Log In

Not a Coast Insider Member? Sign up


History of Sideshows & Open Lines

Date Friday - August 6, 2010
Host Ian Punnett
Guests John RobinsonOpen Lines

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

Ian Punnett's New Book

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.

Video: Jet-Powered School Bus

It may look similar to a traditional yellow school bus, but Paul Stender's custom built bus can reach speeds up to 367 mph. The vehicle, dubbed 'The School Time Jet-Powered School Bus', is fitted with a Phantom fighter jet engine, and uses 150 gallons of fuel during a single quarter mile run. Stender says he built the jet-powered bus to entertain people and inspire kids to stay off drugs. Video available from The Telegraph.

Bumper Music

Bumper music from Friday August 06, 2010

More Shows