Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Mount McKinley Three Weeks from New York

From July 23, 1916

Mount McKinley

Mount McKinley Three Weeks from New York: New Railroad Will Pass Great Mountain, a Part of Extensive National Park, Which Congress Has Been Asked to Create (PDF)

The mountain had been colloquially referred to as Mount McKinley since 1896 and had clearly achieved widespread usage by this article’s publication in 1916, becoming the official name one year later in 1917. But indigenous Alaskans had long called it Mount Denali and never stopped doing so. Last September, President Obama announced that the name would once again officially become Mount Denali, in accordance with the wishes of most native Alaskans.

As was to be expected in this day and age, Obama’s set of a firestorm of controversy, with Republicans claiming this was political correctness gone amok and an intentional attempt to undermine a mountain named after a Republican president. Donald Trump has vowed to change the name back to McKinley if elected president.

Another notable tidbit from that article: the reference to “James Wickersham, the Delegate from Alaska in Congress.” Alaska didn’t become a state until 1959, so back in 1916 they had a Delegate much as the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico does today.

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Written by Jesse

July 24th, 2016 at 2:20 pm

Posted in Nature,Politics

Carrier Pigeons an Aid to Preparedness

From July 16, 1916

Carrier Pigeons

Carrier Pigeons an Aid to Preparedness: Europe’s War Has Shown That Homing Birds Often Beat Aeroplanes and the Wireless in Carrying Military Dispatches (PDF)

As the sub-headline suggests, 1916 was an era where a bird could be counted on as more reliable and speedier than “aeroplanes” or “the wireless.” Today, of course, with supersonic jets and instant communication worldwide via the Internet and other digital devices, that is no longer true. The U.S. military stopped using messenger pigeons in 1957. Yet the NYT article estimates that 18,000 such pigeons were being used in France alone during 1916.

The author even suggests that readers mobilize to help out in the war effort, not by rationing food or donating war bonds as were the most typical methods, but by training carrier pigeons yourself:

And you, the reader, may take part in such a nation-wide scheme of preparedness by raising and training your own homing pigeons and holding them ready for the service of the military authorities in time of war or your community in time of peace. On every motor trip you can take a few pigeons and fly them back home from various distances, or any friend in a distant town will delight in flying them to you and telegraphing the moment of release. Express companies on all railroads carry crates at low cost, and I have uniformly found their agents courteous and willing to release the birds on arrival and to ship back the empty crates.

I wouldn’t count on agent being as “courteous and willing to release the birds on arrival” in this day and age.

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Written by Jesse

July 16th, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Posted in Nature,War

America’s Switzerland; Three Days From New York

From September 17, 1911

AMERICA'S SWITZERLAND; THREE DAYS FROM NEW YORK

AMERICA’S SWITZERLAND; THREE DAYS FROM NEW YORK: A Traveler’s Tale of the Beauties of the Canadian Rockies Where Comparatively Few Americans Go (PDF)

The Canadian Rockies remain a great place to go on vacation. I went last year, spending a week or so in and around Banff, Alberta. A Google Image Search for Banff will show you some of its beauty. There’s a lot of great hiking, it’s easy to reach, not very expensive, and not too crowded.

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Written by David

September 14th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Martians Build Two Immense Canals In Two Years

From August 27, 1911

MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS

MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS: Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an Incredibly Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors — Wonders of the September Sky. (PDF)

Percival Lowell was a smart astronomer. He was the first person to build his observatory in a remote location away from city lights, at the top of a high mountain. Lowell picked Flagstaff, Arizona as the location for his observatory. I lived in Flagstaff for four years in college and the observatory is one of Flagstaff’s really big claims to fame because Pluto was discovered there in 1930 (14 years after Lowell’s death).

Anyway, Lowell was a smart guy. He also believed there was life on Mars. He was convinced that lines on the planet’s surface were canals, and when he observed some changes in the appearance of these canals, he concluded that somehow the martians had quickly built these enormous canals 20 miles wide and a thousand miles long.

Mary Proctor wrote this article summarizing Lowell’s findings, and also describing some of the planets people might see in the sky in September.

I love that this stuff appeared in the New York Times Magazine.

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Written by David

August 25th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Pasteur Expert Sounds Warning Against Pet Dogs

From August 27, 1911

PASTEUR EXPERT SOUNDS WARNING AGAINST PET DOGS

PASTEUR EXPERT SOUNDS WARNING AGAINST PET DOGS: Woman and Children Especially in Danger of Possible Hydrophobia Through Carelessly Fondling Household Pets — Tuberculosis, Scarlet Feber, and Other Diseases May Be Transmitted. (PDF)

Well, that’s a pretty scary headline. Turns out that the expert is pretty much just concerned about rabies (referred to as “hydrophobia” because one symptom of rabies is a fear of water). He does mention those other diseases, but, well, just read it yourself:

“Almost any of the contagious diseases may be conveyed by either dogs or cats, although dogs, because of their peculiar habits and their tendency to caress with their affectionate tongues the persons whom they love are much more dangerous than cats. Tuberculosis, scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria — all of these and many more diseases may be conveyed from dogs to humans in this way. I don’t wish to go on record as pronouncing that they are, to any large extent, but I do say that such transfer is a possibility…”

The Centers for Disease Control has a list of diseases you can get from dogs. But they also point out that pet ownership has health benefits.

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Written by David

August 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature

Have You Ever Seen A Blue Rose? A Horticultural Problem

From July 30, 1911

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BLUE ROSE? A HORTICULTURAL PROBLEM

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A BLUE ROSE? A HORTICULTURAL PROBLEM: Many Varieties of the Queen of Flowers Created in a Century, but Blue Roses Still Elusive. (PDF)

This article gives a nice background on the history of roses as a coveted flower, and then gets into the matter of a blue rose.

A blue rose is held to be about the hardest thing in the flower-growing world to attain…

It can’t be done by any chemical process, of course. Any one rose can easily be made blue, but there is no known way of treating the soil in which a bush grows so as to change the color of all its flowers, and even if there were such a way the progeny of the roses would revert to the ancestral type. The blue rose is to be obtained — if it ever is attained — by combining roses of different colors and using the most promising as parents for a newer and bluer race.

There has been a pale lavenderish-blue rose produced by a German grower, but it is not by any means a true blue.

Well, that problem vexed growers for another 100 years until a Japanese company proclaimed that after twenty years of research and three billion yen, they genetically engineered a blue rose. Well, I guess it’s sort of blue. To me it looks like a pale lavenderish-blue, not by any means a true blue.

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Written by David

July 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

For The Sightseer In New York: “There’s The Aquarium”

From July 16, 1911

FOR THE SIGHTSEER IN NEW YORK: THERE'S THE AQUARIUM

FOR THE SIGHTSEER IN NEW YORK: “THERE’S THE AQUARIUM”: Some Interesting Features, Human and Piscine, to Be Found at the Battery Park Establishment on a Sunday Afternoon. (PDF)

Amusing look at the personalities of people and animals that one can find at the city’s aquarium back when it was still in Battery Park.

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Written by David

July 13th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Recreation

The American Student Acquiring A Uniform Face

From July 9, 1911

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE

THE AMERICAN STUDENT ACQUIRING A UNIFORM FACE: Mayor Gaynor’s Statement to That Effect Starts a Discussion — A Distinct American College Type Being Developed, Unlike the European University Man (PDF)

The two faces in the middle of the page are composites of 25 boys and 25 girls, to create the “typical” student face. In modern times, this has been done digitally to interesting effects. I wonder if this is the earliest known example of such a composite.

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Written by David

July 7th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Seventeen-Year Locusts Here; Moths Even Worse

From May 28, 1911

SEVENTEEN-YEAR LOCUSTS HERE; MOTHS EVEN WORSE

SEVENTEEN-YEAR LOCUSTS HERE; MOTHS EVEN WORSE: Cicada Army Not the Most Destructive of Our Pests — How, thanks to Ineffective Laws, We Yearly Import Creatures That Cost Us Millions — Despite All Efforts Moths Steadily Increase. (PDF)

I don’t have time to write more comments on this article because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 26th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Posted in Nature,Science

A Great Sixty-Inch Reflector Which Photographs The Stars

From May 21, 1911

A GREAT SIXTY-INCH REFLECTOR WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS THE STARS

A GREAT SIXTY-INCH REFLECTOR WHICH PHOTOGRAPHS THE STARS: Wonderful Instrument Erectred by the Carnegie Institution at Mount Wilson, California. (PDF)

The rest of this post is unwritten because I’m a brand new dad and need to focus on that for a bit. But please feel free to read the article and make your own comments.

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Written by David

May 17th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Apes Who Entertain At The Zoo

From May 14, 1911

APES WHO ENTERTAIN AT THE ZOO

APES WHO ENTERTAIN AT THE ZOO (PDF)

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Written by David

May 11th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Entertainment,Nature

Mrs. Belmont Training Girls To Be Agriculturists

From May 14, 1911

MRS. BELMONT TRAINING GIRLS TO BE AGRICULTURISTS

MRS. BELMONT TRAINING GIRLS TO BE AGRICULTURISTS: Nine of Them in Overalls Learning ‘How to Become Farmers and Landscape Gardeners on Her Estate at Hempstead, and They Are Only the Advance Guard. (PDF)

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Written by David

May 10th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Civilization Came From Africa, Not Asia, Says Mosso

From May 7, 1911

CIVILIZATION CAME FROM AFRICA, NOT ASIA, SAYS MOSSO

CIVILIZATION CAME FROM AFRICA, NOT ASIA, SAYS MOSSO: In His Work on “The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization” He Gives the Aryan Theory a Hard Blow. (PDF)

The poor old Aryan theory, which broughtu s up to believe that all we know came originally from the Orient, has just had another blow. It was so tottering before that it could hardly stand and now Angelo Mosso in a work on “The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization” gives it another rap.

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Written by David

May 4th, 2011 at 11:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

Dr. William Hanna Thomson On The Origin Of Life

From April 23, 1911

DR. WILLIAM HANNA THOMSON ON THE ORIGIN OF LIFE

DR. WILLIAM HANNA THOMSON ON THE ORIGIN OF LIFE: Author of “Brain and Personality” Discusses the World’s Greatest Mystery, Which Has So Long Baffled Science. (PDF)

The last time we heard from Dr. Thomson, he was scolding Thomas Edison for not believing in a soul. So what does he say about the origin of life?

Well, nothing conclusive, of course, He mostly muses about how it’s an interesting question. He touches a little bit on the possibility of Intelligent Design, and marvels at how animals keep having offspring of the same species, but concludes that we really don’t know how it all works.

Every one of the millions of cells of [an elephant’s] future body must develop from that first cell. They are all constructed on the elephant-cell pattern, and according to no other pattern. Each cell must contain an even, never an odd, number, in its nucleus of those little bodies called chromosemes, and upon which heredity depends, because finally that first cell contains something which determines that it will grow into an elephant and not into a frog, according to its hereditary descent from the first elephant.

As a result, the absolute absurdity of the supposition of the spontaneous generation of life appears when we consider that it is not a living substance or thing which we are invenstigating, but a thing which can be a dot and then an animal, and then a dot again for any number of times. It would be easier to imagine a watch spontaneously generating itself than for an oak to become an acorn and then an oak again, and so on through all the years of its geological period.

Reproduction of like from like by means of an inconceivably complex series of connected changes is a characteristic of life only. It has not a single analogue in the non-living kingdom. There is no such thing as hereditary fire, though it may spread, any more than a hereditary glacier, however it may grow by accumulating snow and ice.

His musings take him in directions touching on genetics, but it would be about 25 more years before DNA was understood to be a building block of life.

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Written by David

April 18th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Nature,Science

Some Birds Are Composers; Others Sing Popular Songs

From April 16, 1911

SOME BIRDS ARE COMPOSERS; OTHERS SING POPULAR SONGS

SOME BIRDS ARE COMPOSERS; OTHERS SING POPULAR SONGS: Studies of Their Music by a Government Official — Some Birds of a Species Better Musicans Than others — A Lark Which Plagiarized Handel. (PDF)

Just a few weeks earlier, the Sunday Magazine had run an article examining the claim that animal noises are musical. It concluded that they really aren’t. But we’ve all heard birds that imitate what they hear, so it makes a little more sense that they might imitate popular songs.

In recent years, there have been stories of birds imitating other sounds they hear, like car alarms and cell phones. Click through to see a clip of David Attenborough with a wild Lyre Bird that imitates manmade sounds it hears in the forest including cameras, car alarms, and even a chain saw.

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Written by David

April 14th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Noises Of The Animal World Are Really Musical

From March 26, 1911

NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL

NOISES OF THE ANIMAL WORLD ARE REALLY MUSICAL: Properly Analyzed, the Mooing of a Cow or the Barking of a Dog Accord with the Rules of Composers. (PDF)

In 1955, Don Charles put out a novelty album by The Singing Dogs. You’ve probably heard their still-popular barking rendition of Jingle Bells around the holidays.

But did you know, according to no cited source other than “a musical authority,” that “the mooing of a cow is set to a perfect fifth, octave or tenth; the barking of a dog to a fourth or fifth; the neighing of a horse is a descent on the chromatic scale; while the donkey brays in a perfect octave?”

Apparently, those little factoids were “going the rounds of the exchanges,” which today would probably mean you get an email from your mother with the subject “FW: FW: FW: FW: Kitty’s meow is actually music!!”

Fortunately, other equally unnamed authorities explained to the Times Magazine that while animals are certainly expressive and communicative in their sounds, they don’t follow any particular musical scales: “The mooing of a cow is set to whatever notes suits that particular cow’s fancy and voice.”

Now forward this on to ten friends in the next ten minutes, or you’ll have ten years of bad luck.

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Written by David

March 25th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Music,Nature

Can Science Hereafter Grow Giants At Will?

From March 26, 1911

CAN SCIENCE HEREAFTER GROW GIANTS AT WILL?

CAN SCIENCE HEREAFTER GROW GIANTS AT WILL? Recent Researches Seem to Point to the Pituitary Gland as Holding the Secret of the Size of Human Beings — Gigantism Is a Disease, Which May Be Artificially Produced. (PDF)

Science has at last figured out a way to promote desirable physical traits without eugenics: gland stimulation!

Fancy, for instance, the production to order of a regiment of soldiers each exactly seven feet tall; or, a group of eight-foot giants for the circus or museum. If the theory held by many is correct, this can readily be accomplished by stimulating the pituitary body to hyper-activity. On the other hand, b diminishing the activity of the gland we could arrest growth and produce a group of dwarfs. In other words, persons old enough to know just what height they wished to attain could have it regulated to order, or be “made to measure.”

The workings of the pituitary gland were still not understood. A prominent Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons in London surmised further:

Science, therefore, holds out the hope that people may not only be able to regulate their height, but beauty doctors may be able to work on strictly scientific principles.

“If a lady, for instance, did not think that her nose was symmetrical, a doctor could bring it to the shape required by means of a pituital sandwich. In fact, the plainest people might be made beautiful.”

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Written by David

March 21st, 2011 at 9:30 am

Posted in Nature,Science

Wind In The Moving Pictures

From March 5, 1911

WIND IN THE MOVING PICTURES

WIND IN THE MOVING PICTURES (PDF)

Apparently, there was a lot of wind in early movies. Why were they all so windy?

The question is asked by almost every one who has been bitten by the bug of the moving picture show. It is a fact that in every scene where there’s half a chance of getting up a breeze it blows a tornado, or at least a brisk gale disports itself in the trees in the background and the skirts of the harassed heroine in the front.

A moving picture man solved the problem.

“That’s easy,” he replied in answer to a query. “If the pictures were taken when the air was perfectly still, then if the living characters happened to be still also the picture would be as dead looking at a 35-cent chromo of ‘Twilight.’ So a time is selected for photographing the scenes outside when the wind is playing old hob with things generally, trees swaying, and skirts fluttering and hair flying — haven’t you ever noticed how much more effective a woman is when her hair is streaming behind her like the burgee on a racing yacht?”

For a classic example of strong wind in silent film, jump to the 55 minute mark in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.(1928) and watch to the end.

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Written by David

March 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Can Easily Add Fifteen Years To Our Average Life

From March 5, 1911

CAN EASILY ADD FIFTEEN YEARS TO OUR AVERAGE LIFE

CAN EASILY ADD FIFTEEN YEARS TO OUR AVERAGE LIFE: Prof. Irving Fisher, in a Comprehensive Report on National Vitality, Says What is Needed is a Little Care — Life Already Greatly Lengthened in Every Country Where Medical Science is Applied. (PDF)

First, the Magazine covered an article in which it was claimed that only three people ever lived to 100 years old. Then it ran an article saying that old age is a preventable disease. They continue this topic by now explaining how we can add 15 years to the average lifespan.

A then-recent report by the National Conservation Commission included a section on “National Vitality” which described how the average lifespan had significantly increased in the last 100 years. Expounding on that topic, economist Irving Fisher — who was also known for his ideas on health and longevity — here explains how we can increase the average lifespan yet another 15 years thanks to advances in science and medicine.

Fisher was a proponent of eugenics — the notion that we can improve our species through selective breeding, including sterilization of the mentally impaired — which was a much more popular movement before the Nazis used it as an excuse for mass slaughter. (Other eugenics proponents included John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes.) Fisher wrote a book called How to Live: Rules for Healthful Living Based on Modern Science which became a bestseller, and can be read for free here.

The average lifespan for men in the United States at the time was 44 years, and 46 for women. Today the numbers have gone up far more than 15 years, with the average lifespans being 75 and 80 years for men and women respectively. Eugenics has long since fallen out of favor as a movement, but the topic of forced sterilization still comes up now and then. Just a couple weeks ago it was in the news when a woman asked the courts to let her sterilize her daughter who has the body of an 18 year old, but the mind of a child.

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Written by David

February 28th, 2011 at 9:00 am

Posted in Life,Nature,Science

The Passing Of The Once Popular Sideshow Freak

From February 26, 1911

THE PASSING OF THE ONCE POPULAR SIDESHOW FREAK

THE PASSING OF THE ONCE POPULAR SIDESHOW FREAK: No Longer an Attraction, These Once High-Salaried Exhibits Find It Hard to Earn a Living — What Has Become of Famous Favorites. (PDF)

The phenomenon of the sideshow freak is one of the most fascinating bits of popular culture history I can think of. On the one hand, forgetting for a moment that these are actual people with feelings to consider, there is just the natural curiosity about the different shapes and sizes people come in, and the interesting ways that maladies manifest themselves. But on the other hand, it’s sad to point and laugh at people’s misfortune and disfigurements. But then again, not all sideshow freaks were victims who didn’t know better. Many of them were intelligent people, making the best of the public’s fascination.

In this article, the Magazine explores how the public’s new fascination with music and movies affected the business prospects for the sideshow freak.

Mike the Midget notes, “I’m not blaming the public, only it’s hard on old-time freaks. It takes a top-notch freak now to be able to earn his living in the profession.” Here, the article describes the industry’s gradual decline:

One by one the freaks have been eliminated. The fat woman was the first to go. On every museum platform for years the fat woman sat; the smallest ones were first taken off, leaving only the big ones. Then the tattooed man and the tattooed lady had to seek other employment. In their wake followed the albinos, the living skeletons, and armless and legless wonders.

Those able to hold on longest were exceptional freaks such as two-headed boys, the woman with the horse’s mane growing between her shoulders, the elastic-skinned man, the three-legged boy, the elephant-footed man and the lion-faced boy.

[…]

Where once a good freak commanded $200 a week he can now scarcely get on at $30. It now takes a prodigy of more than passing novelty to draw more than $25 a week. The Tocci twins — boys with two heads, four arms, and two legs — drew $300 a week for years. A regular scale of prices now regulates the pay received by freaks. A living skeleton receives usually about $18 a week; a bearded lady, $12; a fat woman, $10; a fire-eater, $10; a tattooed woman, $8, and a Circassian beauty, $7.

In the cities they can no longer find profitable employment. Most of those who are still keeping up professional life are to be found under the show tent of the circus. The outer districts, where the picture show and the mechanical piano have not filled the entertainment wants of the public, are now the havens of refuge of the freaks.

The article does wonder whether the passing of the freak’s popularity might be a good thing:

Is it not a healthier sign of the public mind that it is no longer interested in the sad misfortunes of others? The plea of the museum proprietor that gazing at poor distorted souls was educative can not be defended. No good ever came of staring at the frog-boy, or of questioning the ossified man. In some countries public exhibition of freaks is prohibited. Nothing but morbid curiosity ever sent the public to the dime museum where on one platform could be seen human anomalies from all over the world. Much better is it that a clean moving picture hall where the entertainment is healthful and instructive should supplant the dime museum.

Of course, it wasn’t that much longer before freaks made their way to the movies. In 1932, director Tod Browning (who later directed Bela Lugosi in Dracula) cast several of the most popular sideshow performers of the day in his thriller Freaks, which is available to see in its entirety online at the Internet Archive.

There were still people making livings as sideshow freaks for several more decades, but as medical advances made these sorts of maladies less common, and people became more sensitive to their plights, the sideshow freaks retired. Many of them wound up in Gibsonton, Florida, which was a popular town for sideshow freaks to spend the off-season.

There’s a sad but interesting true crime story that takes place in Gibsonton. Grady “Lobster Boy” Styles, a second generation sideshow performer born with ectrodactyly (which makes the hands and feet look like lobster claws) was convicted of murder in 1978 for shooting his daughter’s fiancé. He eventually got out of jail, and remarried his former wife. But he was a heavy drinker who allegedly abused his family, and in 1992 his wife and son hired a hitman — another sideshow performer — to kill Grady Stiles.

Modern sideshows, like the Coney Island Sideshow by the Seashore are mainly tributes to the sideshows of yore. They feature performances in the tradition of the old sideshows — things like sword swallowing, contortionists, and the human blockhead — and fewer deformities or birth defects, if any.

There is at least one current performer out there I know of who does use his birth defect as a device for his performance art, and that is Mat Fraser, whose defect comes as a result of his mother taking thalidomide while she was pregnant. I first heard of Mat when I saw him at the Coney Island sideshow in the late 90s. He wasn’t there as a performer, but he was talking to some people there about a character he does called the Thalidomide Ninja, and I confess to eavesdropping. I later found out that he made a documentary for the BBC called Born Freak about his condition, and those like him who made their careers in the sideshow business. It doesn’t seem to be available online in is entirety, unfortunately.

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Written by David

February 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am