Posts Tagged ‘human oddities’

A Bowery photographer’s freak show portraits

September 8, 2011

Between 1870 and 1890, bearded girls, dog-faced boys, giants, midgets, fat ladies, lobster-clawed men, and other human oddities sat for photographer Charles Eisenmann.

A German immigrant who opened a studio on the Bowery off Prince Street, Eisenmann focused “almost exclusively on the ‘freaks’ of the circuses, sideshows, and living museums of New York’s Bowery area,” states Syracuse University’s Ronald G. Becker Collection of Charles Eisenmann Photographs.

Eisenmann captured portraits of many of the human attractions exhibited by P.T. Barnum, whose hugely popular museum on Broadway and Ann Street spawned the dime museums near Eisenmann’s studio.

What was his attraction to freaks? As far as anyone knows, Eisenmann never said.

In a city crowded with portrait studios and the Bowery getting rougher, tackier, and more honky-tonk every year, perhaps it was simply a good way to make a living.