Popular American Amusements

Popular American AmusementsPopular American Amusements: Tourism, Bodies and Display in America 1769-1900

by Lena Reynoso "[Freaks] belong to the days before cinema and the radio, when a magic lantern could create a stir and urchins lurked at street corners to ambush anybody who was even slightly out of the ordinary." i This article explores early American amusements, notably Exhibitions, Fairs, and circuses, from 1769 through 1910. During this period, particularly during periods of social change, notions of wonder were deeply embedded in public discourse. During the greater part of the 19th century, Americans found entertainment in an array of amusements such as: theater, gaming, exhibitions, lectures, clubs, and horse racing; however, this paper examines the specific forms that involve the display of humans. The tendency towards narratives of wonder during the early American period can be seen as both shaping and reflecting early American notions of the ideal and normal. This chronological account examines the increase of travel and tourism, and the display of foreign, unusual, and disabled, bodies within the context of early American society. In the West, curiosity museums have been dated as far back as 1550, although they peaked in the 16th-17th centuries.[ii] In America, the beginning of curious displays spurred from the merging of two prominent groups. In 1769, the American Philosophical Society and the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge joined together to form The American Philosophical Society, held at Philadelphia, for promoting useful Knowledge (henceforth APS).[iii] This union was based on the premise of the "Advancement of useful Knowledge" and sought to improve American methods of industry and ingenuity.[iv] Much like the impetus for early folklore collectors, the APS focused on preservation. Curators, for example, were required to "take charge of, and preserve, all Specimens of natural Productions, whether of the ANIMAL, VEGETABLE or FOSSIL Kingdom; [and] all Models of Machines and Instruments..."[v] Early collections of unique and "exotic" items began as early as 1772 with a display of Native American Indian Snowshoes and blanket.[vi] During the early years of the APS, items were accumulated, not collected. Members of the Society, or the general public sent many of the unusual items in, to be examined by 'learned men', which eventually resulted in a significant accumulation of artifacts. The collection was severely neglected during the American Revolution and in 1789, when APS finally moved into a building of its own, there was an attempt to organize the acquisitions.[vii] By 1793, the APS became known as a "national museum, library and scientific academy"[viii] One of the most significant points I would like to draw on is the idea that Americans often felt a sense of inferiority towards Europe, particularly regarding museum formation. Greenhalgh writes, "The obsession with the authenticity of the object and the rationale for its collection in science, not in plunder, would soon encourage and justify the acquiring of objects from all over the world by Western museums."[ix] Bell notes that European guests often commented that American museums were frequently showing exhibits that not only deemed to be scientific but were also mere novelty and that the "museum appeared to many visitors to be only a meaningless and useless clutter."[x] The Society attempted to include more 'scientific' items, but a lack of space, curators, archiving techniques, and interest, resulted in a description of the American Philosophical Society Museum as "an old-fashioned eighteenth-century cabinet of undifferentiated curiosities."[xi] America was not only behind Europe in developing a strategy for organizing and developing museums, but also in the realm of tourism.[xii] Tourism had gained popularity in Europe by the 1790's, and travel, particularly among the English, to the scenic countryside seemed to permeate the desires of upper class Europeans.[xiii] America, on the other hand, suffered from poor roads, and a lack of convenient forms of transportation. Museums and exhibit halls seemed to offer a plentitude of opportunities for Americans to virtually 'travel' to distant and unfamiliar lands. Of these methods was Peale's "Transparent Perspective Views." These 'moving pictures' would allow a spectator to view the countryside at night, see an elegant building in the rain, or watch water cascade in motion down a water-wheel.[xiv] Other 'scenes', as in the American Museum, exhibited a forest view, complete with a "timid deer", "a crawling badger", "a grey American fox", and "flexible snakes". [xv] During this period, we see the introduction of automata in American Exhibits. Interestingly, the first "foreigners" exhibited in America often had no pulse. For example, an exhibition in 1790 advertises a "Speaking Figure...consisting of CHINESE and ITALIAN SHADES with the most elegant SCENES, Transparent SCENERY, and other Decorations adapted to different Pieces."[xvi] Americans did not begin manufacturing automata as frequent or as skilled as many of the French and German automata makers, and as a result, most of the traveling exhibits featured foreign machines. For example, the French automata acrobats of Mr. L'Aiftocrate were exhibited in Philadelphia in 1795 and the "Chinese Automaton Figure" performed "feats on the rope" in Rhode Island in 1796.[xvii] It is also important to note that the cost of attendance was usually between a quarter of a dollar and half a dollar, an enormous amount of money for the time. Most often, the mechanical exhibitions fetched a higher price than natural curiosities, and soon became known as "artificial curiosities." Although two sides of the same coin, the popularity of artificial curiosities was rivaled by nature, and by the end of the 18th century, fossils—particularly the mammoth, proved to be the most popular exhibits. Soon, however, Nationalism began to take its grip upon the people, and 'patriotic' items, such as locks of George Washington's hair or Scudder's Naval Panorama, which was shown in conjunction with the anniversary of American Independence, gained in popularity.[xviii] Charles W. Peale, for example, provided a host of amusements to satisfy both patriotic and scientific patrons, although his American Museum, formed in 1786, began with very few items: A war cap and cloak made of feathers, bark cloth, an East India Bow and Arrow, a Sea Feather, Porcupine Quill, among other relatively benign objects.[xix] Five years later he moved and expanded his museum to a wing of the APS hall and acted as curator and resident caretaker for the APS museum, and by 1804, Peale moved his museum next door to the State House and continued expanding his museum well into the 19th century.[xx] P.T. Barnum

P.T. Barnum

In 1793, seventeen years before the birth of the notorious circus proprietor P.T. Barnum, Americans in Philadelphia were treated to their first circus experience when John Bill Ricketts arrived on the scene from London with his "Equestrian Performance." Ricketts's circus took advantage of the current public interest in horsemanship and featured acrobats and skilled riders.[xxi] Animals, particularly exotic species, began captivating audiences, and by 1813 the first traveling menagerie traveled through New York.[xxii] Canvas tents were not used until 1825 and therefore semi-permanent structures were erected for various circus performances. Travel was often an arduous prospect and many of these 'arenas' were build in major towns simply because it was too difficult to carry large loads of building materials to smaller towns. While some museums such as William Clark's Museum (1816-1838) focused heavily on archeological artifacts,[xxiii] most others focused on scientific display. In 1810, John Scudder opened a museum of curiosities that would later become P.T. Barnum's American Museum. Even before the surge of science education into mainstream interests, Scudder's museum attempted to combine education and entertainment so that his museum appealed to a "liberal and enlightened public." A newspaper advertisement from the Evening Post praises this approach and reads; "To blend instruction with entertainment should be the object of every place of public entertainment; and in no place can the young mind be more benefited than at the [Scudder's] museum."[xxiv] Scudder expanded his collection, focusing mainly on zoological specimens and housed a variety of animals, as well as the peculiar curiosity, such as the bed curtains of Mary Queen of Scots.[xxv] We see the beginning of human displays on a larger scale after Scudder's death in 1821, when his son John Scudder Jr. took over the museum and "began to provide variety acts and freak shows" in order to encourage business, particularly away from Peale's museum.[xxvi] At this point, Americans were still looking to find entertainment in relatively close regions, but soon the invention of the electric motor in 1821, the construction of turnpikes, steamboats, the building of canals, and better roads allowed for the rapid growth of cities and eventually tourism on a larger scale.[xxvii] Canvas tents became the standard structure for housing large audiences— a design that allowed portability and convenience to traveling venues. It kept circuses moving into new towns and ultimately shortened the time a venue remained to as little as one day. Soon, even the smallest towns were visited by various circuses and entertainers and the public could choose between local and more distant amusements. In order to keep the public interested, advertising needed to 'catch the attention' of the American public, but fortunately, the first steam-powered presses appeared and decreased costs while increasing the size of the posters and distribution.[xxviii] Circuses increased in popularity and importance, as Roslyn Poignant writes, "Before the movies, the circus was probably the most influential instrument of mass culture in shaping public attitudes, through an extra-ordinary range of linked representational activities associated with publication and performance."[xxix] In 1830, the average American was sixteen years old, and as a result, popular forms of entertainment and amusement often corresponded with youthful activities.[xxx] It was not until the 1820's and 1830's that Americans began exploring natural wonders as tourist destinations. John Sears, for example, suggests that Americans turned to tourism and travel because it satiated the need to visit sacred, yet secular, places, and equally to establish a national culture (and identity) that was closely tied to nature.[xxxi] Those who visited these various attractions often referred themselves as "pilgrims," and visited tourist sites such as Niagara Falls, Mammoth Cave, The Connecticut and Hudson river valleys, the Willey House, Yosemite, as well as cemeteries, asylums, and parks.[xxxii] I would not like to suggest that tourism, in general, increased at this point. During the early years of the Republic, tourism existed as mostly endeavors to various museums and exhibitions in local towns or neighboring cities. The difference here involves extensive travel. The railroad became the standard choice of travel providing passengers with the option for long distance and overnight excursions, and later with the invention of the Pullman Sleeping Car, passengers could travel in further comfort. Tourists were now able to visit actual locations, instead of panoramas and painted images, although distance did not necessarily increase the validity of the site. It did, however, suggest an entirely different group of spectators. John Sears suggests that natural tourist destinations were non denominational and equally neither a male or female space, which contributed to the popularity of such destinations.[xxxiii] This is in direct contrast to the traveling circuses and exhibitions of the same period. Jack Larkin gives the following description, "The earliest American circus audiences were not, as they became much later, gatherings of families with excited children in tow, but adult and primarily male. The shows were clearly part of a masculine world whose boundaries were defined by liquor and the possibility of violence."[xxxiv] The masculinity factor was not simply found in seedy traveling entourages, but also in early fairs and expositions. The earliest exhibitions in the United States were usually centered on industrialization and progress (of machinery). One of the first major Expositions to be held in the United States, the American Institute Fair, was held annually in New York from 1829-1897. The American Institute Fair featured new and innovative American manufactured items and machines, as well as unique, pricey, and high quality items, which often invoked curiosity in those who could not afford such luxuries. Once again, the emphasis was placed on the attendance of men, and women were seen as an appendage. An advertisement in the New York Courier (1829) reads, "[t]he public generally were not permitted to enter [the American Institute Fair] without [tickets]. These were put at a low rate, 25 cents each, including any number of ladies, so as to afford every rank in society an opportunity to gratify their laudable curiosity."[xxxv] Eli Bowen

Eli Bowen

  The line between entertainment and education continued to provoke issues of morality, gender, and class. Until this point, educational establishments, and societies, catered mainly to men, but with the coming of science and the fusion of entertainment, new approaches had to be made. Peale, for example, "wanted his museum to appeal to all classes, the illiterate and the scholarly, adults as well as children, and both men and women. The motto of the museum, inscribed above the building's entrance, was "whoso would learn Wisdom, let him enter here!""[xxxvi] Peale's generous invitation to women and children may have been provoked by the period of reform (1830-1850) in the antebellum United States—a particular moment in history when women's rights, activism on all levels, and the need to secularize and embrace morality permeated American society. Education often justified hokum and even the most virtuous Americans could find legitimacy to their curiosity. The popularity of 'educational museums' did not remain tethered to the East coast, but grew as quickly as the Nation. Soon, western states, like Ohio, provided destinations that rivaled the East coast. The "Ohio Show-Stop" (1820-1867) in Cincinnati became a must-see destination in the mid-West. Perhaps some of the success of the Ohio Show-Stop is due to a prolific amount of wealthy and working class patrons. Andrea Dennett suggests that the Southern cities were "out of the museum loop" mainly because they were "part of a slave-oriented culture, [and] they did not have the thriving working-class population needed to support the dime museum industry."[xxxvii] Harking back to an era of refinement and the genteel, the early 19th century eventually experienced a rise of middle class. Organizing the displays remained a problem, as there was realistically no obvious way to arrange displays of human abnormalities and unknown curiosities. As a result, both dead and living objects were 'scientifically' (arbitrarily) organized by a vast range of methods (although some more subjective than others) such as: size, temporal, regional, cross-cultural, or specific medical conditions. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimlett writes, "Nineteenth-century advocates of scientific approaches to museum exhibition complained repeatedly about collections of curiosities that were displayed without systematic arrangement."[xxxviii] The Ohio-Show Stop attempted to correct previous conceptions regarding half-hazard organization and announced a "greater variety of specimens, a neater and more classical arrangement of curiosities than any institution of its kind and age in the United States."[xxxix] Kirshenblatt-Gimlett warns us that "There is danger that theatrical spectacle will displace scientific seriousness, that the artifice of the installation will overwhelm ethnographic artifact and curatorial intention."[xl] Yet, the "public apathy toward non-dramatic scientific exhibits [at the Ohio-Show Stop]" was cured when Dorfeuille took over the museum in 1823, which became known as "the age of hokum."[xli] The early 19th century exhibits were soon complicated by 'innovation and novelty'[xlii], and new forms, such as waxworks, gained popularity, although not without criticism.[xliii] Dorfeuille quickly took advantage, and at the peak of the wax craze, he established his "Chamber of Horrors"[xliv] and said his acquisitions must "excite the emotions, not titillate the intellect."[xlv] Grotesque life sized wax figures were displayed in models of Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Milton's "Paradise Lost", and the Museum of "The Regions" featured images of Dante's Purgatory.[xlvi] Mythical images of heaven and hell were juxtaposed with displays of 'Sleeping Beauty'[xlvii], but perhaps because of the clergy's interest in using the depictions of hell for religious justification, the more grotesque and frightening displays were most successful. Essentially, these spectacles were subjected to the same processes and audience reception as the living displays, and those, like Susan Stewart, would argue that it does not matter whether the spectacle is dead or alive.[xlviii] In many cases, wax figures, or mannequins, were preferred even when living people were available. For example, in 1876 at the first official World's Fair, in Philadelphia, wax Indians were preferred over living people, perhaps making it easier to show inanimate figures as "immoral savages."[xlix] Expositions became 'refined' extensions of the early traveling shows. Hinsely, for example, refers to expositions as "carnivals of the industrial age."[l] 'Cabinets of curiosities' transformed into 'dime museums', and entertainment became the goal rather than purely education. Dime museums offered an "inexpensive and unrestricted admission policy [which] made them accessible to the masses, and their popularity grew explosively from 1860 to 1900."[li] Phineas T. Barnum was, perhaps, the greatest contributor and innovator of the Dime Museum. In 1841, he emerged with his American Museum—featuring anatomically correct wax figures, beasts, and freaks. Barnum developed a threefold plan for a successful museum, which involved, creating a safe environment for women and children, consistently changing the exhibits, and promoting the museum as an educational experience.[lii] In a time when working class issues were percolating, Barnum's museum "offered multiple attractions that promised to educate and uplift, as well as entertain, its middle-and working-class clientele."[liii] The days of renting small storefronts and buildings for exhibitions were coming to an end and curators were beginning to open permanent and more elaborate institutions. Sideshows were often considered bawdy and crude compared to the new impressive museums, and most Americans preferred to transform themselves into upper class patrons. Lambert describes these museums as "generally three or four stories in height.[liv] The first floor was a regular Variety Theater, second floor a conglomeration of curios from all parts of the world and curiosities of natural history, freaks, etc., third floor performing freaks, novelties, stuffed birds, etc., fourth floor wild and tame stuffed animals and games of chance..." Lambert later writes, "The [curio] halls of the museums was a place for the publicity and exhibition of anything in the world that was curious, novel, scientific or entertaining. There were freaks of human nature and of the animal kingdom, especially; monstrosities of all kinds. The more blood curdling, barbarous and repulsive were the freaks the more eager they were to exhibit them."[lv] We must remember that what Lambert calls attention to is really the notion of normality. The most popular exhibits were more than the curious display of random objects, including humans, and it was the fact these objects were not 'normal' that captured the fascination of the American public. Baynton suggests that the modern concept of normality came about in the nineteenth century and that during this period "...the concept of natural was to a great extent displaced or subsumed by the concept of normality."[lvi] These exhibits and sideshows were quick to display abnormal (or unusual) bodies, which as a result, ultimately defined normality. The question of authenticity was always associated with notions of modernization and science. Even vain attempts at displaying individuals as sub-human were frequently coupled with a normalizing factor. Charles Dickens, who was captivated with the Bushmen in Egyptian Hall in 1847, suggested that what makes the Bushmen human is not their ability to hunt but their ability to mime the hunt.[lvii] For Dickens, it was their ability to act or represent an action that transformed them from 'grim, stunted, abject Bush-people' to humans.[lviii] Early freakshows of the 1830's and 1840's were essentially a form of "traveling museum."[lix] These traveling shows were often very small in company and were comprised of individuals who were regularly exhibited in museums. Museums and curio halls, most notably P.T. Barnum's American Museum, often provided a place for human attractions to work during the winter season.[lx] These performers were often labeled as: monsters, wonders, curiosities, freaks, savages, exotics, human anomalies, abnormalities, human oddities, or primitives. In the 19th century, the curtain may have been pulled off the once mysterious mythological explanations for these oddities, but it was just as quickly cloaked by the mysteries of medical terminology. Pamphlets, posters and photographs of these individuals were accompanied with lengthy, detailed, and often bogus, descriptions of their medical ailments. These scientific descriptions were often riddled with medical jargon and ridiculous explanations, but, nonetheless, managed to once again discreetly mystify the public. The science of physiognomy, or the act of judging human character from facial features, was popularized in the early 19th century with the invention of the Physiognotrace (invented in 1803) and was yet another way to allow notions of racial (and bodily) superiority.[lxi] Souvenir pamphlets were offered to the public after the (side) show or exhibit, and with the payment of a coin, visitors were provided with a glimpse of esoteric knowledge regarding the human display. These pamphlets contained extravagant life stories of these individuals, provided scientific explanations for various maladies, and placed the spectator in an intellectually and physically superior light. Poignant reminds us that these living exhibits and their show-space "became a site where science and popular culture were entangled, and where a potent mix of stereotypic ideas about race was brewed."[lxii] Science and anthropology were shaping the "the discourse about the differences between human types, ranking them on a ladder of cultural stages that placed the hunter-gather societies like the 'Patagonians, Eskimos, Bushmen, Veddas, Laplanders, Australians' at the lowest level of human development."[lxiii] Cassuto harks back to a time when American race relations were beginning to divide, and suggests "it was this racially divided American society of the 1840's that nurtured the freak show, which quickly took root and thrived in its troubled soil."[lxiv] Once the seeds of unrest were laid, the success of promoting racially inferior peoples became undeniably related to the introduction of 'scientific knowledge' to the people. Although the interest in "exotic living curiosities from overseas" occurred in the early 1840's, it was the influential arrival of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species (1859), which aroused a certain interest in the quest to find the "missing link." Such an example was a young girl from the Australian Palm Islands who was billed as the "missing link" and went by the name "the Ape Girl", "Princess Tagarah" and "Sussy.[lxv] Julia Pastrana, a Mexican Indian woman whose body was covered with "thick black hair" was first exhibited in New York's Gothic Hall in 1854 and remained such an object of both wonder and curiosity, her embalmed body (along with her child) was displayed from 1860-1993.[lxvi] Rosemarie Garland-Thomson notes how her body "radically violated expectations of how human beings should appear" and visibly illustrated the "discursive shift from prodigy to pathology."[lxvii] Teratology was also a growing trend, and with it came depictions of humans with abnormalities as creations of God rather than the monsters of early mythology.[lxviii] This of course, further roused the curiosity of those seeking to understand nonstandard bodies on a more spiritual level. Human displays of unique, abnormal, or medically intriguing qualities were gaining momentum in the wake of scientific discovery and Peale, although fascinated by the natural sciences, realized the growing popularity of curious human objects and featured an albino, but was heavily criticized for the 'frivolous attention' his exhibit brought.[lxix] Peale's Museum continued to focus on curious exhibits of nature, but with increasing rent, administrative problems, and the death of Peale, the museum began to take a more entertaining turn and eventually went bankrupt. [lxx] Greenhalgh suggests there was an intellectual shift due to the acceptance of anthropology as a discipline in the late 19th century, which permitted expositions to focus on human display.[lxxi] From 1861-1865, the Civil War appeared to have little effect on the types of leisure amusements Americans indulged in, particularly in the South.[lxxii] The War did, however, effect issues such as theater ticket prices and allowed for the popular support of secular amusements.[lxxiii] Barnum's New American Museum was destroyed by fire in 1865, the same year President Lincoln was assassinated and the Civil War ended. The American interest remained focused on science and globalization, and Barnum quickly rebuilt a New American Museum—ironically it was also ravaged by fire in 1868.[lxxiv] By 1868, the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect for only 5 years, and a nation without slavery was new to the American public. The Nation was experiencing radical changes as new states were admitted into the colony, labor laws were gaining momentum, and ideas of communism began mounting. American newspapers attempted to paint communists into a shady corner of the American imagination—in a space of alarm and contempt. For example, Communists in Chicago were said to have "[secretly] provided themselves with arms and ammunition", while communist supporters in New York were said to "enter no more warlike expedition than a picnic." [lxxv] By the 1870's, issues of labor, wages, and immigration had entered public conversation. The Depression of 1873-1878 resulted in distress and discontent in the United States[lxxvi], and as a result left a heavy impression on the American public. In 1877, during the peak of the Depression, the statute of California gave the commissioner of immigration the authority to refuse entry to any immigrant who appears to be a "lunatic, idiotic, deaf, dumb, blind, crippled, or infirm, and is not accompanied by relatives who are able and willing to support him, or is likely to become a public charge, or has been a pauper in any other country, or is, from sickness or disease, existing either at the time of sailing from the port of departure, or at the time of his arrival in the state, a public charge, or likely soon to become so, or is a convicted criminal, or a lewd or debauched woman:" In addition, any person who was to pay a bond to allow entry to such a person had to take full responsibility for expenses "incurred for the relief, support, or care of such persons for two years thereafter."[lxxvii] While these criteria for entry are indeed nebulous, they provide a glimpse into the blatant racism that occurred when people from 'exotic' lands arrived on the shores of America. These laws made it extremely difficult for those with disabilities, or diseases that caused physical abnormalities, to enter the United States. Immigrants from Asia or the Middle East were particularly targeted, and often operated with a different criterion than those from the West. Because of the burden of responsibility and finances, it was often only those who would become human displays under the 'care' of wealthy showmen like P.T. Barnum and Hagenbeck, that managed to make it ashore. After the destruction of both American Museums, P.T. Barnum took his show on the road in 1871 and teamed up with James Baily, continuing his wildly successful collection of human acts ('freaks') with the traveling circus).[lxxviii] In a move that mimics biblical stories of Noah's Ark, P.T. Barnum developed the Ethnological Congress of Barbarous and Savage Tribes and urged American consuls, and anthropological institutions, to bring back "a collection, in pairs or otherwise, of all the uncivilized races in existence...to astonish, interest and instruct [the American public]."[lxxix] The exotic spectacle was portrayed as a vestigial entity of a time past, and the entrance to this temporal space was often the payment of a coin. Once inside, the spectator fell prey to the images inside, and these exoticized individuals were often displayed among a group of people with various physical abnormalities. Barnum's request for pairs of 'uncivilized races' was accompanied by the request for "those who possess extraordinary peculiarities such as giants, dwarfs, singular disfigurements of the person, dexterity in the use of weapons, dancing, singing, juggling, unusual feats of strength or agility etc."[lxxx] But "freaks"[lxxxi], "hideous tribes"[lxxxii], and "100 superstitious, Idolatrous, Pagan-Worshipping Heathens"[lxxxiii] were also shown alongside those with mental disabilities. This peculiar union of individuals clearly insinuated a forced relationship that has been cultivated by stereotypes and propagated by sideshows and exhibitions. Bogdan, for example, suggests that freaks are either aggrandized or exoticized, and Poignant writes, "Barnum was not alone in propagating the idea that geographical marginality equated with the social marginality of the physically and mentally impaired...Not only were the congenitally impaired shown together with the exotic indigenous, the latter were described in the language of impairment—as 'deformed', with 'distorted' features, and lacking proper speech."[lxxxiv] In most cases, unusual individuals from distant lands proved to be the most successfully commodified. Their act could be billed as both unique and exotic—doubling the curiosity factor. Stewart writes, "We may find the freak inextricably tied to the cultural other..."[lxxxv] Greenhalgh gives an exact period, 1889-1914, where exhibitions showcased humans all over the world and writes, "[in this period] objects were seen to be less interesting than human beings, and through the medium of display, humans were transformed into objects."[lxxxvi]      Cheng and Eng (May 11, 1811-January 17, 1874), perhaps the most popular example of this, were the original 'Siamese Twins'. Born in Siam (now Thailand), King Rama II sentenced them to death in fear they were an omen of disaster. But after a lack of adversity, they were allowed to live and eventually came to America (1829) to exhibit their bodies for money. Besides exhibiting humans, Barnum was famous for his enormous panoramas that allowed visitors to virtually enter a scene, and his "illusions" were said to be "perfect."[lxxxvii] The concept of the panorama continued to evolve and incorporated 'scenes' with live humans. We should view these performances as installations or displays, despite the absence of a museum. Much like the earlier panoramas, these shows were frequently billed as travel experiences and featured images of exotic and distant lands. Usually, the visitor stood on the edge of a pier, or in a position, which revealed the entire display—including exotic human inhabitants performing 'daily tasks'. These displays offered the American public a chance to 'travel' to exotic lands, hear 'scientific' lectures, and most importantly, become 'authentic' cosmopolitans. The tourist, and his/her expectations became embodied in the experience. Peter Jackson comments on the 'thorny' question of 'authenticity' while suggesting, "tourists seek an 'authentic' experience of other places[lxxxviii], even when they know such authenticity to have been 'staged' specifically for their benefit[lxxxix], or where a new generation of 'post-tourists' may actually delight in inauthenticity, willingly suspending disbelief for the temporary enjoyment of the 'exotic'."[xc] When souvenirs were involved, and they usually were, it did not matter whether the tourist was a local, or someone who traveled a great distance. Americans wanted proof of their educational, grotesque, or fascinating experience. After a show, there was often the opportunity to purchase a small inexpensive souvenir. The old 'pamphlets' were shortened to fit on a postcard sized paper and with a photograph on one side and a "story" on the other. These souvenirs became known as "pitchards". Pitchards were often the main source of income for many of the performers, mostly benefiting from the fads of the times. During this period, it has been noted that Americans suffered from "a compulsion to collect photographs", and freaks were among the favored subjects.[xci] One could almost always find a photo album on the coffee table of a Victorian home, and in the pages, one would most likely find a collection of various human prodigies.[xcii] Very early (12th century) displays of the grotesque body were often attributed to a mythical origin, and even a limited number of 19th century American sideshows advertised (although frequently unsuccessfully) freaks as marvelous mythical beings.[xciii] For example, Thompson suggests that it was "the wondrous monsters of antiquity who became the fascinating freaks of the nineteenth century."[xciv] These human displays were often shown in close proximity to various animals in order to establish imaginary and wondrous notions of a new (or old) human species.[xcv] As quickly as scientific explanations dominated the discussion of the human display, narratives of freaks shifted once again towards the marvelous. The life stories that once permeated small packets of paper were often centered on the loose yet implied connection to mythical figures. When describing the 'acts' of the sideshow freaks, Fiedler writes, "at the very least, [the freaks] move about, gimping, hopping, waddling, as they tell some half-legendary version of their origin and fate."[xcvi] These grand allusions to mythical ancestry often acted as a way to captivate the audience and to reassure their own humanity to the viewing public. Those on display often autographed personal notes on these souvenirs which often attempted to show them as an 'able body', while the photograph itself almost always exaggerated and accentuated the individuals abnormality (or disability) by either juxtaposing them with extreme opposites or by placing them in costume and scenery that exemplified their 'stage character.' In addition, the living exhibits were often shown as a nuclear family. In one photograph, Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren (both little people) were shown posing with a baby (without any abnormalities) in order to emulate the nuclear family.[xcvii] Hinsely tells us of a photograph featuring the newborn Arab boy (born at the Chicago exposition), which was exceptionally popular because of the representation of the nuclear family.[xcviii] The life stories of the performer did not always have, to use Charlotte Linde's term, a high 'reportability.' Linde suggests that one of the criteria for including a story one's life story is that it contains an event that is unusual, but in the case of 'commodified otherness', the events described could be seen as 'unusual' only in regards to their physical abnormality or talent.[xcix] By the 1880's even prestigious photography studios specialized in photographing human oddities.[c] These photographs were often altered and exaggerated either directly on the photograph or by adding props. Sometimes costumes were peculiarly fabricated as in the example of three Australian Aboriginals dressed in clothes that were "much finer than would have been worn customarily."[ci] Also Lionel "The Lion Faced Boy" (sometimes the "dog faced boy") was frequently shown wearing a "upper-class or even aristocratic clothing in stately and educated poses."[cii] Even the "Wild Men of Borneo were shown, at times, in the 'civilizing process' wearing strange costumes and standing in particularly rehearsed (Western) poses. The Rousseauean myth of the 'noble savage' or the 'all knowing' was shattered and pieced together as these individuals were simultaneously displayed as 'headhunters' as well as family orientated individuals (who also were subjected to the daily grind of performing household chores, raising a family, obtaining food, etc). With a glimpse of humanity in these individuals, one could witness hope in 'civilizing' them. And with this hope, came the possibility of staid public interest, more ticket sales, and the spectator's own conjecture regarding when the spectacle would transform and for how long the spectacle would remain a 'savage'. Sometimes, this 'transformation' would deliberately be made visible to the public. For example, the 'Missing Link', or 'Ape Girl' was photographed adorned in a 'primitive' leather costume, leaning casually against a wooden prop imbedded with 'jungle' foliage, standing before a painted backdrop of a Western countryside, and wearing Western boots.[ciii] The late 19th century was a time of prolific and blatant racism, although it was commonly disguised as a scientific reality. It is difficult to realize the viewpoint of individuals that comprised the lower class, poor, and slave communities, as much material is not written from their perspective.[civ] We can, however, understand the impetus behind the depiction of these peoples. Patricia Click reminds us that American amusements, "provided important outlets for social intercourse; consequently, issues of democracy, social status, cultural control, class division, and respectability were inextricably intertwined with the ongoing arguments about the propriety of amusement."[cv] The reference to 'savage', 'primitive', and/or 'cannibal' was closely tied to the notion of disability, and any person of color was subjected to this conjecture. These individuals were exhibited as deficient and incapable, and their inability to adapt to American culture was often a justification for their lack of ability. Some of the largest and most revealing billings in this period are: the "Bestial Australian Cannibals", the "Ferocious Zulus", the "Wild Men of Borneo", and the "Pigmy Earthmen."[cvi] Spectators could marvel at their own capabilities and advancement, yet ironically, in circuses, and to some degree in exhibit halls, these "uncivilized" individuals were shown as possessing abilities far beyond the average American. They could perform complex dances, play instruments with great skill, speak multiple languages, and throw boomerangs with precision. In fact, Americans were compelled to learn these feats, and a boomerang craze, for example, swept the nation with one toy company selling 11,000 boomerangs in 1888.[cvii] Dime Museums continued to grow in abundance until they peaked in the 1880's and 1890's. Expositions, Dime Museums, and circuses provided a place for men, women, and children to frequent. Although, small traveling venues and sideshows were still predominantly for men, mainly due to the 'exotic' and 'erotic' nature of many shows. Even in the most 'scientific' displays, females were depicted as highly sexualized. Saartjie Baartmann (the 'Hottentot Venus'), and Zalumma Agra (the 'Circassian Beauty') were often depicted as abnormally risqu'e for the Victorian period. The latter, for example, is said to resemble "the embodiment of white racial purity, as a kind of counternarrative to the black exoticism represented by other show types. At the same time, her specially frizzed hair and provocative clothing signaled her own exotic sexuality."[cviii] And later, Poignant notes "that this racialist fantasy..claimed its 'scientific' authority from Professor Friedrich Blumenbach's designation of the white races as Caucasian."[cix] Spectators were shown what they wanted to see—what they expected to see. The spectators did not expect to confront notions of modernity, disability, or sexuality when they entered these spaces, nor did they realize they were always in dialog with these issues. Visitors employed scientific claims with authority, and as a result science was accepted as authoritative. This new knowledge transformed the meaning of 'authenticity' from that of traditional to that of scientific validity. If an act could be 'scientifically' proven to be true, then it was authentic, and subsequently, 'scientific' and 'authentic' were used interchangeably. There was no longer a need to truly prove the legitimacy of a 'wild' tribe of men, and in fact, most of the 'savages' were simply, "[l]ocals dressed in outrageous costumes and portrayed as authentic representatives of exotic non-Western tribes."[cx] The 19th century is often considered to be "a period of significant mobilization against working-class profane and disorderly conduct."[cxi] We can see this in a number of instances, including the 1886 Haymarket Labor Riots and the 1894 Pullman Strike[cxii], both in Chicago. In order to show that Chicago had, literally, risen out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871, and less overtly to show a certain degree of normality had returned to the city, the 1893 Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago. But even the Exposition was not free from the turmoil of labor issues and political unrest as the mayor of Chicago, Carter Harrison, was murdered in the parlor of his home on the closing night of America's second World's Fair.[cxiii] France and Britain were at the forefront of human displays, but America soon caught up. The American Exhibitions, like the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, claimed the purpose of the villages were strictly educational. Animal trainer Carl Hagenbeck was considered the originator of exhibiting foreign peoples, and by 1890, one of the principal traditions of exhibiting foreign 'others' involved claims of ethnographic authenticity.[cxiv] The science of ethnology was gaining popularity in the mid 19th century, and by the early 20th century Franz Boas introduced cultural relativism, which consequently slowly began to erode these earlier notions of primitive cultures.[cxv] In the same year that Barnum died, 1891, Boas and Putnam began organizing anthropological human displays for the upcoming Chicago Exposition. The resulting exposition displayed Native Americans as a "primitive foreign race" while any person of color was denied any part in the Fair.[cxvi] The Fair also depicted 'primitives' as both mundane and sensational. Kirshenblatt-Gimlett provides us with a comical example of displaying the 'normal' acts of 'abnormal' individuals in a cartoon from the Chicago Sunday Herald, 17 September 1893, which reads "Great Excitement—Indian Lady Throwing Out Bathwater".[cxvii] These depictions were meant to give the spectator a sense of knowledge (provided by the management), superiority, and power over their own situation. The spectator could leave with their moral values and way of living (i.e. capitalism) in tact, while recognizing their new appreciation for the advancement of science and education. These displays were often in situ, a notion that "entails metonymy and mimesis: the object is a part that stands in a contiguous relation to an absent whole that mayor may not be re-created," while simultaneously attempting to be in context.[cxviii] Humans were organized in context in an attempt to provide a logical evolution. It became easier to 'organize' foreign individuals that were displayed for their unique physical attributes—usually (falsely) glorified as cannibals, because families were often brought to America to be displayed in groups.[cxix] It was not enough to show a single 'savage' in a show, but the goal (for those like Barnum) was to show a recreation of a 'normal' cannibal (or billed likewise) village. Families and villages from averaging from 50-200 people would be transported to these exhibition villages, given food and clothes, and would live for six months on the site of the exposition.[cxx] The display of the Dahomeyan Villagers in the Columbian Exposition (1893) was one of the largest groups to be transplanted to the United States and displayed as "savages" .[cxxi] In fact, during the late 19th century, the organization of villages on the midway in World's Fairs and Expositions held in America were calculated attempts at demonstrating Darwinian theory.    


[i] Disher, M. Willson, Fairs, Circuses and Music Halls (London 1942), 19. [ii] Alexander, Edward P. Museums In Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. (Tennessee, 1979), 41. [iii] Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society" p. 3. In Whitehill, Walter Muir. Cabinet of curiosities: five episodes in the Revolution of American museums. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia [1967]. [iv] Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 1. (Jan.1, 1769-Jan.1, 1771), p. iii [v] Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 1. (Jan.1, 1769-Jan.1, 1771), p. x. emphasis in original. [vi] Presented by James Dickinson. See Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society" In Whitehill, Walter Muir. Cabinet of curiosities: five episodes in the Revolution of American museums. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia [1967], 5. [vii] Until 1789, the Philosophical Society had no official meeting place and often met in a hodgepodge fashion, renting various rooms and locations. Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society" In Whitehill, Walter Muir. Cabinet of curiosities: five episodes in the Revolution of American museums. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia [1967], 7. [viii] Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society". In Whitehill, Walter Muir. Cabinet of curiosities: five episodes in the Revolution of American museums. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia [1967], 8. [ix] Greenhalgh, Paul. Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World's Fairs, 1851-1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988, 88. [x] Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society". In Whitehill, Walter Muir. Cabinet of curiosities: five episodes in the Revolution of American museums. Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia [1967], 21-22. [xi] Bell, Whitfield J. "The Cabinet of the American Philosophical Society". In Whitehill, Walte
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