Archive for museum

What’s Up at Coney

Posted in AMERICANA, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

We all associate Coney Island with summer (it’s a beach and amusement park after all), but it may be a lesser known fact that there’s stuff happening at Coney Island USA all through the winter season as well. For example, most every Sunday Gary Dreifus presents his kid friendly Magic at Coney show. I was mightily entertained by Mr. Dreifus’s feats in yesterday’s show, as well as those of his special guests Magical Vince and Phil Crosson.  Here’s next week’s line-up:

The magic show takes place in the Coney Island Museum,  open on weekend throughout the winter. The museum has recently been spruced up with some new displays and wall text


Koo Koo the Bird Girl and her jolly friend (okay, he’s dressed like a jester, but I don’t know how jolly he is).



“Slapstick Used By Angelo the Midget at the Steeplechase Blowhole”

And now there is a whole new Hot Dog section of the museum featuring items like:


These stained glass windows are from the original Feltman’s Restaurant, birthplace of the hot dog

Thence (the real pull for the day) a special preview event for the new exhibition Five Cents to Dreamland: A Trip to Coney Island, created and curated by the New York Transit Museum. 

A 1998 sideshow banner by the one and only Marie Roberts!

A genuine vintage Strength-Tester mallet.


CIUSA Founder Dick Zigun (center): with Concetta Bencivenga, director of the NYTM; and John di Domenico, who serves on the boards of both organizations


Coney’s own Patrick Wall, Your Mix-Master


CIUSA board members James Fitzsimmons and Dr. Jeff Birnbaum, with Birnbaum’s son


Coney Island USA’s annual gala is happening in just two weeks, March 25! An all-star cast celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Mermaid Parade with a Corral Jubilee! Follow this magical portal for tickets and details! 


Scenes of the Houdini Museum (on the 90th Anniversary of His Death)

Posted in EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Halloween, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on October 31, 2016 by travsd


90 years ago this very night, Harry Houdini shuffled off this moral coil. I happened to find myself near the Houdini Museum today, so I popped in to remember him (it’s located in the Fantasma Magic Shop, across the street from Penn Station.) Here are some snaps I took:




This bust, modelled from life, was removed from Houdini's grave monument in Queens

This bust, modeled from life, was removed from Houdini’s grave monument in Queens







For more on Houdini, magic, and vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

3 More Days to See a WWII Liberty Ship in NYC

Posted in AMERICANA, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Travel/ Tourism with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2016 by travsd


It seemed for awhile as though I would never get to see the Liberty Ship  S.S. John W. Brown during her current stay at Pier 36 in New York. Originally scheduled to arrive on September 9 (last Friday), she was delayed for two days by Tropical Storm Hermine. Ironically, on September 11, the day she steamed in, I was extremely close to where she’s docked but didn’t know it. I’d heard about the Brown’s arrival through the Lightship Lilac, so I assumed (for no good reason, now I think of it) that she’d be docking on the west side. I happened to be at Abrons Arts Center, quite close to the East River. I actually didn’t know there were still east side piers north of South Street Seaport. By September 12 (Monday), I figured out that she was docked on the east. On that day, I happened to have a meeting on the Lower East Side that day and I had a (very) little extra time, so I got off the F train at East Broadway and popped over to the waterfront real quick to see if I could just catch a glimpse of her. Again, ironically, I didn’t know it but I was quite close to her, but I had to get to my appointment. On September 13 (Tuesday), I got the idea that I’d walk there from my house via the Brooklyn Bridge (it’s about six miles). The pedestrian entrance to the bridge wasn’t where I thought it was though and I got frustrated trying to find it, and ended up walking back home. (That sounds like a bigger deal than it is; I walk that far almost every day just for exercise). On September 14 (Wednesday), I thought to LOOK UP where the pedestrian entrance was before I departed and did manage finally to make it all the way to Pier 36, arriving at 4:30pm. But they were closed for tours; they close at 5pm! Finally, yesterday, I achieved success.

Absolute pills will say, “I guess you’ll get directions first next time, eh?” I’m not so sure. I discovered several major things about the geography, history and sociology of New York during these wanderings, things that have direct bearing on my future writing. I wouldn’t have stumbled on them if I’d gone straight to my destination. They’re all just as important to me as what I learned on the Brown, and my experience on the Brown was MIGHTY DAMN COOL.


But you’re probably wondering what the John W. Brown even is. It’s a class of vessel called a Liberty Ship, a World War II era cargo ship. An astounding 2,710 of these ships were manufactured in an extreme hurry when America got into World War Two. They’d originally been designed for Britain during the Lend-Lease period but within months the U.S. needed them, so with some tweaks in design, they went into mass production domestically. As the war progressed, women increasingly became part of the workforce that built them. And they just churned them off the assembly line. One Liberty Ship was built in a record nine days (hopefully some of my photos will show why that is jaw-dropping).


The Liberty Ships were used to transport anything that needed moving over to where the war was happening: vehicles, weaponry, foodstuffs, troops, and even (early in the war, I’m guessing) horses. It’s a similar idea to the setting of the play and movie Mr. Roberts, although with this major difference. The ship in Mr. Roberts was a navy cargo ship; the Liberty Ships were part of the Merchant Marine. There were only a couple of hundred navy cargo ships. I’m the opposite of an expert, but in photos they long more heavily fortified and streamlined, and I’m guessing they were safer. But as we said above, there were nearly 3,000 Liberty Ships in the Merchant Marine. They were basically built to be disposable, do their job for the duration of the war and that was it.

The bridge on the "Brown" is not nearly as luxurious as the one we see beyong Mr. Roberts (Henry Fonda) on this navy cargo ship

The bridge on the “Brown” is not nearly as luxurious as the one we see behind Mr. Roberts (Henry Fonda) on this navy cargo ship, and that’s putting it mildly

But some lasted longer. The John W. Brown served the military into the post-war period. Then, from the 1950s through 1982, she was used as a New York City Merchant Marine high school! I’d never heard of that. I met two of the alumni during my tour. After that, she found her way down to Baltimore where she now operates as a museum. She is one of only two operational Liberty Ships still in existence.

Yesterday I told someone I someone was coming over to see the ship, and she asked, “Yeah, you interested in that sort of thing?” And defensively I conjured all sorts of good reasons which I didn’t get the chance to articulate: my brother and father-in law were in the navy, my father worked in a naval shipyard, my great-great-great grandfather was a ship’s captain, I grew up surrounded by boating in the Ocean State, I worked in a history museum for six years, I often write about history museums, and I’ve previously spent a great deal of time exploring places like the Intrepid, the South Street Seaport Museum, the Lilac, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia and even the Brooklyn Navy Yard. But really none of that would need to be true. A better response would be , “How could you NOT be interested?” It’s an intrinsically exciting experience, like visiting an amusement park. The scale of it is awe-inspiring. The achievements associated with it, not just the construction, but the feats the vessel and its crews accomplished during its working life. And heroism — the Merchant Marine sustained the highest ratio of casualties of any service branch during the Second World War. But if that doesn’t impress you, it’s simply a cool experience to have, one you don’t get to have every day.

So forgive me for inundating you with all these photographs. You’ll find details at the bottom about how and where to visit the John W. Brown.








As a confirmed Poseidon Adventure fanatic my favorite spot on the tour was the engine room. I was like a kid in a candy store and spent most of my time there picturing the place upside down. It’s several decks high, and you enter from above, looking down through a three dimensional maze of catwalks, steampipes, valves, boilers etc. I snapped pictures like crazy (sometimes recklessly, the footing can be treacherous) but none of these photographs begin to convey how thrilling it is. A 3-D camera might do it. In looking at these pix, try to see past the foreground and middleground for the full perspective.




Shaft Alley. As Eric Shea precociously intones in "The Poseidon Adventure", "Nowhere is the steel hull thinner!" It's the passengers' final destination in their race to the bottom/top. This is a smaller propeller shaft than you'd find in a luxury liner of course. Here, it's just a crawl space.

Shaft Alley. As Eric Shea precociously intones in The Poseidon Adventure, “Nowhere is the steel hull thinner!” It’s the passengers’ final destination in their race to the bottom/top. This is a smaller propeller shaft than you’d find in a luxury liner of course. Here, it’s just a crawl space.


Troop bunks, stacked five high.

Troop bunks, stacked five high.

The Liberty Ship John W. Brown will depart New York on September 19. She is docked at Pier 36, which is frankly not easy to get to (unless you travel by car). Perhaps a 20 minute walk from the F train’s East Broadway stop. It is hidden behind some municipal buildings (sanitation and the fire department, it looked like). But, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, it is worth the trip. Tours are a $10 suggested donation. On Saturday, the 17th, there will be added treat — they will run the engines, so folks can see it in action. And the biggest treat of all will be on Sunday, September the 18th, they will be having a benefit cruise. Tickets to that are $195. The John W. Brown is a not-for-profit museum. It exists on donations; and its staff is all-volunteer.  Info and tickets can be found here. 

Lastly, if you miss it in New York, you can always tour it when you visit Baltimore. That’s where she lives most of the time.

Another Kind of Lilac to Sniff

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, ME, Travel/ Tourism, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2016 by travsd


My new feature about the Lightship Lilac and her current exhibition just hit this week’s Downtown Express. Read all about it here. As a bonus, here are are extra stray photos I took while on board. If there are beads of sweat on the lens, it’s because it was 105 degrees! I felt like I was on the African Queen!

IMG_1373 (2)




Want to find out where all this is? Read the damn article!

Blanche Gray

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Coney Island, Dime Museum and Side Show, Fat Women and Men, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Women with tags , , , , , on November 3, 2013 by travsd


A cautionary tale with a sad ending. Blanche Gray was born in Detroit in November 1866. At the time of her birth she weighed 25 lbs, proportions that killed her mother a couple of days after her delivery. By the time she was 12 years old, at the relatively normal height of 4 feet 8 inches tall, she weighed 250 lbs.

By October 1883, Blanche now weighed 517 lbs, and things were looking up for her. She’d gotten married to a young man named David Moses and had become a professional entertainer. She was living in New York, had performed at Coney Island, was just ending a three week run at the Bowery Museum. She was just about to embark on a national tour, with Philadelphia as her next stop. But it all ended abruptly when her rapid weight gain (67 pounds in one month) killed her. She died in her sleep on October 26, 1883, a little bit shy of her 17th birthday.

To learn out more about show business history consult 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 my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


P.T. Barnum and Vaudeville

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, BUNKUM, Circus, Dime Museum and Side Show, Impresarios, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on July 5, 2013 by travsd


(adapted from a talk given at the Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, CT, November 2005)

Most books on vaudeville devote at most a mention or two to P.T. Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 5, 1891). In No Applause, I spent half a chapter on the man, and at a pivotal point in the history. He deserves it.

If George Washington is the Father of our Country, P.T. Barnum is the Father of the Soul of Modern America, of Public Relations, of Show Business. He is one of the premier (and most convincing) apologists for the capitalist system. His autobiography Struggles and Triumphs sold second only to the Bible in the 19th century not only because Barnum lived one of the most amazing lives ever recorded, but because the book is a testament through and through to the American way of life.

It’s easy to mythologize someone like that (since I just did) so it’s useful to remember that a myth is often a projection or a distillation of certain qualities or inclinations prized by the society at large. So while most of this essay will be about how we became a Barnum Nation, it’s worthwhile to second look at how we were already a Barnum nation and how that fact gave us Barnum.

Other than the massive circus organization that continues to bear his name, Barnum is probably best remembered today for a quote he apparently never said (but ought to have): “There’s a sucker born every minute”. That’s quite a thing to say, whether he said it or not. More interesting to me is the fact that when it is quoted, it is generally done NOT with disgust and indignation, but with something like an admiring smile. How can this be? It is the sentiment of a rogue! It is the maxim of a con artist! I suspect the reason why the quote doesn’t make us hot under the collar is that, even though it’s wrong to swindle somebody, that doesn’t stop the process from sometimes being a damn good joke. If I steal all my friend’s clothes while he’s taking a shower in the locker room, to him it’s a mean trick but to everyone else it’s entertainment. Chances are, he’ll laugh about it himself once he gets his clothes back.

They don’t teach this in most grammar schools, but America actually has two mythical foundings. There’s the one at Plymouth Rock, the attempt to build a Puritan utopia in New England. And there’s the other one, in which the Dutch were said to swindle the Indians out of Manhattan for a handful of beads. To oversimplify, the Puritan Way was “work, pray, do good works, and in the end your reward is heaven.”  The more earthly and earthy philosophy is: “You mean I have to wait until I die to have any pleasure and even then there’s no guarantee? What’s wrong with enjoying life now?”  A crucial figure, if not THE crucial figure in transforming American society from one of the first type to one of the second, was P.T. Barnum.

Barnum grew up in Bethel, Connecticut. Even in the 19th century, the state was still overwhelmingly Puritan (or Congregationalist, as the creed came to be known.) Barnum was raised in the Universalist faith. As the name implies, Universalists believed everyone was going to heaven. This was a relatively new heresy at the time, one which I believe provided Barnum with the intellectual ammunition he needed when he helped bring about the Amusement Revolution.

Consult Roget’s Thesaurus under “amusement”: you will discover an amazingly broad list of human activities, embracing holidays, sports, games, jokes, toys, parties, dancing, theatre, carnivals etc etc etc. Throughout Medieval times most of these activities answered the description of folk practices. Professionalism in fun was discouraged, even outlawed. Performers and exhibitors were transients; they moved from town to town so they wouldn’t get arrested. In earliest days they would perform or exhibit outdoors. Later, theatres were built for the more legitimate, established companies, but the transient performer and exhibitor exist all the way to modern times.


PERFORMER: actor, clown, magician, musician, puppeteer, acrobat, juggler, fire eater, dancer  etc etc etc.

EXHIBITOR: A person who exhibits trained or rare beasts, novel machines (automata, magic lanterns, etc), panorama displays, and deformed humans or other curiosities of nature.

All of this predates Barnum by centuries. Which is why we say we were already a Barnum nation before Barnum was born. In fact, as has been pointed out, Barnum originated virtually none of his famous attractions. He sought them out, discovered them when they were already being exhibited by someone else, bought their manager’s out and then gave them the benefit of his own genius for exploitation, making unprecedented use of the newly inexpensive newspapers which had only been on the scene since the 1830s.

The first stage of his revolution was the legitimizing of spectacle. When Barnum started out, there were already a few museums in existence: Peal’s in Philadelphia, Kimball’s in Boston, Scudders in New York. More generally exhibitors would rent a storefront or hall, or put up a tent, or open the back of their wagon in order to display a curiosity, which was promoted with newspaper ads and handbills. Barnum started this way himself with his first attraction, Joice Heth the purported nurse of George Washington. He had been a clerk, bookseller, newspaper publisher and promoter of lotteries before purchasing the services of slave woman Heth in 1835. He made a brief stir showing her off, but she died within months, and Barnum traveled with circuses for the next five years before buying Scudder’s Museum.


Scudder’s was a shabby, run-down establishment full of taxidermy displays before Barnum transformed it into the American Museum. He legitimized it by making it fabulous. The building was an advertisement for itself. He placed the flags of all the nations of the world on the roof; they could be seen a mile away.  There were 100 oval shaped paintings of animals on the outside of the building. Inside, the building was the equal of every other existing show or exhibition put together: fortune tellers, jugglers, snake charmers, fat boys, flea circuses, a dog who could knit, an orangutan, phrenologists, the Feejee Mermaid, the Wooly Horse, the midget Tom Thumb, a beluga whale etc etc etc. THEN Barnum bought what was then an unprecedented amount of advertising. Billboards, ads on wagons, ads in newspapers. On top of this there was the actual coverage he secured in news items about his exhibitions (and his frauds).

At the same time he professionalized and created the amusement industry, Barnum legitimized it by trying to wipe out its bad associations. Such show business as existed back then was in total disrepute, not just because the opinion makers were Puritans and Victorians, but because it deserved to be disreputable. Variety entertainment was usually presented in saloons, and so invariably accompanied by drunkenness, gambling, prostitution, and so forth. This was no less true of theatres, which were famous for racy plays and assignations of ladies of the evening.

Dubious characters were thrown out of Barnum’s American Museum. Yes, he presented freak shows – but freak shows with class. Barnum and Tom Thumb even gave a command performance for Queen Victoria. Furthermore, after he’d been operating a number of years Barnum converted to temperance and began presenting respectable anti-alcohol melodramas in his so-called lecture room. It became socially acceptable to attend Barnum’s theatre. At around the same time (1850) he engineered the highly successful American tour of the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind. A popular singer on the continent, in Barnum’s hands she acquired the image of a sweet, soulful, feminine angel, someone a clergyman would be proud to have sing in his parlor. The usual image then of a professional singer was closer to the character played by Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again.

These are the elements of Barnum’s contribution to the foundations of show business: professionalization, propriety, public relations. His career was to last another 40 years, during which he would enjoy countless more triumphs like these, but those initial breakthroughs were the real turning point.

One thing about explorers is that, once they’ve blazed a new trail it’s usually a little while before others follow in their footsteps. Mass settlement of North America didn’t start until decades of visits by the first modern European explorers; and we still haven’t been back to the moon. Likewise, it was a few decades after Barnum’s revolution that others began to follow his example in any kind of applied and significant way.

One of these was a gentleman commonly considered the Father of Vaudeville. Antonio “Tony” Pastor (not to be confused with the big band singer of the same name). Billed as a child prodigy, Pastor sang as a little boy at temperance meetings and (significantly) at Barnum’s museum. He became a circus ringmaster at a young age and did that for many years until the Civil War broke out, which naturally curtailed the activities of most traveling shows. Pastor went back to his hometown New York City and, though he was a teetotaler, started singing in saloons. Pastor’s role always seemed a lot like the “chairman” in the British Music Hall. He sang songs but also functioned as master of ceremonies. In 1865 he opened his first music hall. Technically, the place was a bar, but right away he set about making enhancements that indicated the direction in which he intended to go.


Pastor promised “fun without vulgarity”, throwing any troublemakers out on their ear. In 1881, he moved his premises to an area around Union Square then known as the Rialto. It was the legitimate theatre district, but also the ladies’ shopping district.  Furthermore, he removed alcohol from the premises completely, just as Barnum had done before him. This is the first time this had been done in a music hall. The idea was to attract women and children in addition to men. He mounted a massive advertising campaign, offering door prizes: coal, flour, dishes, sacks of potatoes, dress patterns, sewing machines and even whole dresses. The show, too, had to be cleaned up. Instead of rowdy saloon acts, he set new standards for gentility. Pastor’s most famous creation was Lillian Russell, a refined operatic singer whom was held up to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Really Helen Leonard from Iowa, pastor proclaimed he’d imported her from England at great trouble and expense. Women idolized Russell and many of his other famous female singing stars, like May Irwin, Fay Templeton and Blanche Ring. Of course Barnum had set the precedent with Jenny Lind.

For the kids, of course, there was clowning, magic, acrobatics andthat staple of vaudeville, the kiddie act. A songwriter named Gus Edwards (most famous for the song “In the Good Old Summertime”), got his start at Tony Pastor’s and produced a number of acts over the decades starring children, with names like “the Newsboy Quintet” and “the Nine Country Kids”. And kids must have loved the fact that Pastor still dressed like a ringmaster, with top hat, swallowtail coat and handlebar moustache.

So that’s one line leading from Barnum to vaudeville – Tony Pastor and “refined vaudeville”. Here’s another –

In the wake of the success of Barnum’s American museum, numerous others crept up, none of them near the scale of Barnum’s. In fact, most of them were quite shabby. New York had perhaps dozens of them, most of them clustered around the Bowery. They became known as dime museums because of their popular prices. They generally offered low rent versions of the freakier aspects of Barnum’s, the sort of attractions that would later be associated with sideshows: Zip the PinheadJoJo the Dog-faced Boy, and similar unfortunate specimens.

One of the pre-eminent New York dime museums was a place called Bunnell’s. A young man who worked both there and at P.T. Barnum’s circus was named Benjamin Franklin (“B.F.”) Keith. (K as in RKO). Keith a Yankee from New Hampshire and in 1883 he moved to Boston to start a museum he called the Gaiety. On view there you could find a stuffed mermaid, a tattooed man, a chicken with a human face and Baby Alice (a prematurely born human infant). Upstairs in a little hall, he presented variety shows. By all accounts the operation wasn’t doing too well until one day he hired an old circus friend named Edward Albee (the grandfather by adoption of the famous playwright). Albee was a down-Mainer from a rich family, and he worked circuses as a grafter, specializing in short-changing the customers. With Albee as his general manager, Keith abandoned the freakish dime museum side of Barnum’s legacy and adopted a little professionalism, propriety and public relations. The Keith organization in all its forms and incarnations is the heart of the vaudeville story and embraces far more than can be touched on in this essay. It became the dominant Big Time chain in the country eventually encompassing 400 theatres including most of the important vaudeville houses in the country. The organization was around for 50 years; here we just want to touch on Barnum’s legacies.


Professionalism. Keith and Albee made a pile of money doing pirated versions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas which they presented to the public at a tenth of the cost of what the opera houses charged. With these proceeds they built ever more fabulous theatre in Boston, then in Providence, Philadelphia, New York, then all over the country. Just as Barnum had made the American Museum architecturally conspicuous, Albee (the driving force behind Keith) made their vaudeville houses showplaces in and of themselves. (See page 96 of No Applause for a description of one of their theatres).

Propriety. Second, largely at Mrs. Keith’s instigation, Keith’s theatres had to be proper. Anyone guilty of swearing or saying anything otherwise objectionable, even “slob” or “Holy Gee”, would be fired. The performers soon learned to toe the line. Keith’s became known as the Sunday School Circuit. (For a description of one of the premier wholesome acts of the day, see yesterday’s post about the Four Cohans).

Public Relations. But when we think of Barnum today we don’t necessarily think first of propriety—that was really just the most successful of his p.r. campaigns. When it came to p.r. flair few of the vaudeville managers had anything like a Barnumesque inventiveness or charm, Tony Pastor and Willie Hammerstein (p.128 of No Applause) being exceptions. Most were bland, colorless CEOs.  Instead, interestingly, the best promoters in vaudeville were the acts themselves. Harry Houdini’s entire career was a series of stunts, ensuring that his names would stay in the newspapers throughout his career. Eva Tanguay billed herself as “The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous”. She got headlines by beating up fellow chorus girls and showing up in a costume made of Lincoln pennies.

Hoodwinking the public was good sport and good business. A cockney performer named Muriel Harding became famous as Olga Petrova. She never ceased using her fake Russian accent onstage or off. A singer named Louise Kerlin took the name of novelist Theodore Dreiser’s brother Paul Dresser, a popular songwriter. Dresser wrote songs for Louise to sing and have her out to be his sister: Louise Dresser. A Chinese magician named Chung Ling Soo made life hell for a Chinese magician named Ching Ling Foo. Chung was a fake (his real name was Robinson) but he was actually a much better magician than Ching. Besides, by then, Ching had his hands full with other copycats, such as Tung Pin Soo, Long Tack SamHan Ping Chien, Li Ho Chang, Rush Ling Toy and ten or so others. The Great Houdini was not only hounded by the Great Boudini, but – intentionally —  the Great Hardeen, who just happened to be Houdini’s brother Dash. Will Rogers would ride into town on his horse with a sign advertising his performances. Al Jolson put an ad in Variety that read “Watch Me – I’m a Wow”. Does the spirit informing all this showmanship sound familiar? It ought to. Marilyn Manson, Paris Hilton, J.Lo and 10,000 others have carried the Barnum philosophy forward to the present day, for better or worse – probably both. And lest ye have doubt…

To find out more 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.


And 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 etc etc etc


Chang Yu Sing, the Chinese Giant

Posted in Asian, Dime Museum and Side Show, Giants, Human Anomalies (Freaks) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2013 by travsd


Chang Yu Sing (a.k.a Chang Woo Gow, 1847-1893) was born on this calendar day. Born in Fuzhou, Fuijan China, he began to grow with startling speed at age 7; by age 18 he was nearly 8 feet tall and he began to exhibit himself in Hong Kong. Soon thereafter he moved to England with a retinue that included his wife King Foo (a.k.a “The Golden Lily, the Most Beautiful Woman in China”), a three foot dwarf named Chung Mow, and their staff. They appeared in music halls in London and Paris, and then came to New York in 1869, where they performed at Wood’s Museum and then embarked on a national tour with Newcomb’s Minstrels. From here, Chang & Co. went on to Australia. Along the way, King Foo died and Chang married a woman named Catherine Santley. In 1880 he toured the U.S. again with a P.T. Barnum show with General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren, surviving both a train wreck in 1881 and a train fire in 1884, along the way. In 1890, he and Catherine retired to the country side in England.

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 my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc

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