Secrets of the Sideshows

Secrets of the Sideshows

by Joe Nickell
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Secrets of the Sideshows by Joe Nickell

The carnival sideshows of the past have left behind a fascinating legacy of mystery and intrigue. The secrets behind such daring feats as fire-eating and sword swallowing and bizarre exhibitions of human oddities as "Alligator Boys" and "Gorilla Girls" still remain, only grudgingly if ever given up by performers and carnival professionals. Working alongside the performers, Joe Nickell blows the lid off these mysteries of the midway. The author reveals the structure of the shows, specific methods behind the performances, and the showmen's tactics for recruiting performers and attracting crowds. He also traces the history of such spectacles, from ancient Egyptian magic and street fairs to the golden age of P.T. Barnum's sideshows. With revealing insight into the personal lives of the men and women billed as freaks, Nickell unfolds the captivating story of the midway show.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813137377
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 09/09/2005
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 424
File size: 12 MB
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     x
Acknowledgments     xvii
Preface     xix
Origins of the Sideshow     1
Early Roots     1
The Fair and Beyond     4
Beginnings of the Modern Circus     6
Barnum the Showman     10
The Greatest Show     15
Carnivals and More     18
On The Midway     25
Creating the Midway     25
Concessions     28
Games     34
Rides and Amusements     40
Sideshows     48
The Ten-in-one     52
The Banner Line     53
The Bally Platform     62
On the Inside     68
The Blowoff     76
Human Oddities: Large and Small     80
Giants     81
Fat People     92
Living Skeletons     101
Dwarfs     105
Midgets     111
Human Oddities: Between a Half and Two     120
Siamese Twins     120
One-and-a-Halfs     128
Armless and Legless Wonders     133
Other Human Oddities     141
"Animal" People     141
Hirsute Women-and Men     150
And More     158
Anatomical Wonders     165
Contortionists     165
India-Rubber People     168
Special-Effects Performers     171
Mr. Anatomical Wonder     175
Created Oddities     178
Tattooed People     178
Pierced Ones     184
Other "Made" Oddities     189
Gaffed Oddities     194
Gaffed Acts     201
Working Acts     209
Fire-eaters     209
Sword Swallowers     220
Phenomenal Ingesters     225
Human Pincushions     233
Blockheads     238
Other Torture Acts     240
Electric Marvels     247
Snake Charmers     250
Knife Throwers     254
Illusions     260
Magicians     260
Psychic Marvels     264
Torture Box Illusions     271
Living Heads     275
Headless People     282
Floating Lady     285
Gorilla Girl     288
Girl in the Goldfish Bowl     291
Other Illusions      293
Animal Shows     299
Menageries     299
Single-Animal Acts and Exotics     303
Freak Animal Exhibits     309
Flea Circuses     314
Curios     322
Pickled Exhibits     322
Other Preserved Exhibits     328
Bogus Creatures     333
Other Curios     341
The Egress     345
References     353
Index     361

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