Easily the most famous of the "freaks" of the late-19th century was Joseph Merrick, a man who had severe deformities that made it impossible for him to fend for himself. He saw as his only option the side show, and fell under the control of a man named Tom Norman. Norman put him on display in a store in Whitechapel, London at a time when people began questioning the humanity of the freak show. (The story of Merrick is wonderfully told in the David Lynch film The Elephant Man, starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. Oddly, he is called John Merrick in the film, but it is otherwise regarded as rather accurate a portrayal of this unfortunate man.)
Freak Shows became increasingly controversial as time went on, and yet they also retained some of their fascination through the first half of the twentieth century. Medical advances served to reduce the population of people born different from everyone else, and cultural sensitivity made it less likely that the average person might attend anyway. Many of the people who do remember attending the old shows describe them as being sad and somewhat disappointing. Full-color banners advertised acts that were maybe not quite as interesting as they promised. Today, very few freak shows remain in existence, and those that do tend to draw audiences more out of nostalgia than curiosity. One well-established and beloved destination still in business is the Coney Island Circus Sideshow: http://www.coneyisland.com/programs/coney-island-circus-sideshow
Tomorrow, we will begin a discussion of some of the banner art we just mentioned, so stay tuned....
QUESTION: Which member of the cast of "American Horror Story: Freak Show" has performed live in Coney Island's live 10-in-1?
A) Mat Fraser
B) Kathy Bates
C) Jessica Lang
D) Sarah Paulsen
BAD DAY IN BOSTON. On this day in 1872, much of the city of Boston went up in flames. A small fire that began at 7:20 pm burned through the night, devastating the city including 776 buildings. One of the many reasons the fire proved so destructive was that construction codes were ignored. In rebuilding the city, enforcement of these laws were very much enforced. One year earlier, the city of Chicago had been equally devastated by its own fire.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, EDDY. It's sad to think many people don't know Ed Wynn by name, but we hope this dedication for his birthday will help change that. Born in Philadelphia in 1886 (no devastating fires in Philly to speak of, by the way), Wynn became a famous vaudevillian and comedic actor. His most famous role, easily, was that of Uncle Albert in Disney's classic 1964 film Mary Poppins, but his other work also certainly merits attention. Watch seven or eight of his films in his honor!
A bachelor is a man who never makes the same mistake once. - Ed Wynn
ANSWER: Not a difficult one, really. It was C) Jessica Lang. With her freakish -- oh wait. No, it was A) Mat Fraser. Calling himself Flipper Boy, he has arms shortened by the effect of Thalidomide, taken by his mother during her pregnancy in England.