Monday, September 12, 2011

Sideshow Corner: Life's Wonders on Display

I have to give proper credit for the title of this post to author Stacy Carlson and her book Among the Wonderful. Carlson's book is a well-researched fictional account of early 1900s sideshows in NYC, specifically Barnum's Living Wonders. Buy and review it.

Though Barnum gets a LOT of credit for reinventing and promoting the Sideshow, it was Samuel W. Gumpertz who brought it to Coney Island in the early 1900s. The images below, all from Pisark, a Coney Island historian associated with the Coney Island History Project, are mostly of Coney Island Wonders.

Lionel the Lion Faced Man, or, Stephan Bibrowski, a Polish native who moved to the States in the early 1900s to perform with Barnum & Bailey's Circus. By the 1920s he was a Coney Island regular. I'm almost positive his image has been used as a heavy metal album cover several times over, but can't find any proof.

Jean-Jaques Libbera, "The Double-Bodied Man." Jean and his brother (attached at Jean's mid-section) Jaques were born in Rome and entertained throughout the 1920s. Jean eventually married and had four children.

 Eddie Masher, a "Living Skeleton" with an advertised weight of 38 pounds at five-foot, seven-inches tall.

Violet and Daisy Hilton, "English Siamese Twins" and " The Hilton Sisters." These Hilton sisters are much more endearing and interesting than the other famous set. After Violet and Daisy made their last public performance in the 1960s, the sisters worked in a grocery store. They died of Hong Kong flu in 1969.

I have identical twin cousins. This is a birthday card waiting to happen.

Like the Lion Faced Man above, I thought I'd seen these ladies on an album cover, but nope, the angsty soundtrack of my youth had this cover:

Still a really good album, btw. I recently heard it again and am now tempted to buy it for the third time. My first and second copies were played to death.

Other fun things:
*A list of historic Coney Island performers
*Current CI performers (think albino snakes, fire, and fishnets)
*Legitimize your purchase of a bowler hat and/or corset, and learn to swallow swords, charm snakes, and eat fire.


  1. I can't help but wonder if the skinny sideshow guy had type-1 diabetes before treatment was developed.

    Click here:

    And scroll down to look at the photo of Leonard Thompson, the first person treated with insulin from cow pancreas.


  2. Makes sense. I think he lived into his 70s too, which seems like a long lifespan for someone of that time period with a serious health problem. Maybe carny life keeps you young?

  3. You really should name the card source for this pics. They are either vending machine cards or tobacco cards.

  4. Vending machine cards, private collection.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.