It's a Freak
Country it You'er Looking to Buy
Pickled Cyclops Pig?
the Better at the Artifakes Shop,
nothing's Normal unless it's Odd.
people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic
experience. Freaks are born with their trauma. They've
already passed their test in life. They're the
AN ISLAND IN TAMPA BAY, down a twisting
mangrove-lined driveway that leads to a gray building,
Mark Frierson and John Mocsary are putting the finishing
touches on a ``baby bouncer`` a fabricated fetus
dangling in a jar of formaldehyde.
Frierson and Mocsary say that what they do is all in
fun, their company, Artifakes, is serious business.
two-year-old company specializes in reproducing the
world's most bizarre oddities, from three-legged calves
to monster faces with gashes and gouges and hacked-off
noses and ears.
current popularity of supermarket tabloids, bizarre TV
features, and martial arts and horror movies, there is
no shortage of work.
oddities is actually very simple. Say you just have to
have a footprint of a Sasquatch or a shrunken human head
for your coffee table. Frierson and Mocsary will
recreate either one with a little latex, stage makeup
and paint. It helps to have a photograph of the ``real
thing`` from your vacation in the Northwest or on the
Amazon River, but it's not essential. Frierson and
Mocsary can work from your memory, or simply indulge
their own imaginations.
real and fabricated oddities include everything from
mystical skull beads made from the bones of dead
Buddhist monks to a two-headed king snake. They even
have a human-ear necklace, copied from the type of
``trophies`` that some American soldiers collected
during the Vietnam War.
most bizarre requests never surprise Frierson and
Mocsary -- whether it's for a replica of an electric
chair for a traveling crime show or a bust of John
Merrick, the Elephant Man.
with human oddities, the real thing is so grotesque, as
in the case of ``Chicken Boy`` (a young boy whose face
resembled a chicken), that Artifakes ``tames down`` its
fabrication. That's what Frierson and Mocsary did when
they recreated the boy's image for the Sun, a
supermarket tabloid based in Boca Raton that published
the photo on its cover.
some oddities we have to make more palatable to the
public,`` Frierson admits.
Frierson and Mocsary founded Artifakes in 1988, they
figured they had a monopoly on a unique market.
supplying carnivals with oddities would be big business,
but that just didn't materialize,`` Mocsary says.
``Freak and sideshows are obsolete. It's thought to be
in bad taste to exhibit freaks of nature.``
fly-by-night carnivals still have real freaks, but even
those are dying out,`` Frierson adds.
SIDESHOWS ORIGINATED IN England around 1840 and were
a popular form of entertainment for more than a hundred
years. Many people do not know that P.T. Barnum's first
claim to fame was not the circus that still bears his
name, but the American Museum, an oddities attraction in
New York City.
were also big draws at World's Fairs during the 1920s
and `30s. The Believe It Or Not ``Odditorium`` at the
1933-34 Chicago Exposition displayed a two-headed baby
(actually a Siamese twin preserved in formaldehyde) that
brought in a then-whopping $900,000 at the box office.
Some say it
was the eugenics movement (devoted to improving the
human species through the control of hereditary factors)
and advances in medical technology that brought an end
to attractions such as the Dog-faced Man, the Chinese
Giant, the Wild Men of Borneo and others. Newspapers,
religious organizations, doctors and human-rights groups
played a part in the creation of laws and taxes that
discouraged shows in which disfigured or handicapped
people were objects of ridicule.
says that feminists protesting an exhibition of some two
dozen fetuses in New York in the early `70s dealt the
final blow to freak shows.
ended up in court, where showmen won the right to
exhibit their geeks, freaks and fakes. But by then the
public was beginning to lose its enthusiasm for the
carnival owners switched to exhibits like the Headless
Woman, which is an illusion created with mirrors,``
explains Frierson. ``If you see a human fetus in some
exhibit now, it's probably a `baby bouncer,` a rubber
replica suspended in water tinted by a tea bag and a
drop of milk. But now people are complaining that these
are deceptive and fraudulent. It's a no-win situation
for the showmen.``
NUMBER OF SIDESHOWS MAY have diminished, but
fascination with freaks -- real or fake -- is on the
naturally curious,`` Frierson says. ``Some of my (freak)
friends tell me that the best times of their lives were
spent with carnivals, being with others like themselves.
Many of them cannot get regular jobs, so this is a way
they can make money from their handicap.``
Artifakes best customers are supermarket tabloids such
as the Sun, which has a weekly circulation of 500,000.
Frierson and Mocsary won't reveal their own arrangements
with the tabloids, but they say many of the front-page
oddities are supplied to the newspapers by the National
Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. From
the time we are kids, parents tell us it's not polite to
gawk. But the so-called odditoriums and tabloids take a
``We make it
okay to look straight into the eyes of a two-headed
calf,`` says Vinnie Lamano, owner of the Great American
Fun Museum in Kissimmee.
Frierson and Mocsary are in the business of fabricating
oddities, Lamano is in the business of exhibiting them.
The Fun Museum has over 500 ``real`` oddities from 50
countries, from a pickled Cyclops pig and a two- faced
kitten to the world's smallest Bible.
claims that all the oddities at his museum are real --
like Lamano's are not new. They are a throwback to the
turn-of- the-century dime museums that once dominated
the amusement industry. Cities large and small had
museums featuring freak shows, and for their owners
freak- hunting was a full-time occupation.
Lamano, today there is an underground fraternity of
oddity collectors. They find items at flea markets,
antique shops, in attics and old forgotten trunks.
Much of the
stuff ends up in the hands of Frierson and Mocsary.
somebody has a stuffed five-legged dog they found in
their late uncle's garage and they don't feel
comfortable throwing it out,`` Frierson says. ``It's not
something you'd use as a mantle piece, so they're glad
to get rid of it.``
The price of
oddities varies, from a couple of dollars to thousands,
depending on demand from both private collectors and
One day a
grotesque, shrunken head arrived at Artifakes in a
foam-filled cardboard box. It was your standard native
head from the jungles of South America, about the size
of a tennis ball. Its lips were sewn shut with jute.
ordered the head from a collector who claimed that
Indians had skinned and boiled the head to shrink it.
heads -- if they're authentic -- can go for as much as
$10,000,`` says Frierson, *who used to
``restore`` the faces of cadavers for funeral homes.
``It's not too hard to get fooled by fakes -- a lot of
heads are made from goat skins.``
Being in the
oddities business is certainly, well, odd. But what
about the private collectors, the folks who take these
freaky things home with them? Whether it's Michael
Jackson and his attempt to buy the skeleton of the
Elephant Man or Frierson and his five-legged dog, the
answer may go back to frightening yet fascinating
remembers being taken by his mother to sideshows when he
was a young boy.
terrified,`` he says. ``I ran out screaming when I saw
Little Richard, the midget. It was only during the `70s
that I moved beyond fear and into appreciation.``
Frierson started collecting oddities in high school, his
father asked him why he didn't get a real job. But
Frierson Sr. eventually became a convert, and now he too
has invested in oddities.
who grew up in Florida, has always been intrigued with
the town of Gibsonton near Tampa. Gibsonton was a campy
hometown for circus performers in the `30s and `40s, and
many retired freaks still live there.
very protective of his friendships with the people
there, including the ``Half Lady,`` the ``Monkey-faced
Lady`` and her husband ``Alligator Man,`` and Melvin
Burkhart, ``The Human Block.``
uncertain about where the oddities business will take
him and Mocsary. But they are willing to go wherever
their imaginations take them. The fun, they say, for
clients and audiences, is in guessing what's real and
One thing is
certain. Whatever they're selling is enough to freak you
*Just for the record, the reporter confused me with my
partner, when stating that I used to "restore"
the faces of cadavers for funeral homes...
Images: Mark Frierson
Article: Submitted by Mark Frierson
Article by BETTY BRIGGS is a freelance writer.
July 08, 1990 Sun Sentinel