Freak Show (pt. 1) - Friday, November 6, 2015

The American Treasure Tour is rich in American Popular Culture.  Hopefully you know this by now.  Today, we are going to introduce a subject we hope to delve into much deeper, specifically the great American Freak Show!  Of course, the idea of the freak show did not originate in the United States.  Drawing attention to people with unusual physical features has likely happened since before recorded history; however, putting them on display in a formal setting began in the mid-1500's in England.  These early exhibits could have been set up anywhere - taverns, fairgrounds, or wherever people gathered - and it was not until the 19th century when they were famously incorporated into truly commercial ventures.  

The American showman P.T. Barnum famously capitalized on the display of unusual people and hoaxes.  For an example of the latter, Barnum's "feejee mermaid" made its first appearance in 1842 - the torso of a monkey (dead, sorry to say) and the body of a fish (same) were combined and presented as marginally human.  And then there was "Tom Thumb," a 25-inch tall midget who Barnum took around the world to great acclaim, and an interview with England's Queen Victoria.  Another novelty Barnum contrived was painting Caucasian seamen black, creating a fake gibberish language for them, and pitching them as Zulu's.  Barnum's American Museum, located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in Lower Manhattan, was in operation from 1841 through 1865, where an entrance fee would grant visitors the opportunity to see these strange people, and other attractions.  Of course, some of those visitors left the American Museum or the roving freak shows greatly disappointed by misrepresented freaks and strange anomalies, while others might have been amused by the deceptions.  The advantage Barnum (and other freak show organizers) had was the absence of digital communication.  People could publish harsh criticisms of his attractions in newspapers, but there was no international forum for people to complain about being duped out of their money.
QUESTION:  One of the most famous people placed on display in England was Joseph Merrick, famously, and harshly, given what nickname?
A)  The Penguin Boy
B)  The Elephant Man
C)  The Human Torso
D)  The World's Ugliest Man

BYE-BYE JEFF.  On this day in 1861, former Secretary of War Jefferson Davis officially and irrevocably sacrificed his citizenship to the United States of America when he was elected to the position of President of the Confederate States of America - a collection of southern states that rejected the sovereignty of the federal government.  Davis ran the rebel government for four years, before his "country" collapsed and he was imprisoned in Fort Monroe, eighty miles away from where he had lived in grandeur as president.  He lived until 1889, convinced that he did not reject the U.S. Constitution by leading the Confederacy.  Posterity would not agree.

EDSEL.  Born today in 1893 was the only child of automotive titan Henry Ford.  Edsel lived a privileged life, being the son of one of the most powerful men in America.  Oddly, Henry resented him for that, and treated Edsel quite harshly during much of his life.  Edsel died at the age of 49.  His legacy, a famously unpopular (in its own time) car named after him.

QUOTE:  Father made the most popular cars in the world; I want to make the best. - Edsel Ford

ANSWER:  B)  The Elephant Man (the other three choices were all real performers)