Finding Humanity At The Side Show | Connecticut Public Radio
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Finding Humanity At The Side Show

May 1, 2019

The concept of the early 20th century side show 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 side shows where, for ten 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 side show 'pinhead' who appeared in the movie, "Freaks." Early audiences were appalled by director Tod Browning's use of real side show actors who banned 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 side show family who cared for and loved him. 

Also this hour: we learn about a man who saved thousands of premature infants over almost forty years by exhibiting them in incubators in a Coney Island sideshow. Behind the acts, side show performers were often people of great compassion, courage, and humanity. 

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Colin McEnroe and Jonathan McNicol contributed to this show.