Secrets of the Sideshows

University Press of Kentucky
3
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The carnival sideshows of the past have left behind a fascinating legacy of mystery and intrigue. The secrets behind such daring feats as fire-eating and sword swallowing and bizarre exhibitions of human oddities as "Alligator Boys" and "Gorilla Girls" still remain, only grudgingly if ever given up by performers and carnival professionals. Working alongside the performers, Joe Nickell blows the lid off these mysteries of the midway. The author reveals the structure of the shows, specific methods behind the performances, and the showmen's tactics for recruiting performers and attracting crowds. He also traces the history of such spectacles, from ancient Egyptian magic and street fairs to the golden age of P.T. Barnum's sideshows. With revealing insight into the personal lives of the men and women billed as freaks, Nickell unfolds the captivating story of the midway show.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University Press of Kentucky
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Published on
Sep 9, 2005
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Pages
424
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ISBN
9780813171791
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Language
English
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Genres
Performing Arts / Circus
Social Science / Popular Culture
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Content Protection
This content is DRM free.
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A fascinating look into the history of the American sideshow and its performers. Learn what's real, what's fake, and what's just downright bizarre.

You've probably heard of Tom Thumb. The Elephant Man. Perhaps even Chang and Eng, the original Siamese twins. But what about Eli Bowen, the legless acrobat? Or Prince Randian, the human torso? These were just a few of the many stars that shone during the heyday of the American sideshow, from 1840 to 1950. American Sideshow chronicles the lives of truly amazing performers, examining these brave and extraordinary curiosities not just as sideshow performers but as people, delving into the lives they led and the ways they were able to triumph over and even benefit from their abnormalities.

American Sideshow discusses the rise and fall of the original sideshows and their subsequent replacement by today's self-made freaks. With the progress of modern medicine, technological advancements, and the wonderful world of body modification, abnormalities are being overcome, treated and even prevented: Siamese twins can now be separated, and in addition to this, tongues can be forked, horns surgically implanted, and earlobes removed. There are also, of course, modern-day giants, fire eaters, sword swallowers, glass eaters, human blockheads, and oh, so much more.

These fascinating personalities are celebrated through intimate biographies paired with stunning photographs. Approximately two hundred performers from the past one hundred and sixty years are featured, giving readers a comprehensive and sometimes astonishing look into the history of the American sideshow
Tales of alien abductions, miraculous relics, and haunted castles have attracted believers and skeptics across the globe for centuries. Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell tackles the world’s most seemingly inexplicable myths in Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. With four decades of experience in the field, Nickell employs skepticism and scientific analysis to pull truth from the mires of false evidence and trickery that surround both old and new legends and mysteries. Unlike authors who engage in hype and sensationalism in order to foster or debunk myths, Nickell approaches each case with a rational and scientific approach intended to find the truth. Occam’s Razor—all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best one—is a principal instrument in his investigative toolbox, as well as the belief that it is the claimant’s responsibility to provide the extraordinary proof required in such extraordinary cases. Adventures in Paranormal Investigation features Nickell’s on-site explorations in unusual phenomena. Among the forty unique cases, Nickell examines mysteries ranging from snake charmers who purport to hold influence over the reptiles, to the Holocaust victims who reportedly haunt a gas chamber in Dachau, to Lake Simcoe’s resident lake monster Igopogo in Canada. In addition to the case studies, Nickell analyzes how the propensity to fantasize can affect human perceptions of and belief in paranormal activity and how his personal experience with the paranormal was altered when intuition led to the discovery of a daughter he didn’t know existed. More than just another myth-busting text, Adventures in Paranormal Investigation brings together reason and scientific analyses to explain both the phenomena and the role of human perception therein, establishing Nickell as the foremost paranormal investigator of our time.
Follow the author as he goes on a harrowing journey from the US Olympic Training Center to homeless shelters to shooting heroin on the job to being declared dead. This story goes beyond addiction. It is about the fragility and tenacity of the human spirit and how that spirit can redeem each and every one of us by helping to push us through the darkness, whether the darkness is from death, divorce, or the disease of addiction.

Acrobaddict is a story about the close relationship between athletics and drug addiction—how the same energy, obsession, and dedication that can create an Olympic athlete can also create a homeless drug addict.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (Starred review) After reading former Olympic gymnastics hopeful Putignano's sinister yet intoxicating memoir of addiction, recovery, and more addiction, you wind up feeling like one of his closest friends. The first-time author, who now portrays Crystal Man in Cirque du Soleil's traveling production of Totem, divulges what must be nearly every significant detail of his journey from the basement of his parents' Massachusetts home, where as an 8-year-old he taught himself flips using old couch cushions; to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where the author's insane quest for perfection exposed his insecurities and triggered his self-loathing; and finally to a seemingly never-ending series of addict escapades throughout his college and post-college years that somehow did not even climax after he was twice declared clinically dead. Putignano's homosexuality plays a crucial role in his story, and it is the one topic here he handles delicately. Elsewhere, his prose is unfiltered: graphic and intimate. Prone to hyperbole to the point of distraction, Putignano nevertheless writes so vividly about his highs that readers practically experience them with him. Similarly, his lows drop them into the private circles of hell on earth he created. A more powerful anti-drug missive would be tough to find. (Sept.)

LIBRARY JOURNAL (July 22, 2013) Dale Farris, Groves, TX–Former star acrobatic contortionist and gymnast of the Cirque du Soleil’s “Totem,” performer in Twyla Tharp’s musical The Times They Are A’changin, and guest on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN show Human Factor, Putignano, shares his heartfelt, emotionally wrenching story of addiction to heroin. Putignano’s memoir takes readers on an unsettling journey from his experience in the U.S. Olympic Training Center to homeless shelters to shooting heroin on the job, and even being declared dead. His vivid, brutally honest story begins with his realizing at an early age his innate talent for gymnastics, followed by his obsession with becoming an Olympic gymnastic champion, how he abandoned his Olympic hopes to chase his love of heroin, and ultimately how he managed to overcome his addiction and move into long-term recovery and stability. The narrative is replete with colorful descriptions of his many harrowing experiences, and deep musings that have formed the foundation for his commitment to remain free of drugs and a shining light for others who may be seeking guidance. VERDICT Putignano’s honest memoir of drug abuse is a valuable addition to substance-abuse literature. His status as a successful gymnast and performer helps connect readers, and his impressive, erudite style results in a highly credible addition to this rapidly saturating genre.

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