Zip the Pinhead at Coney Island

If the year was 1925 instead of 2009 and you were planning a trip to Coney Island, you would be able to see Zip the Pinhead, a P.T. Barnum freak show find who by the 1920s displayed himself at one of the boardwalk sideshows.

Zip_the_pinheadLike other freaks of the time, he was very popular; supposedly Charles Dickens and the Prince of Wales visited him, and he had his portrait done by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. He was also heralded for saving a little girl from drowning off Coney Island.

Despite his appearance, Zip wasn’t microcephalic (the medical term for having a pinhead). Nor was he mentally disabled, according to some accounts. He just happened to be born into a poor New Jersey family and then “discovered” by Barnum, who billed him as a “wild man” from Africa.

Apparently Zip laughed all the way to the bank. On his deathbed in 1926, the 80-something’s last words reportedly were “We fooled ’em for a long time, didn’t we?”

Check out more sideshow freaks and curiosities here.

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8 Responses to “Zip the Pinhead at Coney Island”

  1. Danyel Smith Says:

    weird. powerful. thx.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Weird is right. Zip had a long, interesting life.

  3. Brooks Betz Says:

    What a great piece.
    Being from Liberty Corner, NJ, I had to write about the history of Zip as well. Take a look if you have the chance.

    Help get Bill to create a “Zip Strip” of the Original “Zip” from Liberty Corner – The goal is to get him to formally recognize “our most famous residen.

    Info’s at the end of the post.


  4. Hubert’s: a museum of freaks in Times Square « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Tim started out singing at Hubert’s.  And famous freak Zip the Pinhead did his time there as […]

  5. Beth Says:

    The 1930’s Tod Browning film, “Freaks,” also has a pinhead named Schlitze. Fascinating but freaky film. Once you see it, you’ll never forget the phrase “One of us.”

  6. At least the pay was good | Sheila Allee – Author Says:

    […] disabilities have been used by others for centuries. Only 100 years ago, William Henry Johnson, AKA Zip the Pinhead, was an attraction at a circus freak show in the New York […]

  7. Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the 1880s it had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored […]

  8. Hubert’s | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Tim started out singing at Hubert’s. Famous freak Zip the Pinhead did time there as […]

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