Sideshow freaks and human curiosities

Legendary Coney Island amusement park Dreamland burned down in 1911, but that didn’t stop its owners from launching the Dreamland Circus Side Show on Surf Avenue soon after.

This 1930s photo shows some of the sideshow’s most famous performers (plus the newest attraction, “Mortado”). Note the Nedick’s on the right—once a big chain of hot dog and orange juice stands.










The granddaddy of all freak show promoters was P.T. Barnum; his museum on Ann Street in lower Manhattan attracted hundreds of thousands of gawkers each year.

“The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth” toured the country, luring crowds with its “peerless prodigies of physical phenomena,” including a bearded lady, sword swallower, and “Egyptian giant.”



Another bizarro Barnum exhibit: babies. Twins, triplets, “quaterns”  . . . it seems 19th century New Yorkers were as fascinated by multiples as we are today.

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8 Responses to “Sideshow freaks and human curiosities”

  1. Lidian Says:

    These are wonderful pictures!

  2. Jesse Cutler Says:

    Did you know there is now a beer for Coney Island, raising money for Coney Island USA? Check out

    Shmaltz Brewing

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Coney Island Lager, I love it. It is now the official beer here at Ephemeral New York headquarters!

  4. Nick Says:

    The UBS gallery on 6th and 51st has a great display of circus photos and posters. Worth checking out if you’re in midtown

  5. Benjamin Feldman Says:

    Circus was a part of the last decade or so of Barnum’s many enterprises. and his partner Bailey’s free-standing stone mansion still stands, in excellent condition, at the corner of 150th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in NYC, used until recently as a funeral home. A.H. Saxon’s biography of Barnum, published by Columbia University Press about 20 years ago remains the definitive and marvelously entertaining account of the Great Showman’s life.

  6. Zip the Pinhead at Coney Island « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Check out more sideshow freaks and curiosities here. […]

  7. liebepur Says:

    Schwergewichtige sollen sich „schwer verlieben“…

    Früher gab es die Barnum and Bailey Sideshows, heute gibt es die Kuriositätenshows im Fernsehen. Einige hatten Erfolg, andere floppen am laufenden Band, doch bei den erfolgreichen TV-Kuppelshows mit Showfreakeffekt hatte „Bauer sucht Frau“ bislang den …

  8. The gaudy elephant hotel of 1880s Coney Island | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] When Coney Island went from remote sandbar resort to the city’s biggest beachfront playground in the 1880s, tawdry amusement attractions began to pop up on the West End: beer halls, roller coasters, and freak shows. […]

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