Posts Tagged ‘Coney Island sideshow’

A 1930s painter’s coarse, crowded Coney Island

June 6, 2013

Social realist painter Reginald Marsh frequently depicted soldiers, sailors, floozies, burlesque dancers, moviegoers, bums, and other colorful characters that populated New York in the first half of the 20th century.

Reginaldmarshpipandflip

And he had a special fondness for Coney Island—the rougher edges of the boardwalk and beach, that is, filled with garish sideshows (“Pip and Flip,” from 1932, above), skimpy bathing suits, the promise of fun and adventure on a five-cent carnival ride.

Reginaldmarshwonderlandcircus

[Above: “Wonderland Circus, Sideshow Coney Island,” 1930]

“Marsh explained that he was drawn to Coney Island ‘because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds—crowds of people in all directions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens,'” according to this recent piece on Marsh on the Smithsonian Institution’s blog.

Reginaldmarshsteeplechase

[Above: “Geroge C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park,” 1932]

It’s a part of Coney Island that hasn’t been totally erased with all the new development. You can still catch in glimpses.

Zip the Pinhead at Coney Island

May 27, 2009

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.