viernes, 30 de abril de 2010

Mademoiselle Gabrielle, the Half Woman.

Born in Basle, Switzerland, in 1884, Gabrielle Fuller was a corset-trained Half Woman, who first joined the circus at the Paris Exposition in 1900. She traveled with the Ringling Brothers Circus and appeared at Coney Island's Dreamland sideshow.

Gabrielle's exploits in the sideshow were quite successful, as she soon traveled to America to work with the Dreamland Circus Side Show, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. 

Furthermore, in 1912, Mademoiselle Gabrielle embarked on a short-lived vaudevillian career with New York’s Hammerstein Theater. She eventually broke her contract with the theater agent and was subsequently sued for breach. A four year court battle resulted in a $2000 fine paid to the theater agent. 

Few human marvels appeared on the vaudeville stage, The Hilton Sisters did so several years later, but Mademoiselle Gabrielle was a special case. She was beautiful, charming, graceful and demure, she was also corset trained and dressed in finery to emphasize her natural beauty.  Interestingly this seems to allowed for the general public to accept her deformity objectively.

Mademoiselle Gabrielle possessed no legs and, according to a 1929 London Life article, she possessed no stumps whatsoever. Her torso finished just below the hip gracefully. Her figure was impressive and she accentuated her physical qualities and natural beauty with opulent Victorian garb and striking jewelry.  She firmly believed that she was ‘no less a woman.' 

Indeed, others seem to have reacted to Gabrielle with kind of reverence in spite of their curiosity, different from the traditional, derogatory name-calling of other human oddities we have seen, where the  human "exhibits" functioned as a way for the audience to re-affirm their own sense of adequacy and normalcy. 

Gabrielle was described by a doctor "the formation of the body is perfect within its own limits, and no provision has been made by Nature for the presence or functioning of limbs". And artists have described the wonderful torso as "a perfect, if unfinished, piece of natural sculpture." 

Wallace Stort (who had a thing for the limbless beauties) described her as a "Unique and stupendous attraction"

Mademoiselle Gabrielle attracted men in droves and married at least three times during her lifetime. First she was married to a man with the surname of Hunter and lastly to John de Fuller. Due to these surname changes, her later history is difficult to trace and her eventual date of demise is currently unknown.

Gabrielle was one of a handful of actual disabled women remarked upon by the writer and amputee fetishist Wallace Stort, writing for London Life in 1929:

"Gabrielle", who has spent nearly all her life in America, I saw during an earlier visit to the States some years ago. She is about 40, and was for many years considered the most perfect example of what is known as the "half-lady" on exhibition. Down to the hips she is a beautifully proportioned woman. Below that she does not exist, the trunk finishing neatly and smoothly a little below the waist, with nothing in the way of stumps being present.
"Gabrielle" has also been married twice, her second husband being a German born.

Sources :

viernes, 23 de abril de 2010

Quidam- Aerial Contortion in Silk

jueves, 22 de abril de 2010

Eko and Iko "The Men from Mars"

 The story of the two black albino brothers from Roanoke, Virginia is unique even in the bizarre world of sideshow. They were initially exploited and then later hailed for their unintentional role in civil rights.

The black albino twins Eko and Iko (real names George and Willie Muse) boast one of the most remarkable stories in circus sideshow history. It started dramatically in 1899 when they were kidnapped by sideshow bounty hunters for their unique appearance. Black albinos, being extremely rare, would have been an extremely lucrative attraction. They were falsely told that their mother was dead, and that they would never be returning home.

The brothers began to tour. To accentuate their already unusual appearance, their handler had the brothers grow out their hair into long white dreadlocks. In 1922 showman Al G. Barnes began showcasing the brothers in his circus as White Ecuadorian cannibals Eko and Iko. When that gimmick failed to attract crowds the brothers were rechristened the ‘Sheep-Headed Men’ and later, in 1923, the ‘Ambassadors from Mars’.

They were not paid for their early performances with the Barnes circus, then they started to tour with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey sideshow, where, in 1927, their mother rediscovered them and demanded that they be freed from performing or she would sue. 

They were freed, but returned to the sideshow in 1928 with a contract that ensured them a great deal of money as they played venues like Madison Square Garden to more that 10,000 people. They made spectacular money as their new contract allowed them to sell their own merchandise and keep all the profits for themselves. In the 1930’s they toured Europe, Asia and Australia. They performed for royals and dignitaries including the Queen of England.

In 1937 they returned to Ringling Bros. and Barnum camp; Bailey Circus for several years and finally ended their career in 1961 with the Clyde Beatty Circus. The brothers returned to their hometown and lived together in a house they originally purchased for their mother. Neither brother married, though they were well known for their many extravagant courtships.

George Muse died in 1971 and many expected Willie to quickly follow his brother. Those people were wrong as Willie continued to play his mandolin and enjoy the company friends and family until his death on Good Friday of 2001.
He was 108 years old.


martes, 20 de abril de 2010

Takasaki Kannon-yama Recreational Park

And now, because everyone loves an abandoned theme park...


This park is located in Kappapia, Japan. These gorgeous pictures are by Hamutarou, see more of his amazing work here:


lunes, 19 de abril de 2010

Jeanie the Living Half Girl.

"You know: the crowd looks at the freaks and the freaks look at the crowd. And that's about how it is. You'd be surprised how many weird looking people you can find in an audience. They think they're perfectly normal." Tomaini.

Jeanie Tomaini was born August 23, 1916 as Berniece Smith, Died August 10, 1999 Gibsonton, Florida. She was known in her day as the "World's Only Living Half Girl." She was born without legs and both of her arms were twisted. 

She began performing at age 3, exhibited by her parents at fairs all over the country. Jeanie's act consisted mainly of acrobatic stunts such as handstands and cartwheels - although her hands were deformed, she was able to walk on them with ease. 

When Jeanie was 13, her mother died while Jeanie was appearing at a fair in Paris, Texas. Jeanie and her two brothers were placed in an orphanage, and she was adopted at age 15 by a woman named Lizzie Weeks who was psychologically abusive and kept Jeanie locked up between performances, lest anyone see her without paying for a ticket. 

While performing on the sideshow circuit in the 1930s, Jeanie met Aurelio "Al" Tomaini, an 8-foot, 2-inch giant from Long Branch, New Jersey, born February 25, 1912. He and Jeanie became romantically involved and, while playing a fair in Cleveland, Ohio in 1936, the pair eloped and were married by a justice of the peace on September 8. They honeymooned at Niagara Falls.

Al and Jeanie discovered Gibsonton, Florida, a blossoming carnival community, while vacationing along the Alafia River in the 1930s. Al loved to fish, and the couple retired on a piece of property along the banks of the river in the 1940s. 

Now that they were no longer on the road, they were able to raise children and adopted two daughters. They established a lodge and fishing camp which was named "The Giant's Camp" by Frank Lentini, the three-legged man, a personal friend of the Tomainis. One of Al's enormous cowboy boots is nailed to a pedestal along US 41. Al, like many giants, suffered a number of health problems. Towards the end of his life, his legs were constantly hurting. On August 30, 1962, he passed away, aged 50. 

Jeanie outlived Al and continued to run the Giant's Camp for many years, until her own death on August 10, 1999 - the anniversary of the adoption of her daughter, Judy "Rustie" Rock in 1946. She was 13 days shy of her 84th birthday and was buried on the anniversary of Al's death. The Tomaini family still live in Gibsonton. Jeanie's great-grandson Alexzander Morrow is now a sideshow performer known as the Junior Torture King.

Here is an excerpt from the NPR episode "Gibtown"  in which Tomaini was interviewed about her sideshow experiences and the effect of "Do-gooders" on the lives of those who made their living as "freaks."

 Produced by: Joe Richman
Broadcast on SoundPrint and NPR's All Things Considered (1995)

Mr. BURKHART: Well, Jeanie.
Ms. TOMAINI: Well, hello.
Mr. BURKHART: Hello, good looking, what's cooking? How are you, honey?
Ms. TOMAINI: I was just coming over there to meet you. How are you doing?

RICHMAN: When Melvin the human blockhead comes over to Jeanie's for a visit, the conversation always leads to two things; their health and the old days in the sideshow.

Mr. BURKHART: [chatting] And they found out it was real and they confiscated it. Who was it had that- the famous half and half out on the West Coast?
Ms. TOMAINI: Well, you remember Esther Lester? Frieda Fred?
Mr. BURKHART: Frieda Fred? No. Esther Lester used to tickle the dumplings out of me. He used to come- `Ladies and Gentlemen, on this side I am a woman. On this side I am a man.' [laughs]

RICHMAN: They trade stories about Grady the lobster boy and Priscilla the monkey girl. Melvin remembers the time he got Bill Durks, the two-faced man a date with Mildred the alligator woman. The two ended up getting married. And, because I'm there, Melvin and Jeanie talk about how they first got into the business, show business they call it. Jeanie started before she could even spell her name. Her father was an alcoholic. He ran off and left the kids behind and so 3-year-old Jeanie became the family's bread-winner.

Ms. TOMAINI: No matter what you made back then, it was big money and when you had a whole flock of kids, like my mother did, big money sounded good. And I would do a little acrobatic routine. I don't do it any more, don't ask me. And I'd go from Indiana, Ohio, Michigan - all around there, those little fairs. That's how I got started in it, when I was three. So many people say, `Oh, how horrible, how terrible.' You know, I was three years old and people came in and- being- no legs, I was about yay high, and they thought that was great and they'd bring me dolls and candy and gifts. And one of the men that had a miniature pony used to come out after we closed at night and he would let me ride his pony. That was heaven to me - any kind of a horse. So I had no problem with it. I enjoyed it.

RICHMAN (to Tomaini): Did you continue to enjoy it as the years went on?

Ms. TOMAINI: Yeah, I did. I did. Even when we were on the road. We used to look the people over and say, `Well, this one looks like a doctor. This one, he must be a butcher,' things like that. Because you had to keep yourself entertained. You couldn't just sit there all day long and stare into outer space. We had a lot of little methods like that that would take our minds off of whoever was staring. You know: the crowd looks at the freaks and the freaks look at the crowd. And that's about how it is. You'd be surprised how many weird looking people you can find in an audience. They think they're perfectly normal.

RICHMAN: But around the 1960s, it began to get harder for the freaks and human oddities to work. Florida and other states started enforcing old laws barring the commercial exhibition of people with deformities and, around the country, more and more people were objecting to the sideshows. They said the performers were being exploited. In Gibsonton, these people were given a name: "the Do-Gooders". And to this day, that's still the worst slur in town.

Ms. TOMAINI: Well really, the Do-Gooders didn't do any good, coming in to try to run our lives for us. They don't even know what they're doing.

Mr. BURKHART: And it hurt a lot of show business careers, because at one time we had a little man, called Otis Jordan, that could roll up cigarettes with his lips and light it, you know, and he had little skinny arms and he had legs that were all- all screwed up, you know, scrooched up like that. He couldn't move them or couldn't walk on them or anything. But he did a hell of an act and he was excluded from our show. He couldn't work at all because the Do-Gooders had said he was being exploited. And he had been on our show for about- about 10 years. He didn't have any place else to go. You know, he couldn't understand it: "Why in the hell are they doing this to me?"

Ms. TOMAINI: Every once in a while, Mother Nature makes a goof and produces one or the other and then where are they going? What are they going to do? But on the show, they could earn their livings and very, very few of the sideshow people I ever heard of asked for food stamps or anything else for help. I'm very proud of the people I know that they do stand on their own two feet.

Mr. BURKHART: I had no qualms about introducing myself as a freak. It's the way we would be presented to them, you see. We would never get up there and just say, "Come in here and see a horrible person." We would put up there like, "The fattest girl in the world. She doesn't do the hula, she does the hoochie-koochie on the inside." And you excite their curiosity to get them in, see. You wouldn't tell them you're going to go in and see a big fat slob of a woman. You wouldn't go in there and say, you're going to see a girl with no arms doing everything with her feet. [puts on his carnival voice] "You're going to see the armless wonder who does fantastic things right before your eyes using nothing but the tootsies on her feet."

Ms. TOMAINI: I don't know if it's a matter of they feel sympathy or if it's a matter of they feel superior because they're not that way, you know - there but for God go I, something like that - but people like it. They definitely like it. I think right now if I was shapelier, in better health and all and went on the sideshow with the same acts that we had, I think we would make a good living and earn good crowds. I really do.

Here is an excerpt from her obituary (Associated Press):

Although 2-foot-6 in stature, in spirit Mrs. Tomaini is remembered as a
giant - a matriarch who helped shape this tiny hamlet into an off-season
haven for circus workers.

Mrs. Tomaini never saw her disability as a stumbling

"Only if I meet a person who is morally, spiritually and physically
perfect will I ever hang my head in shame,'' she said. 

Jeanie doing a handstand, 1940 (Photo from the Tomaini Archives courtesy Judy Rock)

The Ringling Brothers Circus "Congress of Freaks"

(The Harry H. Laughlin Papers, Truman State University, Lantern Slides, Brown Box,1507)


Harperbury Baths

Main Entry: abandoned

Definition: left alone, deserted
Synonyms:   alone, cast aside, cast away, deserted, discarded, dissipated, dropped, dumped, eighty-sixed, eliminated, empty, forgotten, forsaken, given up, godforsaken, jilted, left, left in the cold, left in the lurch, neglected, on the rocks, outcast, passed up, pigeon-holed, rejected, relinquished, shunned, side-tracked, sidelined, unoccupied, vacant, vacated
Antonyms: adopted, cherished, defended, maintained, supported. 

sábado, 17 de abril de 2010

Victorian Post-Mortem photography


While we're on the subject of creepy Victorian era photography customs, lets talk about the trend of photographing the recently deceased for a kind of death album referred to as a "book of the dead." Also known as post-mortem photography.

Mourning is a strange thing, and different cultures deal with it in vastly different ways. But there's a reason people associate the Victorians above all with morbidity and death, and one of them is memento mori like this. 

Often the deceased would be propped up with wires and stands, and pupils were painted on the eyelids to give the illusion that they were merely resting, or still alive. They were then placed along side their still living relatives, siblings or loved ones for the photo. 

The effect is quite chilling, and tragic, although no doubt at the time they were supposed to bring some kind of comfort to those left behind, as a sort of timeless memento or tribute to the deceased. These photos were also extremely expensive, and often families would only have photos done for very significant events such as the birth of a new child, marriage or death.

Here are some examples. 

Similar to these was the Victorian Spirit Photography, where an actor would pose as the ghost of the deceased.

Apparently this trend started with a Boston engraver named William H. Mumler, whois said to have discovered ghostly images of individuals on a photograph he had taken of a colleague in 1862. Mumler, who had been casually experimenting with his camera at the time, claimed to have had little or no interest in spiritualism. 

The news of Mumler's discovery quickly spread around the world and shortly after Mumler started a business as a medium/photographer claiming he could call up deceased celebrities, strangers and family and friends of well-paying clients.

He charged ten dollars per photograph at a time when an average portrait cost merely pennies. Mumler's portrait sittings were like any other, a person would sit for their own picture expecting their deceased friend or relative, a spirit "extra," to appear not in the studio but in the negative and prints.