Below is a selective list of carnival and
sideshow history sites.
If you would like to recommend others please
Carnival & Sideshow History:
Click here to listen to historic 1941 recordings of performers and outside talkers
with Strates Carnival. (Note: some sideshow folk used the word "barker," but most
said "talker" or "lecturer.")
Click here for a Soundprint Media broadcast featuring residents of Gibsonton,
Florida ("Gibtown"), retirement and off-season destination for carnival and
Wayne Keyser has produced some beautiful works of sideshow history in the form
of two e-books on CD as well as a DVD. The e-books are Bally: Sounds of the
Sideshow and On the Midway. The two and a half hour DVD production is The
Carnival's Come and Gone. These titles are very reasonably priced and can be
ordered directly from Wayne at GoodMagic.com.
Todd Robbins' Sideshow Page is the best overview of sideshow history and
terminology we have seen. We were very fortunate to get Todd Robbins'
permission to reprint it here at The House of Deception.
Performer, historian, and banner artist Johnny Meah, The Czar of the Bizarre,
presents an artistic and entertaining website. A leading authority on all facets of
the carnival and sideshow, Meah was the technical advisor for the HBO series,
Carnivale (2003-2005). In the second season he was added to the writing staff.
Both Todd Robbins and Johnny Meah are featured commentators on the 2004 DVD
release of Tod Browning's 1931 movie," Freaks." Every sideshow historian or
enthusiast should own a copy of this DVD.
Joe Nickell's scholarly article, "Sideshow! Carnival Oddities and Illusions Provide
Lessons for Skeptics" is well worth the read and includes references listed in our
Carnival Sideshow Bibliography.
You will find a beautifully designed site at Sideshow-art.com, which has a fine
book list with thumbnail images of the books. Our Carnival Sideshow Book Covers
pages offer a more complete, yet not so artistic, display.
John Robinson's Sideshow World is a huge, useful site for history as well as
information on current shows, conventions and other events. John also invites
you to join the sideshow Yahoo discussion group. His mission is "Preserving the
Past...Promoting the Future of Sideshow."
James Taylor's Shocked and Amazed: On and Off the Midway is a superb
publication dedicated to sideshow history.
Taylor and D.B. Doghouse have embarked on an ambitious project designed to
serve as "an encyclopedia of novelty & variety performers & showfolk." See this
grand website at showhistory.com.
And when sojourning in Washington DC, be sure to schedule a visit to James
Taylor's Palace of Wonders. There you will be invited to "celebrate a return to
[Barnum's] by-gone era of vibrant imaginations" and "partake in the excitement
of not knowing: of doubting your own eyes, of wondering whether unicorns
Elizabeth Anderson (known at "Ratt" to her appreciative readers), an artist and
University of Texas product, offers many biographies and photos of sideshow
performers at phreeque.com. She is especially interested in conjoined twins and
other medical anomalies.
If you are interested in the inside jargon of the carnival, Taylor has an article on
carny lingo and terminology, based on the work of the renowned historian Joe
McKennon (see our Sideshow Bibliography).
Wayne Keyser offers an even more comprehensive treatment of the subject in his
e-book, On the Midway. Click here to see a free sample page. You should have
copies of his historical CDs and DVD (listed above).
Coney Island History:
Begin with a visit to the Coney Island History Site by Jeffrey Stanton (formerly
published through UCLA). Jeff's site includes links to many important history
articles, as well as a rides and shows list, a timeline, and some hand-drawn maps,
which are highly effective due to their simplicity. These are among the very best
Coney Island historical references on the web.
The Coney Island History Project, which strives to create an oral history of the
area and teach young people the techniques of oral history.
Todd Robbins' Coney Island Circus Sideshow
The enhanced transcript of the PBS documentary, "The American Experience:
Coney Island: Forty Years as the Carnival Capital by Laurence Aurbach Jr. is a
scholarly article that includes notes and a bibliography.
Coney Island Complex, a tour of Coney Island subway yards
Here are two particularly esoteric sites:
Steve Quayle's Twelve Giants and Their Rings is about sideshow giants and their
collectible finger rings. [Click on "12 Giants" in the left menu.]
To the Hilt offers a History of Sword Swallowing, a Sword Swallower's Hall of Fame,
and a list of quality links.
Prepare to be overwhelmed by the vast content and incredible beauty of
CircusMuseum.nl You will find posters and photographs not only of sideshow and
circus performers, but also of every other allied art and showperson of the Golden
Care and Preservation of Posters and other Old Paper:
To learn to properly care for your library and collection see The Library of
Congress, Collections Care and Preserving Works on Paper.
The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, hosted by
Stanford University, is a professional organization for conservators. Their Caring
for Your Treasures pages provide useful brochures, in PDF format, on conserving
books, photos and other paper documents.
Oldimprints.com (formerly Nineteenth Century Imprints) has a good primer on
identifying and authenticating the various types of prints as well as a useful
reading list on printmaking.
Circus World Museum, Baraboo, Wisconsin
The Circus in America: 1793-1940, Lavahn G. Hoh, University of Virginia
Circus Posters, Princeton University Library
The Fairground Heritage Trust, UK research: circus, variety, sideshow, magic, etc.
Freak Unique: A Potted History of Fairground Sideshows, Europe/UK
Carnival & Sideshow History Links
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Copyright Duff Johnson 2004-2013
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reproduced without written permission.