COLLECTING HUMAN ODDITIES
MORE than 40 years, Joseph L. Tracy of Buffalo, New
York, has been collecting photographs of human oddities
of the circus sideshow and he is recognized as one of
the country's foremost authorities on sideshow freaks.
He will tell you
that the tallest giant ever seen in this country was
Antoine Hugo, eight feet, nine inches tall, who appeared
with a sideshow in 1890. He is authority for the
fact that Prince Nicholi, a Russian, who stood 18 inches
tall, is the smallest midget who has been exhibited in
the United States. And from his collection he can
produce pictures of more than 400 strange people who
have been stared at by the curious public in the past
Back in 1890, Mr.
Tracy's family lived at North Platte, Nebraska, near the
ranch home of Col. W. F. Cody, who became famous as
The elder Tracy
joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a bronco rider
and fancy roper. And while touring with the show
for a decade, he started a collection of pictures of
In those days, few
pictures were made of circus people and on show grounds.
But every sideshow performer had cabinet photographs in
quantity, which they sold to customers. For the
most part, these pictures were autographed by the human
When Joseph L.
Tracy was 16, he joined the Al. F. Wheeler Circus a
wagon show, as diver of a team of ponies which hauled
the dog wagon. He remained with this show as an
animal trainer until 1910, when he joined Barnum &
Bailey Circus, and he was with other circuses until
1913, when he entered vaudeville with his troupe of
trained dogs and ponies.
In 1920, because
his dogs and ponies were growing too old to perform and
he was not inclined to train young ones for
replacements, Mr. Tracy retired from the road and
settled down at Buffalo, where he is now mechanic in a
He started adding
to his father's collection when he entered show
business, but had the misfortune of losing many of the
pictures in a rooming house fire at Albany, New York, in
1904. The few that he had left at home formed the
nucleus of a new collection.
For a number of
years, he collected circus books, posters, programs, and
other printed matter. However, he found that his
circus room, which he equipped with furniture of his own
handiwork, was too small for his ever-growing
collection. So he gave up most items and
concentrated on pictures of strange people.
So thorugh has he been, he estimates there are less than
a score of well known sideshow artists who have appeared
in circuses during the past four decades, not
represented in his photograph collection.
Mr. Tracey has
know personally many of the outstanding sideshow
performers. Currently, there are 16 midgets working in a
factory in his home town with whom he is acquainted.
During the winters of 1906, 1907 and 1913, he lived at
Coney Island, New York, and was a neighbor to such
outstanding personalities as Francisco Lentini, the
three-legged man' Edward Kissel, armless and legless;
Grace Gibert, the bearded woman and many others.
from October 1945 by A. Morton Smith -HOBBIES a magazine
If you have a question you
would like to submit email us at
Back to the
Good Old Days
Back to Main