Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Peek Behind the Curtain

(Above) Eko and Iko, Sheepheaded Cannibals from Ecuador. Click for larger image.

(Above) Illustrated man, by Chet Cain. Click for larger image.

(Above) Blindfolded young man undergoing secret initiation ritual. Click for larger image.

THIS SPECIES WE CALL “HUMAN” - how interesting it is. How magnificent! How depraved. How genius. How stupid. How charitable and kind, how cruel and evil. We have it all. I am drawn to that which is off the beaten path—those things in the shadows and behind the curtain. Today we know that behind that curtain exists unspeakable things, some darker than others but it exists in a parallel universe along side the Flower Clubs, churches, and smiling faces of “happy” families.

I present three stories, one—the story of twin brothers who were forced against their will to be a carnival sideshow act in the 192os; the second, a man who chose to be different by tattooing his entire body, and lastly—a young man being put through a bizarre initiation in order to “prove” his worthiness to be part of some stupid group. While the young man may have wanted to be in this club—I am sure he would have preferred to be allowed entrance with this ridiculous and humiliating effort.

The top photo shows
Willie and George Muse, who were African-American albino twins born in the 1890s and kidnapped as children by bounty hunters contracting out to a sideshow promoter. Told their mother was dead, the 2 toured as carnival attractions. Their promoter made them grow their hair out to natty dreadlocks to accentuate their already odd appearance. In 1922 they were presented in the Al G. Barnes Circus as “White Ecuadorian Cannibals” with the stage names Eko and Iko. They were soon re-labeled “The Sheep-Headed Men” and by 1923 they were re-branded “The Ambassadors From Mars.”

The second photo postcard shows an anonymous man illustrated by tattoo artist
Chet Cain, c. 1920s. Cain was a known tattoo man who traveled with circuses of the period. This photo shows tattoos including WWI air combat; Jesus on the cross and Indians in headdress, among others.

The bottom image shows a 2” photo button of a young man sitting within a wooden crate with slats. He wears long black stockings and high top shoes with his legs and feet extending through the slats. His hands grasp a thick rope. He wears a blindfold and a shrine hat. Text off to the side is “Hang On To The Rope.” Bastian paper was used for only two years (1905-1907), which makes this button very rare—much less the image.

All images from
Hakes Auction.

1 comment:

angvou said...

people once considered sideshow attractions wouldn't raise eyebrows on the subway.

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