The American Treasure Tour blog has been delving these last few days into the wonderful world of banner art for the not-quite-as-wonderful world of the circus freak show. The novelty of attending the freak show during its heyday cannot diminish the horror and tragedy of it as well. While some of the acts employed people who chose to be there because of unique skill sets, like the sword swallower or the human blockhead, who hammered nails into his nose, others were there because society cast them aside, and these were the only jobs available for them - including many people for whom medical science proved of no assistance, people with skin conditions or restricting birth defects.
Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the heavyset men and women who became a popular attraction in the freak show, people who likely had glandular or severe eating disorders. Seen as human anomalies, passersby did not understand - or seemingly care to learn of - their day-to-day lives. They deemed them solely as objects on display, amusements. This ignorance was certainly exploited by the callers, the men and women who would stand outside the freak show tent and entice people to pay the entry fee to "See the freaks!" The banner art included in today's blog is for Penguin Boy, a man whose arms, and maybe legs as well, were generally severely stinted since birth. A number of different entertainers were identified as Penguin Boys over the years, most recently Jason Brott, who is currently a performer who tours with the Hellzapoppin' Sideshow. He stands 3' 3" tall (the same height as an emperor penguin. His arms never developed, so his hands emerge from his shoulders, while his knees are fused. He has definitely embraced the world of the sideshow, working on stage as a performer, and off stage as a tattoo artist.
The Penguin Boy banner art was painted long before Jason Brott came of age, though. Jack Cripe painted it during the final years of the freak show era. Born in Elkhart, Indiana in 1918, "Tattoo Jack" was, as his nickname suggests, also a tattoo artist. He had a 'bodysuit' of tattoos he mostly gave himself because he could not afford to hire other artists to give him his tattoos. He did a thirteen year stint traveling the world as a merchant seaman, but was also an accomplished sword swallower and knife thrower, talents he used during his own stint in front of audiences at the circus side show into the 1940's. By 1947, he got a job working as a banner artist for the Sigler and Sons Art Service in Tampa, Florida, where he worked into the 1980's. Cripe told one reporter that he was paid on average $64 per 8' x 10' banner he painted. The canvas itself cost $16, and it took up to ten hours to paint each banner. They were not money makers at the time, but now to purchase one of his originals, you can expect to spend somewhere around $10,000! Cripe passed away in Tampa in 1992.
QUESTION: What is the famous neighborhood in Tampa, Florida closely associated with the cigar industry?
A) Denny Triangle
B) Ybor City
D) Government Sector
THE GRACE OF A PRINCESS. Who said American girls can't grow up to become royalty? On this day in 1929, Philadelphia's own Grace Kelly was born to one of the city's best-respected families. At 21, she entered the acting world, starting in television and becoming an Oscar-winning star with 1954's The Country Girl. She retired at the ridiculously young age of 26 to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco, with whom she reigned until her death in 1982 at the ridiculously young age of 52.
QUOTE: Women's natural role is to be a pillar of the family. - Grace Kelly
ANSWER: B) Ybor City, although I would guess their biggest constituency was the Government Sector