History of Sideshows & Open Lines

Hosted byIan Punnett

History of Sideshows & Open Lines


  • Freaks & Sideshows
  • Caller Sideshow Stories
  • Woman in White & Peeping Alien
  • About the show

    Filling in for George, Ian Punnett was joined by John Robinson, curator of the Sideshow World website, for a discussion on the history of sideshows during the first 90 minutes of the program. American showman P.T. Barnum popularized sideshow exhibits in the mid- through late-nineteenth century with his traveling museum, Robinson explained. Sideshows typically toured with circuses, in tents next to the 'big top', and later broke off to become fixtures on carnival midways across the country, he added. Classic attractions were comprised of giants, midgets, 'made freaks' like the fat lady/man and tattooed people, as well as sword swallowers, ventriloquists, and jugglers.

    According to Robinson, many of these so-called 'freaks' willingly chose to display themselves for money, and some even went on to have sideshows of their own. Famous acts from the sideshow heyday included married couple Al and Jeanie Tomaini, a giant and legless 'Half-Girl', and Johnny Eck, who, like Jeanie Tomaini, was also born missing the lower half of his torso. Sideshows began waning in popularity in the 1960s, with the rise of political correctness, Robinson noted. A few contemporary sideshows exist today and usually feature animal oddities, such as the world's largest/smallest horse, and performers who specialize in acts of self-torture, like human pincushions, he said.


    During Open Lines, several callers phoned in with their own circus/sideshow stories. Rebecca from Mountain City, Tennessee described her days working as the 'Spider Woman' at a carnival. Francis in Spartanburg, South Carolina shared her experience fifty years ago at circus sideshow, where she became horrified after viewing the dog-faced boy, a fat lady, the alligator man, and a jar with a two-headed baby inside. Andrew from California recalled seeing the world's biggest twins at a county fair in Miamisburg, Ohio. Tom in the Pacific Northwest phoned in to explain his theory on a possible sociocultural relationship between eugenics and freak show acts.

    Originally slated to fill-in, Art Bell, and his guest, Butch Witkowski, have been rescheduled for Friday, August 27th.


    Related Articles:

    This weekend marks the release of Ian Punnett's first book, Dizzy the Mutt with the Propeller Butt, about a dog with strange abilities. More info at dizzythemutt.com.

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