Definitions of Normality
Freak Shows

     

     From 1910 to 1940, no place on earth had more collected human oddities on exhibit than Coney Island. Samuel W. Gumpertz, the 19th century’s most prominent freak show promoter, brought over 3,800 sideshow acts and attractions to Coney Island. He annually traveled the world looking for physical anomalies, and because of the public’s paying fascination he was able to lure freaks from all over to settle at Coney Island. There were bearded ladies (who often turned out to be men), Siamese twins, the Dog Face Man, the Wild Dancing South African Bushman, and hundreds of itinerant freaks who made a living traveling around the country putting themselves on display.

     Visitors could view these real live human beings in a non-threatening and controlled environment, like a human zoo. These interactions helped visitors to evaluate and solidify their own notions of what was normal and what fell outside acceptable boundaries. People could even actively participate by becoming "freaks" themselves for a few moments by staring in distorting mirrors that were placed around the park. They, too, could become skeletal or enormously fat, just like the real people they were paying to see. The presence of so many oddities of all shapes, sizes and disfigurements lent the freak shows a sense of transformation. Here one could safely explore the exaggerated, excessive character of the displayed outrageous human irregularities, yet could step unscathed from the dark dens of freaks back into the sunlight.

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