Yes, said Mike the midget, as he jangled a handful of pennies in an Automatic Vaudeville Arcade. "we are passing.  Each year pushes us a little further into poverty and obscurity.  For with us freaks obscurity is poverty.  Get your pennies here!  Pennies, pennies."  Stopping he changed a few dimes and nickels into pennies that the visitors might drop them in the slots and see the latest prizefight or hear the newest rag.

"Now look at me.  You wouldn't thing that once I had my picture on canvas standing by a seven-foot giant, would you?  fact, though.  I was painted so small that I looked like a footstool, but I didn't care-it brought me the money.  I used to get scented letters from women most of them small, but some of them big:  I mean the women.  The big ones called me their doll, and said I was cute.

"And I have shaken hands with Princes, and written my autograph for a King.  It was the Amir of Baluchistan,  but he was a king just the same.  Pennies!  That machine's out of order.  Why don't you try Bridget and the Policeman?

"Now I get $12 a week from 11 o'clock in the morning till 11 at night.  It's these things-automatic prizefights and songs and moving pictures-that have sent us to the wall.  The public is tired of freaks: it wants to hear the boy soprano and watch the girl contortionist spin around on her neck, and go to moving pictures at night.

The passing of the freak from public exhibition has come about gradually.  One by one the freaks have been eliminated.  The fat woman was the first to go.  On every museum platform for years the fat woman sat: the smallest ones were first taken off, leaving only the big ones.  The the tattooed man and the tattooed lady had to seek other employment.  In their wake followed the albinos, the living skeletons, and armless and legless wonders.

Those able to hold on longest were exceptional freaks such as two-headed boys the woman with the horse's mane, growing between her shoulders, the elastic-skinned man, the three-legged boy, the elephant-footed man and the lion-faced boy.

 

Dwelling in a world apart, housed always by themselves, some strange romances occur.  The human pincushion woes the tattooed lady just as ardently as any Leander, and the living skeleton pours out his heart to the fat woman as eloquently as any Romeo.  Love roams the museum just the same as it does the studio.  But is must be said that now and then the contriving hand of the press agent can be detected back of the scenes.

Miss Emma Scholler, a Louisiana ossified girl, fell in love and married D. W. Coffey, the skeleton dude, twenty-two times the adamantine bride was stood up and blushed under a flowing and lived an old maid.

 

Strange as it may seem the bearded lady always has lovers aplenty.  She rarely ever spends more than six seasons on the platform-they prefer that to museum-without falling a victim to the wiles of Cupid, the convivial cut-up.  Annette Anderson, who had a beard to do a Cabinet officer proud, was the wife of a museum lecturer.

Even Miss Grace Gilbert, who achieved more fame than any other bearded lady, was laid low by the feathered shaft.  For fourteen years she had been exhibited all over the world as the bearded lady.  Giles E. Callvin, a farmer living in Kalkaska County, Michigan, and who had known her since they were tots, had been sending her love notes and little nothings for months, but to all these she remained cold, just like a story-book heroine.

 

Finally he began following her show from town to town, loading his case between acts.  At last she gave in and they secured their license at South Bend, Ind.  When they appeared before City Judge Farabaugh for the reading of the marriage service the groom, nineteen years younger and smooth shaven, was wearing a long ulster which almost completely concealed his trousers. 

 

The Judge looked from one to the other in doubt, then plunged boldly in:

"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?" he asked.

"Judge,"  came the indignant answer.

"I am to be the wedded wife.  He is the husband."

The Judge could only cover up his confusion by saying.  "This ceremony should be one of solemnity and in keeping with the serious step you are taking."

The happy couple are now living on Giles's farm in Michigan, with only a ribbon or two and a few posters to tell that once the wife was the queen of the museum.

The seclusion of the farm is preferred to the gaping city by retiring freaks.  When Capt. and Mrs. Bates, the Kentucky giants.  Left the stage they went back to his farm in Kentucky.  The Captain was seven feet two and one-half inches in height, but the pride of his life was his wife, who overshadowed him by a full three inches.

At the advent of the moving picture ribbon or two and a few posters to tell that once the wife was the queen of the museum.

The seclusion of the farm is preferred to the gaping city by retiring freaks.  When Capt. and Mrs. Bates, the Kentucky giants.  Left the stage they went back to his farm in Kentucky.  The Captain was seven feet two and one-half inches in height, but the pride of his life was his wife, who overshadowed him by a full three inches.

At the advent of the moving picture show the migration of human anatomical curiosities began.  From out of the museum into the trades and professions where their misfortunes are their assets- Mike changing pennies, the tattooed man exhibiting safety razors in a show window, the albino selling newspapers-the freaks have gone.
 



 

A Bearded Lady

 The Boy with the Lions Face

One of Our Famous Fat Ladies

The Girl with the Rubber Face


 

Europe, slower to take up entertainment novelties, is the last stomping ground for them.  There they still can make a comfortable living, and there they still may be found in some out-of-the-way museums.

It is only the exceptional freak that can get "work" in this country.  Jerry Simpson, a professional dwarf, is one of the fortunate.  He is scarcely 3 feet high, but with the strength of two men, he can put up a 200-pound man with one arm.   His head, neck, and torso are normal,, but his legs are short and gnarled.  He
 finds employment the year around, sometimes with a circus, sometimes at the Hippodrome, and is often booked in vaudeville.  With a spotted leopard's skin over his shoulder he has played the gladiator and after a quick change of costume has come out as Peter Pan with Gertrude Hoffmann in a burlesque.

 

Brought up on a farm in Wisconsin, he now lives in New York and takes interest in politics, and, on the whole, is about the most normal freak imaginable.  Of course, he is a baseball fan, and his memory for scores and batting averages is uncanny.  There is nothing that does his soul more good than to be called "Jerry" by one of the diamond demigods-proving that he is mortal.  Proudest of all though, he is of his wife.  She is a tall blonde, very swagger, and pretty.  She is one of the "profesh," too, for she is a dancing girl.

 

And they say that this queer couple in their little flat are as happy as two mice in a Queen's wardrobe.

"I know I am a freak," said Jerry, "but I have got over caring.  I am glad every morning when the sun comes up and sorry every evening when the electrics go on.  Besides, when a man's got a And they say that this queer couple in their little flat are as happy as two mice in a Queen's wardrobe.

"I know I am a freak," said Jerry, "but I have got over caring.  I am glad every morning when the sun comes up and sorry every evening when the electrics go on.  Besides, when a man's got a good digestion and a pretty wife, what  else matters?  Some dwarfs and freaks are grouchy and bitter, thinking that they didn't get a square deal in the universal shake-up of things, but I'd be a live dwarf than a dead Apollo.  Especially when I have a dancing Venus for a wife."

For years wages have been going down for human freaks.  As the public has lost interest in them for something more spectacular and musical, their value as drawing cards have steadily dropped off.

 

Where once a good freak commanded $200 a week he now can scarcely get on at $30.   It now takes a prodigy of more than passing novelty to draw more than $25 a week.  The Tocci twins-boys with two heads, four arms, and two legs drew $300 a week for years.  A regular scale of prices now regulates the pay received by freaks.  A living skeleton receives usually about $18 a week, a bearded lady $12; a fat woman, $10; a fire-eater, $10; a tattooed woman, $8, and a Circassian beauty, $7.

In the cities they can no longer find profitable employment.  Most of those who are still keeping up a professional life are to be found under the show tent of the circus.  The outer districts, where the picture show and the mechanical piano have not filled the entertainment wants of the public, are now the havens of refuge of the freaks.

 

Petty jealousies enter into the lives of the freaks. Their professional and social standings are carefully guarded.  Once one fat woman would not sit on the same platform with another obese lady because the obese lady was appearing in a dress too much decollette.   One dwarf was very haughty and proud over the fact that he was the only midget on the professional stage who had a mustache, and made the introducer call attention to it at every performance.

No longer can a freak attain such fame as in the days of Barnum, when the circus was at the height of its glory.  Barnum was the ultimate in the way of proclaiming and making known a freak.

 

With him, causing a freak to be talked about the world round was an art.  Other showmen had known about Charles S. Stratton, the little man who was only 28 inches tall and weighed only 51 pounds, but none of them saw in him the famous Tom Thumb.  Barnum put him under contract, changed his name to General Tom Thumb, and made him immortal.  Craftily Barnum set about making Tom Thumb fall in love, he himself sending flowers to Miss Lavinia Warren in Tom Thumb's name.  Finally they became engaged, and every paper in America had it.  So great was Tom Thumb's fame and popularity that it is said he was kissed by nearly a million women.

 

So great a believer was Barnum in the advertising value of freaks that if he could not get an unusual one he would not hesitate to make one.  It is said that "Zip, the What Is It," was heralded far and wide as the last surviving member of the Aztec race, was nobody more or less than an illiterate negro with a queerly shaped skull.

He made fame, too, for the Siamese twins.  There have been other twins just as remarkable, but they did not have Barnum for a backer.  The Siamese twins-so-called, although their father was a Chinaman--drew $500 a week for years.   Chang, who was half an inch shorter than his brother, Eng, had six children-one more than Eng-and all were healthy, normal children.  Leaving the stage, they went to North Carolina and took up farming under the prosaic name of Bunker.
 

The passing of well-know freaks is often marked by tragedy.  Charles H. Perry, a famous living skeleton, was recently found dead in a hut on the outskirts of Providence, R. I., where he had been living a hermit's life.  Although one inch over six feet, he weighed only eighty pounds.  On exhibition all the earlier part of his life, he was an absolute recluse during his later years.

 

Sprague, another famous living skeleton, died in poverty in Chicago.  "General Peanuts." a midget only two feet and one inch tall, was found dead in a small bedroom in East Fourteenth Street, New York, poor and despondent.  He was a Japanese and he was buried without his real name being known.  Maggie Minott twentyseven inches tall, died in Chicago in lowly conditions.  The elastic-skin man, who could draw the skin of his forehead down over his face like a veil, died drafty museum stage.  "Jo-Jo," the Dog-faced Boy," died in Turkey of pneumonia.  On account of the peculiar formation of his face and the fact that his body was entirely covered by tow-colored hair he was likened to a Russian dachshund.  His real name was Theadore Peteroff.

It is good to know that now and then a public curiosity leads an easy life in his waning days.  Ella Ewing, the Missouri giantess, lives in her native State in a house built after her own plans, with even the beds eight feet long, where she takes care of her parents from money made on exhibition.  Viola La Porte, who gave up her job in a paper box factory to become a Circassian Circe, bought a house in St. Louis for which she paid out-right $12,000.

 

Generally freaks are born that way, but in many cases they have become so later.  Miss Stella Ewing, known as the ossified woman, was normal until she was twenty years old, when her body began to harden from a severe attack of rheumatism.  Mrs. Wilkins, the woman at Hamilton, Ohio, who had a horn in the middle of her forehead, had attained her height before the horn began to grow.  When it was five inches long she struck it against a deer, breaking off an inch.  "The blue man"  became so from silver nitrate administered to cure him of locomotor ataxia.  Peter Peters was old enough to vote before his bones began to soften and become brittle.

Is it not just as well that the freak is passing?  Is it not a healthier sign of the public mind that it is no longer interested in the sad misfortunes of others?  The plea of the museum proprietor that gazing at poor distorted souls was educative can not be defended.  No good ever came of staring at the frog-boy, or of questioning the ossified man.  In some countries public exhibition of freaks is prohibited.  Nothing but morbid curiosity ever sent on one platform could be seen human anomalies from all over the world.  Much better is it that a clean moving picture hall where the entertainment is healthful and instructive should supplant the dime museum.

But as Mike the midget would say, "It is sure hard on us freaks!"

NYT - Feb. 26, 1911


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