Finding Humanity At The Sideshow
The concept of the early 20th century sideshow evokes images of bearded ladies, sword swallowers and exotic "others" exhibited as "freaks" before audiences both lured and repelled by what they saw.
Crowds flocked to Coney Island sideshows where, for 10 cents, they could find solace that someone was worse off than they were during times of low life expectancy, high infant mortality, world war, and financial instability. Few had the luxury of seeing the humanity behind the act.
Cartoonist Bill Griffith based his legendary character Zippy the Pinhead on Schlitzie, a real life sideshow "pinhead" who appeared in the movie Freaks. Early audiences were appalled by director Tod Browning's use of real sideshow actors who banded together to seek revenge on those who treated them with cruelty.
Griffith's new graphic novel is his way to dig a little deeper into who Schlitzie was and the sideshow family who cared for and loved him.
Also this hour: we learn about a man who saved thousands of premature infants over almost 40 years by exhibiting them in incubators in a Coney Island sideshow. Behind the acts, sideshow performers were often people of great compassion, courage, and humanity.
- Bill Griffith - Creator of the syndicated daily comic strip Zippy and author of two graphic memoirs, Invisible Ink: My Mother's Secret Love Affair With a Cartoonist and Nobody's Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead
- Wolf Krakowski - Yiddish singer whose CDs are on Tzadik Records; Wolf has videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors for the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation
- Claire Prentice - Award-winning freelance journalist, editor, and writer; she's the author of two non-fiction books, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century and Miracle at Coney Island: How a Sideshow Doctor Saved Thousands of Babies and Transformed American Medicine
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Colin McEnroe and Jonathan McNicol contributed to this show.