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The links are to corresponding pages at for convenient purchase. Some of these books are out of print, but has used copies of many of them for sale. You may also be able to find used copies at

American Sideshow:
An Encyclopedia of History's Most Wondrous and Curiously Strange Performers

by Marc Hartzman

Marc Hartzman has undertaken an ambitious project: a chronicle of those showfolks who performed in American sideshows from circa 1830 to the present. Starting with the golden era under P.T. Barnum, Hartzman gives the reader brief biographical introductions to these unusual performers. Hartzman's prose offers a good humored look at the place where truth and hype converge. The text is accompanied by rare photographs from the author's and other collections (including that of yours truly). The short, the tall, the fat, the tattooed, the conjoined, the hirsute, the limbless: they're all here to discover inside Hartzman's tent.

James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed!
On & Off the Midway

by James Taylor and Kathleen Kotcher

Finally, those who have been outbid on eBay while trying to acquire the long out-of-print early issues of James Taylor's magazine devoted to all things sideshow can read many of the fascinating articles collected in this book, which acts as a sort of Shocked and Amazed greatest hits collection. Over 250 pages of memories, history and humbug straight from the carnies' mouths are compiled in one handy volume, generously illustrated with photographs.

One can only hope this will be the first in a series of volumes collecting articles from the fabulous magazine.

The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection:
Medical Photographs from Japan Around 1900

edited by Akimitsu Naruyama

This collection of photographs is remarkable for several reasons: 1) the photos document the final stages of horrendous diseases (many of which are rarely seen these days); 2) the images are portraits of real individuals in great pain, but presented with stoic dignity; 3) it provides an insight into the remarkable level of surgical skill at work in Meiji-era Japan; and 4) the very survival of these photographs at all is something of a miracle when you consider they were sitting near ground zero when the American atom bomb exploded over Hiroshima.

Truly, this is not a volume for the squeamish. In these pages one finds a startling array of diseases, from smallpox to the bacterial infections that ravished faces and limbs. Tumors, conjoined twins and leprosy each receive equal billing, and with often startling clarity. Also here are the before-and-after shots where one sees how Japanese surgeons excised tumors or reconstructed a missing nose, which is especially poignant when one considers the very rudimentary level of sterility and anesthesia available at the time.

One can't help but be moved by these documents of human suffering and triumph, and then thank one's lucky stars that they live in an era of modern antibiotics.

Seeing Is Believing: America's Side Shows
by A. W. Stencell

The author of Girl Show (see review below) has provided a sequel to that loving tribute to bump and grind shows. This volume covers the variety of sideshow entertainments to be found on North American midways from the nineteenth century to the present day. Motordromes, miniature mechanical villages, racing monkeys — all that and more are discussed in minute detail.

James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed!
On & Off the Midway
edited by James Taylor and Kathleen Kotcher

Published not nearly as often as its hordes of rabid fans would like, this journal is the premier source for information about sideshow and showfolks. Each issue features interviews and articles about sideshow performers, promoters and history — straight from the midway to your mitts. The most recent issue, Volume 9, was released in November 2007 — and features a ton of illustrations by yours truly. Buy a copy today, and get one for a friend!

See for more information.

Wild, Weird, and Wonderful:
The American Circus Circa 1910 as seen by F. W. Glasier

by Mark Sloan

Professional portrait photographer Fred Whitman Glasier maintained a studio in Brockton, Massachusetts. Glasier never traveled with a circus, but he did document every show that came through his neck of the woods during the first quarter of the twentieth century. Glasier became acquainted with many famous showmen, and provided promotional photographs for both the circuses and individual performers. Glasier's work evokes a relaxed elegance missing from the work of many previous photographers, and for that reason he is now considered among the finest circus photographers of all time.

Glasier's original glass plate negatives have been beautifully reprinted in this volume, allowing one to see the scope of his circus work, and occasionally gain an insight into his working methods when notes and cropping marks have been preserved. As a document of the traveling circus at a particular point in time, this book is unrivaled.

Circus historian Timothy Tegge provides a brief foreword discussing the origins of the American circus. Author Mark Sloan provides background information on the people and places depicted in Glasier's beautiful photographs.

The Mütter Museum
by Gretchen Worden

I have long been a fan and frequent visitor to the Mütter Museum, and the items in its collection have served and continue to serve as inspiration for my work. The late Gretchen Worden (1947 - 2004) was most generous in allowing me access to some of the 'behind the scenes' items I am delighted to find included in this book. Anyone who has come across one of the famous Mütter Museum calendars will be familiar with the beautiful photographs from the likes of Rosamond Wolff Purcell, Joel-Peter Witkin, Max Aquilera-Hellweg, etc. — and if not, this is the ideal opportunity to experience them. However, for me it is the archival photos from the bowels (ahem!) of the Mütter's storage rooms that are the real treasures here - many of which have never been published before. In spite of their generally more clinical nature, these photographs of patients and odd medical conditions often achieve a level of artistry equal to the efforts of the featured contemporary photographers.

The images are complemented by an engaging preface and essay by Ms. Worden, which discuss not only the reasons why artists are drawn to the Mütter's collections, but also how these 'pathological treasures' came together under the roof of the College of Physicians.

The Last Sideshow
by Hanspeter Schneider, with an essay by Peter Schardt

What happens when a German fashion photographer stumbles into Gibsonton, Florida? Interesting photographic portraits of showfolks at home in their natural surroundings result — perhaps more a portrait of Gibsonton itself. Little Pete Terhurne (on the cover), Ward Hall, Jeanie the Half-girl, and a host of other residents of 'Showtown, USA' stood before Schneider's camera.

Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls:
Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway

by Randy Johnson, Jim Secreto and Teddy Varndell, with contributions from others

Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls is an overview of the gaudy advertising nurtured and developed on American fair grounds to convince patrons to spend their hard earned nicker on the often dubious attractions inside the tent. Banner painting developed its own vernacular and traditions over the years, and the material presented here runs the gamut from the naive to the highly sophisticated. The illustrations are accompanied by essays on various aspects of sideshow culture, but what I find the most interesting are the firsthand accounts provided by banner painter and performer Johnny Meah.

[Note: My copy of this book is from the original 1996 Hardy Marks pressing, but the title was reprinted in 2005 by a different publisher. I haven't seen the new version yet, so I'm not sure whether the content has been updated from the original.]

Step Right This way:
The Photographs of Edward J. Kelty

by Miles Barth and Alan Siegel, with an essay by Edward Hoagland

Shortly after end of the 1st World War, Edward Kelty opened his Century Flashlight Photographers studio in midtown Manhattan. Working with large format cameras, Kelty specialized in photographing large groups at banquets and other such gatherings. In the summer of 1921, shortly after the subway was extended to Coney Island, Kelty began to frequent the shows and photograph the performers of the seaside resort. He became fascinated by the world of the circus and sideshow and began to travel with several companies, shooting documentary and promotional photographs of the performers along the way. His photographs — sometimes featuring thousands of individuals in a single shot — are invaluable and iconographic documents of the golden age of the traveling shows. The photographs are wonderful relics of this lost period of American popular entertainment.

Where this book falls short is in the accompanying text, which does little to further enlighten the reader. Captions are minimal, often just repeating the information that Kelty himself inscribed on the negative; but the point of the book is the photographs, which often speak for themselves.

The Munchkins of Oz
by Stephen Cox

In November of 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios gathered together approximately 130 little people from all over the United States to act as Munchkins in a production of The Wizard of Oz. For many of the little actors — some of whom were pros in traveling midget reviews, and some of whom had never been away from home before — this was just another job, at best a few weeks of pleasant diversion from their usual routines. No one knew at the time that they would be part of one of history's best loved motion pictures, an icon of popular culture. Most of the little actors were not even listed in the film's credits, and few even knew their names.

Stephen Cox pays homage to these little people, and reconstructs what went on during and after the filming of The Wizard of Oz, finally giving these performers their due recognition. More than thirty surviving Munchkins provided interviews and shared their personal stories with the author. The text is complemented by numerous photographs of the Munchkins during the film's production and in their later years.

Lord Minimus:
The Extraordinary Life of Britain's Smallest Man

by Nick Page

Jeffrey Hudson, born into a butcher's family in 1619, was elevated — through introduction by the Duke of Buckingham — to court dwarf of Charles I's queen, Henrietta Maria. In service of his queen, Hudson undertook several missions to the continent on her behalf. He was appointed a captain of horse during the English civil wars, and had his portrait painted by several artists, including no less a luminary than Anthony Van Dyke. As if that wasn't enough, Jeffrey was captured by pirates — on two separate occasions. Following the latter incident, he was sold into slavery to the Turks, but afterwards ransomed and allowed to return to England — where he was unfortunately and erroneously implicated in a faux plot against Charles II and spent some time in prison before being vindicated.

That's quite a lot to happen to anyone, let alone someone only about three feet tall. Hudson's life, the stuff of legends, is here recounted and reconstructed from a surprisingly sparse historical record. Though the author does his best to narrate and detail a compelling story, he frequently falls prey to hyperbolic exaggeration, repetition, tedious foreshadowing, and speculation; but, for all that, this is still a fascinating and accessible insight into one of the most unusual characters in English history.

Human Freaks in America's Gilded Age

by Michael Mitchell

Devoted to the work of Victorian-era Bowery photographer Charles Eisenmann, this book is a reprinting of an edition published under a different title in the 1970's. Having never seen the earlier edition I can't compare the two, but this one (put out by ECW Press) contains a number of essays about Eisenmann's working methods, Victorian photographic conventions, etc., and 87 plates accompanied by biographies of the performers depicted, except in the case of several unknown individuals.

I applaud Mr. Mitchell and ECW Press for reviving this project, but I wish the book were better researched and included a wider range of Eisenmann's work. The photographs are quite nicely reproduced and exceptionally clear. But I wonder why — out of a collection numbering 500 images — some of these photos merited inclusion and others did not. The author includes multiple images of some performers when a single example would have sufficed. Sometimes less is more, and deleting the extraneous shots would have allowed for inclusion of more interesting subjects.

I guess we'll have to wait for someone else to publish a definitive catalogue of Chas. Eisenmann's freak portraits. In the meantime, this book is very much worth owning, despite my reservations.

In the Little World:
A True Story of Dwarfs, Love, and Trouble

by John H. Richardson

This book grew out of a magazine article Richardson published in Esquire after attending a Little People of America (LPA) convention in 1997. That article caused an uproar in the dwarf community, many of whom accused the author of unfairly exploiting them and presenting little people and LPA in an unflattering and sensationalized manner. Over the course of two years, the author became more personally involved in the lives of several dwarfs, and found himself wrapped up in an entire spectrum of intense human emotion experienced through the narrow filter of 'the little world'. The author attempts to come to terms with his own feelings of otherness and examines his own and others' conceptions of beauty. The resulting narrative is very honest, often funny, and engaging.

Hoaxes, Humbugs and Spectacles:
Astonishing Photographs of Smelt Wrestlers, Human Projectiles, Giant Hailstones, Contortionists, Elephant Impersonators, and Much, Much More

by Mark Sloan

It's a weird, weird world out there and we're lucky that people have often thought to capture some of this nuttiness on film. Here Mark Sloan presents circus performers, unusual stunts, and photographic documents of wacky phenomena of all sorts. In short, a little of something for everyone — including a monumental portrait of Woodrow Wilson composed of 21,000 soldiers on an Ohio army base in 1919.

Weird and Wonderful:
The Dime Museum in America

by Andrea Stulman Dennett

Weird and Wonderful is a comprehensive look at the distinctly American popular entertainment institutions that evolved from 'cabinets of curiosities' and flourished as presenters of diverse democratic amusements in the late Victorian era.

In Search of the Monkey Girl
by Randall Levenson and Spaulding Gray

The author's photographs and notes provide a behind-the-scenes look at carny life in this out of print and difficult to find classic. Levenson's formal portraits of sideshow performers and carnival institutions are augmented by Gray's "Stories From the 1981 Tennessee State Fair", in which he relates his experiences tagging along to the fair over the course of eight days - during which Levenson tried in vain to get Percilla "The Monkey Girl" Bejano to sit for a portrait.

Side Show:
My Life with Geeks, Freaks & Vagabonds in the Carny Trade
by Howard Bone with Daniel Waldron, editor,
with a foreword by Teller

Howard Bone saw it and did it all, and entertainingly cuts up many a jackpot in this memoir of his long career. All he ever wanted to be was a mediocre sideshow magician, but in the course of forty years Bone succeeded in becoming a carny jack-of-all-trades — canvasman, ticket seller, talker, magician, "Mr. Judo," "The Man Who Can't Be Hung," and who knows what else. Side Show is a great read that ends too soon.

Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder:
Pronged Ants, Horned Humans, Mice on Toast, and Other Marvels of Jurassic Technology

by Lawrence Weschler

Operating out of a storefront in Los Angeles, David Hildebrand Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology presents exhibitions of truly wonderful objects — objects so wonderful that visitors are left to marvel and ponder over which exhibits are in fact real. This provocative look at Wilson's museum won a Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Jay's Journal of Anomalies:
Conjurers, Cheats, Hustlers, Hoaxsters, Pranksters, Jokesters, Imposters, Pretenders, Side-Show Showmen, Armless Calligraphers, Mechanical Marvels, Popular Entertainments

by Ricky Jay

The author of Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women has here collected and amended with editorial corrections all sixteen issues of his late quarterly journal devoted to all aspects of unusual performance. Each issue of Jay's Journal focuses on some peculiar and often obscure subject — such as the conjurer's art of nose amputation, the methods of training fleas, or how seventeenth century gentlemen cheated at bowling. Each article is thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated with rare engravings and photographs from Jay's private collection. This volume is a treat for those of us unable to acquire the original issues that were printed in small letterpress editions.

The Two
by Irving & Amy Wallace

This is a well-researched and well-written biography (biographies?) of the original Siamese Twins, Chang & Eng. The rise of Chang & Eng from Thai peasants to internationally famous phenomenon is traced through personal letters, newspaper accounts, and family memoirs. All of this is presented in a lively and engaging manner, making for a surprisingly good read.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

by Joanne Martell

A perfect companion to The Two, Martell's book documents the life of Millie-Christine, the United African Twins. Contemporaries of Chang & Eng (and fellow North Carolinians), Millie-Christine were born into slavery. Stolen from one master, the girls began their show business career at an early age. Through a curious mixture of intrigue, education, and ballyhoo, Millie-Christine became an international sensation as the Two-Headed Nightingale. The former slaves eventually retired as wealthy and respected citizens, owning a portion of the plantation on which they were born. Martell's book relies heavily on letters and other contemporary sources to present a portrait of conjoined sisters who turned extremely adverse situations to their favor.

We Who Are Not As Others

by Daniel Mannix

Freaks is in category unto itself. While one can't always trust the accuracy of Mannix's statements, the value of this book could stand on the variety and quality of its photographs alone, all of which were culled from Mannix's personal collection. Quite simply, this book is a page-turner. I guarantee that if you bring out this book among a gathering of friends, there will be constant gasps and giggles as the book is passed from hand to hand. I received this book as a gift from my wife, and I refer to it so often I've inadvertently broken its spine. Many of these photos and stories have served as inspiration for my drawings.

Memoirs of Sword Swallower
by Daniel Mannix

Daniel Mannix was a kid from Philadelphia's Main Line who literally ran away from home to join the circus. Working on a traveling show during the 1940's, Mannix learned to perform a number of sideshow acts, including fire-eating and sword swallowing. Although Mannix's prose often leaves much to be desired, Memoirs opens with this memorable passage:
"I probably never would have become America's leading fire-eater if Flamo the Great hadn't happened to explode that night in front of Krinko's Great Combined Carnival Side Shows."

Memoirs is an interesting window into carny life, detailing many of the traditional midway scams and the dangers of performance and endless string of drunken townies looking for a fight.

History and Lore of Freaks
by C. J. Thompson

This rather dated little book is still a good reference, covering the role of freaks in society from ancient Babylon to the Edwardian era. The text is well illustrated with photographs and engravings.

Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women
— Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers: Stone Eaters, Mind Readers, Poison Resisters, Daredevils, Singing Mice, etc., etc., etc., etc.

by Ricky Jay

From the title you can tell that this book concentrates on a wide array of bizarre entertainments from acrobatic horses to armless violinist/marksmen. The informative and amusing text is lavishly illustrated with antique engravings, circus advertisements, and photographs. Of particular interest is the final chapter on Joseph Pujol, Le Pétomane, who thrilled late 19th century French audiences with the acoustic facility of his rectum. So overcome with mirth were Pujol's audiences that "many fainted and fell down and had to be resuscitated."

Very Special People:
The Struggles, Loves, and Triumphs of Human Oddities

by Frederick Drimmer

Drimmer's book is a classic of the genre. A bit sentimental, Drimmer nevertheless treats his subjects respectfully. Biographical entries are broken into categories such as "Armless and Legless Wonders," "The Hairy People," "Chained for Life," etc. An interesting series of photographs illustrates the text.

Finders, Keepers:
Eight Collectors

by Rosamond Wolff Purcell and Stephen Jay Gould

Purcell and Gould once again collaborated on a book that combines Purcell's exquisite photographs with the well-known naturalist's prose. Of particular interest is the chapter devoted to the remnants of Peter the Great's collection in Leningrad — which in the true tradition of wunderkammern contains such curious items as a two-headed sheep, a four-legged rooster, "teeth extracted by Emperor Peter from various persons," and some eerily beautiful anatomical specimens prepared by 18th century Dutch master Frederick Ruysch.

Special Cases:
Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters

by Rosamond Purcell

This book came three years after an exhibition of the same title curated by Purcell at the Getty Research Institute. A book beautifully bound and copiously illustrated with the author's photographs, Special Cases is a feast for the eyes.

Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body

edited by Rosemarie Garland Thomson

Freak Show:
Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit

by Robert Bogdan

Myths and Images of the Secret Self

by Leslie Fieldler

All three of these books approach the concept of "freak" from a sociological and cultural point of view. Thomson's collection of essays at times seems overly concerned with upholding ideas of political correctness to the point of patronizing a "disabled, exploited minority." Fielder's book covers much of the same ground but includes a wider scope of historical context, which adds weight to his arguments without becoming too preachy. Bogdan's book is probably the most balanced of the set, weighing history against perception.

The World's Most Fantastic Freaks
by Mike Palmer

Palmer's book is wider in scope than Lobster Boy but just about as tacky. Short passages about past and present human oddities are interspersed with little known "facts" that often have little or nothing to do with the surrounding text. I suppose this book belongs to the same genre as Robert Ripley's cartoons or those 18th century biographical collections of eccentrics.

A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
by Jan Bondeson

Featuring the collected essays of the noted medical historian, the text is occasionally rather dry, but this book is chocked full of interesting information and illustrations from the author's collection or unusual sources. Of the author's three books reviewed here, Cabinet is the most complete in scope and unity of presentation.

The Elephant Man:
A Study in Human Dignity

by Ashley Montagu

Montagu's book is a rather thorough biography of Joseph Merrick, popularly known as the Elephant Man. However, Montagu makes a rather curious choice in that the main thrust of the book is to promote the idea of motherly love as ultimate gift and virtue. That aspect of the book is a bit saccharin, but shouldn't detract from the biography's overall merits.

The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels


The Feejee Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural & Unnatural History

by Jan Bondeson

These are two more books collecting the essays of medical historian Jan Bondeson. The text is on occasion a bit dry, but each of the books contains interesting information and unusual illustrations. However, much of the information in The Feejee Mermaid was covered in a much grander fashion in Ricky Jay's book, Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women .

My Very Unusual Friends
by Ward Hall

Written in a whirlwind stream-of-consciousness style, Ward Hall's book is a rare treat — a glimpse into the world of the traveling sideshow by one of America's greatest showmen, who spent over fifty years in the business — most notably with his World of Wonders show. Hall's book details over forty years of his memories and experiences of working with and employing sideshow freaks. Ward Hall hired and/or befriended many sideshow legends, including Schlitzie the Pinhead. Hall tells their stories in an honest and personal conversational manner. It's the next best thing to talking to the man himself.

Lobster Boy:
The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles, Jr.

by Fred Rosen

Written for the sort of folks who read supermarket tabloids, Rosen's book is pure giddying exploitative crap. Despite its unrelenting awfulness, this book is the only text I know of that fully covers the 1992 murder of longtime sideshow attraction Grady Stiles, Jr. (a.k.a., Lobster Boy). The crime scene and autopsy photographs are not for the faint of heart.

Articulating the Elephant Man:
Joseph Merrick and His Interpreters

by Peter W. Graham and Fritz H. Oehlschlaeger

This book discusses the presentation and occasional reconstruction of Merrick from the Victorian era through David Lynch's film. Even Montagu's book is scrutinized. The greatest detraction from Graham & Oehlschlaeger's text is that there is not a single illustration of Merrick or anything else in the entire book. As I'm sure you've noticed, I'm a great believer in the value of pictures.

P. T. Barnum:
America's Greatest Showman

by Philip B. Kunhardt, Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt

This beautifully illustrated biography of the great showman documents every aspect of Barnum's stellar career. More than any other single person, Barnum changed the character of popular entertainment. The collection of photographs that dominate the text is wonderfully reproduced.

The Unfashionable Human Body
by Bernard Rudofsky

While not specifically about human oddities or sideshow performance, this book focuses on historical ideas of beauty at various times and in various cultures. Forms of body modification from foot-binding and head-shaping to the perils of modern fashion apparel are discussed. Rudofsky details the ways humans seek to deform themselves or mimic deformity to approach an ideal of beauty.

Girl Show:
Into the Canvas World of Bump and Grind

by A. W. Stencell

This lavishly illustrated text covers the history of another staple midway attraction, the all-girl dance revue. From 19th century hoochie-coochie dancers to modern strippers, the whole fun and sleazy spectrum of carnival burlesque is represented.

A Morning's Work:
Medical Photographs from the Burns Archive & Collection 1843-1939

edited by Stanley M. Burns, M.D.

A beautiful book, although I should warn that it does contain some rather shocking and grotesque photos. Dr. Burns explains each image with a brief text.

Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine
by George M. Gould, M.D. and Walter L. Pyle, M.D.

Originally published in 1896, this book still holds its own rather well. The work's subtitle describes it best: "Being an encyclopedic collection of rare and extraordinary cases, and of the most striking instances of abnormality in all branches of medicine and surgery, derived from an exhaustive research of medical literature from its origin to the present day, abstracted, classified, annotated, and indexed." This work is now in the public domain, and there are many pressings available. If you purchase a copy, make sure that it includes the 308 illustrations that accompanied the original.

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All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2003 - 2018