Archive for the ‘Circus’ Category

Vintage Freak Show Footage

October 19, 2012

Coney Island Sideshow, 1940s

October 12, 2012

Electrocuting an Elephant

May 15, 2009

I was watching Errol Morris’ excellent documentary, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., and Morris included some grainy footage of an elephant being electrocuted in 1903. However, there was no explanation of who this elephant was nor what evil deed it had done for someone to go to the extremes of electrocuting the poor beast. So of course I paid a visit to Youtube.com and the elephant electrocution had been uploaded three times with little commentary, except one post that attributed the footage to Thomas Edison. Further research on Wikipedia revealed that the elephant, Topsy, was a former performer at Forepaugh Circus and then Luna Park at Coney Island. Apparently, Topsy had killed three people over the years—”including an abusive trainer who tried to feed her a lit cigarette.” The decision was made to kill the beast and various proposals were considered and abandoned—including hanging the elephant and/or giving it a carrot laced with cyanide. Thomas Edison stepped in and suggested electrocuting Topsy—as long as he could film the event. The public electrocution drew approximately 1,500 people and Edison presented the film to receptive audiences all over the country. The Coney Island Museum includes a memorial for Topsy. And now you know the rest of the story . . .

Sideshow Freaks

May 13, 2009


Top 10 Famous Sideshow Freaks

Johnny Eck: King of the Freaks

May 11, 2009

Johnny “The Half Boy” Eck, legendary sideshow performer, was born without the lower half of his torso, and starred in Tod Browning’s classic flick, Freaks (1932). Eck once famously remarked, “If I want to see freaks, I can just look out the window.” Born in Baltimore in 1911, Johnny Eck (real name: Johnny Eckhardt) was born without a body below the waist and had a normal twin brother named Robert. Johnny joined the freak show circuit at the tender age of 12 and soon earned the title, “King of the Freaks.” In addition to Freaks, Johnny appeared in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), Tarzan Escapes (1936) and Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941). Johnny and Robert toured the country as part of a famous magic show, performing a routine where Johnny was sawed in half much to the horror of many theatergoers. According to reports, Johnny had a genius IQ and was a highly talented painter, musician and gymnast. Johnny died of a heart attack in 1991. He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore alongside his brother.