Hubert’s: freaks and fleas in Times Square

Coney Island wasn’t the only place New Yorkers could go to ogle side-show exhibits. From 1925 to 1969, Hubert’s Museum in Times Square—next door to the Amsterdam Theater on West 42nd Street—housed freaks of all stripes.

For 25 cents, you could catch a glimpse of Olga, the bearded lady, whose facial hair measured more than 13 inches. And the Man From World War Zero, who had a terribly deformed face.

There was also Susie the Elephant Skin Girl, Lady Estelline the sword swallower, voodoo jungle snake dancer Princess Sahloo, Prince Randion, human caterpiller, and a man who could blow up balloons and smoke pipes through his tear duct.

Tiny Tim started out singing at Hubert’s. Famous freak Zip the Pinhead did time there as well.

Hubert’s had something else going for it: the city’s last flea circus. Professor Heckler’s Flea Circus operated in the basement. There, real fleas attached to very thin wires raced miniature chariots on a teeny tiny track.

Hubert’s is long gone, but you can still see it on film: A scene from 1969’s Midnight Cowboy has John Voight strolling past.

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24 Responses to “Hubert’s: freaks and fleas in Times Square”

  1. Lauren Says:

    There’s also this film, from the New York Public Library archives:
    Huberts (7 min)
    A nostalgic look at Hubert’s Flea Circus and Museum on West 42nd St in the early ’70s, Huberts shows us a world on the brink of extinction.
    Directors: Vicki Polon, Rhody Streeter and Tony Ganz. 1972.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool, thanks. I’ve been trying to find a link to that film to post but it doesn’t seem to be on the NYPL site.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Back when I saw Hubert’s in the 1960s the flea market man was very friendly. I was about 14/15 years old at the time and the first time I was in Times Square, up from the Lower East Side. The sword swallower was a man (I never saw a Lady) who had a sort wiggly sword going down his throat that made the Adam’s apple bounce back and forth. I still feel repulsed by it, gives me the shivers. Those were innocent times and Midnight Cowboy nights loomed up ahead…I still can hear ‘Everybody’s talking at me…’

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    Times Square has changed a lot. But there’s still a sideshowy, sleazy underbelly. In another decade, it’ll rise again….

  5. vintageportland Says:

    Interesting teaser concerning the book and Diane Arbus photos focusing on Hubert’s: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ftg0QvaqEuQ

  6. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Very nice vintageportland, intriguing time of life, a time that calls back constantly…Too bad I didn’t run away back then :(((

  7. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Also the 42nd Street scene is captured in my novella ‘Times Queer’ which was nothing but a Hubert’s/City of Night cavalcade going nowhere in the 1960s

    http://timesqueer.blogspot.com/

    or

    http://www.amazon.com/Times-Queer-Mykola-Dementiuk/dp/0975858114/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1259603580&sr=8-9

  8. cityofstrangers Says:

    Thanks for the post. A flea circus – I’d forgotten those even used to exist! And right on Times Square yet. I agree with mick that it must have been a different era, even with all the hustlers around. And yes, like wlidny says, I think the sleaze will rise again . . . all this stuff is cyclical to some degree.

    Tim

  9. bob Says:

    If you want “state of the art” and LAST WORD sideshow history of Huberts Dime Museum and Flea Circus and the ambience therein, straight from the horses mouth, go to http://www.hubertsfreaks.com
    with pictures and more film details, etc.

  10. Flea Circus Director Says:

    I believe there was also a flea circus at Coney Island but I’ve only one photo of the outside to show that.

  11. RED DAVE Says:

    I remember Hubert’s well when I was a college student in the early 1960s. A high school friend of mine, a very bohemian guy named Richard (then Dickie) Del Bourgo, worked there. He is the subject of one of Arbus’s photographs.

    Richard Del Bourgo

  12. Richie Jankow Says:

    My friends and I used to take the city line bus to Jamaica and then take the train to Manhattan. We used to go to Huberts for the arcade games, to get phony proof and of cause the freak show downstairs
    in the back.Then we would top off the day with a steak at Tads…
    Those days we did not have to worry…it was another America..
    Where are we going now ??? Right down the shit shoot…
    Im glad I lived during the good old days.

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

    […] From the site Ephemeral New York: […]

  14. What This City Could Be | Travalanche Says:

    […] it. In most other cities, the bus station is on the outskirts. So let it be here. Also, bring back Hubert’s Flea Circus to Times Square! And (I would have said) a circus building for Big Apple Circus…but they […]

  15. Ezra Walker Says:

    I just found some rare recordable antique records from Hubert’s Museum Sports Palace. These are from early 1930 sWondering if any of members followers
    Have seen or own these recordable dime disc. Would love to share pictures with any all THANK YOU

  16. jerry norman Says:

    Oh my gosh. I lived in there from opening to closing for a period of about 6 or 8 months. They were like my parents. All of them. Great people and friends. I had run away from home at 16 and oh how I loved those carny people. Of course I never had to pay to get down stairs and I used to run and get them things from the restaurants around 42nd st. We use to go to the italian place next door. This was 1961 and you could get a big (also quite good )large plate of spaghetti for 99 cents. Oh those were the days. I would shill for the girls that danced. I would be the first to raise my hand to buy a picture as no one wanted to be the first to do so. I would never hand them money and they would give me a picture. Worked every time. Then give the picture back after that group had left. Oh God what fun. Of course I went on in life to be a very successful salesman. Why can’t kids today go out and get a great street education. I don’t mean a negative experience but fun experience with a huge does of common sense. Anyone else with similar experiences please write some lines. We must write a book. For me this was just the beginning of at least 200 pages.

  17. Gemma G Says:

    We were there at least 3 days a week,playing hookey, of course they opened before noon so we would go in, do the circuit, then go to the Empire for cheap double features..they used to sell autographed pix, I, personally LOVED Andy Potatoe Chips, I loved them all, thought they were such exotic people till one day I snuck down early the door was open..and I saw them all playing cards, talking ya know like regular people..LOL was I disappointed..they weren’t magical at all!! Funny, when you’re a kid the way you think!!

  18. Sword Swallowers and Shrunken Heads: An Ode to Johnny Fox and His Freakatorium | Collectors Weekly Says:

    […] before that) in the 1800s and of the long-defunct 20th-century flea circus and freakshow, Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street, which Fox visited as a […]

  19. Bruce Paley Says:

    Growing up in Queens, my friends and I used to go to Times Square some evenings. I went to Hubert’s a few times and I distinctly remember seeing the flea show, and have a vague memory of engaging in a gun drawing contest with a cowboy mannequin that always outdrew me. During the 70s I was the night manager for a while of the shop Record Haven on 7th avenue just off 42nd street, and as people have said, Times Square at the time was incredibly seedy, full of all sorts of sleazy characters – the TV series The Deuce had perfectly captured the atmosphere, which I don’t think will ever be the same again. Seedy it was, but it had real character.

  20. Mario Manzini Says:

    Mario Manzini Escape Artist here. I started my career at Hubert’s Museum in 1957 when I was 16 years old. Years later in the 1980’s I bought the entire building and we made it into an old time Burlesk theater. I and my partners owned all of the Burlesk theaters in New York City during those years.

  21. Susan Milano Says:

    While still in high school I discovered Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street one day, on a visit to NYC. It was there where I first saw a tattooed lady (and I believe it actually was Jean Furella Carroll, who I subsequently met and videotaped a few years after the Museum had closed). It was a wondrous place where side show performers and the most unusual “folks” displayed themselves for all the world to see. On one visit I paid an extra quarter to go into a darkened room with a small crowd of people….not knowing what or who would appear on the small stage before us. It turned out to be a snake handler and it took some small amount of time before I realized that this ginormous snake was being passed among the crowd and was headed my way. I gave out a yelp and headed for the exit. I learned that this was also a haunt of the famous photographer, Diane Arbus. Great minds think alike! There’s a wonderful book, Hubert’s Freaks, by Gregory Gibson, that you might enjoy.

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