You are browsing the archive for freakshow.

Julia Pastrana: A “Monster to the Whole World”

- November 26, 2014 in bearded lady, Culture & History, freakshow, julie pastrana, lewis b. lent, Science & Medicine, sideshow, theodore lent

Julia Pastrana, a woman from Mexico born with hypertrichosis, became one of the most famous human curiosities of the 19th century, exhibited as a "bearded lady" while both alive and dead. Bess Lovejoy explores her story and how it was only in 2013, 153 years after her passing, that she was finally laid to rest.

The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell, the Tattooed Man (1845)

- July 30, 2013 in captivity, castaway, collections, Digital Copy: No Additional Rights, freakshow, Internet Archive, islanders, James F. O'Connell, Library of Congress, P.T. Barnum, shipwreck, tattoo, texts, Texts: 19th, Texts: Non-fiction, Underlying Work: PD Worldwide

The Life and Adventures of James F. O’Connell the Tattooed Man, by James F. O’Connell; 1845; W. Applegate, New-York. One of the main attractions at P.T. Barnum’s 1842 ‘freakshow’ American Museum was a man named James F. O’Connell, notable for his head to toe covering in tattoos, the U.S.’s first tattooed showman. To accompany his unusual appearance, the show featured O’Connell telling of how he received his tattoo during his years of captivity in the South Pacific. According to his account he became shipwrecked on the Caroline Islands and saved himself from death at the hands of the Ponapeans natives by performing a series of Irish jigs for their amusement. Though his life was spared he tells of how he was subject to a compulsory tattooing at the hands of a series of “voluptuous virgins” and how he was forced to marry the last of his tattooers. When a ship landed on the island in 1833 (some 5 years or so since his shipwreck there in the late 1820s) O’Connell left, making his way to the U.S. where he eventually ended up working in P.T.Barnum’s ‘freakshow’, telling tales of the eight day long process of tattooing he underwent and performing […]

Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’

- July 24, 2013 in Articles, david lynch, deformity, elephant man, freakshow, History, joseph merrick, Science, sideshow, tom norman, victorian

Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man, was exploited during his time in a Victorian ‘freakshow’, and asks if it wasn’t perhaps the medical establishment, often seen as his saviour, who really took advantage of the man and his condition. The scenes are among the most heartless in cinema history: a drunken, abusive showman exhibiting the severely deformed Joseph Merrick to horrified punters. David Lynch’s The Elephant Man begins with its lead character being treated little better than an animal in a cage. But it soon finds a clean-cut hero in the ambitious young surgeon Frederick Treves, who rescues the hapless Merrick from his keeper and gives him permanent shelter at the London Hospital. Supported by charitable donations, the victim recovers his humanity: he learns to speak again (in a decidedly middle-class accent), to entertain society guests and to dress and behave like a well-heeled young dandy. Merrick, no more the degraded show freak, reveals his inner goodness and spirituality and dies happy. Lynch’s movie is based largely on Treves’ sentimental chronicle. But that narrative is merely one version of events – and one that in the end tells us more about middle-class [...]

Re-examining ‘the Elephant Man’

- July 24, 2013 in Articles, Culture & History, david lynch, deformity, elephant man, freakshow, joseph merrick, Science & Medicine, sideshow, tom norman, victorian

Nadja Durbach questions the extent to which Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant M…