there for the crowds to gawk at, so he created a character for himself, decked himself out in dapper duds and changed his name to the “Skeleton Dude” (“dude” in the sense of Fancy Dan, a city slicker, for those who don’t recognize the original derivation.) He promoted himself as a ladies man. His favorite p.r. stunt was to either pretend to marry various freak show thin and fat ladies, or else he would hold contests for a new bride in each town he stopped at – always choosing his own wife, Mary when it came down to the clinch. He toured with the Barnum and Bailey shows starting in 1889, extending his fame to Europe.

In 1905, as the result of an injury he lost the use of his legs and began to gain weight – – disastrous in his line of work! He tried his luck as a palm reader for a time, but it was no soap. Countless imitators arose to fill the vacuum, each claiming to be the original, one and only Skeleton Dude. But we’ve just told you who that was. He passed away, broke and obscure, circa 1912.

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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Alexander Montarg: Living Skeleton

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Thin Men with tags , , , , on January 30, 2013 by travsd

Alexander Montarg was one of P.T. Barnum’s Living Skeletons, whose period of greatest activity appears to have been from the late 1850s through the 1860s. The man’s vital statistics were startling. He was only four inches thick through the chest, and his wrists were an inch in diameter, about as big around as the average man’s thumb. Montarg reportedly weighed only 54 pounds. Picking up that violin to play it must have been seemed like picking up a bull fiddle.

 

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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