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Secrets of the Sideshows by Joe Nickell
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Secrets of the Sideshows

by Joe Nickell

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I'll be honest I bought this mainly for some research & as such I've only read 2 or 3 chapters in any depth. From that sampling it seems to be well thought out, referencing other similar works (Dan Mannix gets several mentions).

The title isn't misleading, you'll find out how quite a few sideshow acts, curios and freaks come about, what carnies mean by real and if you are brave/reckless enough how to do one or two working acts yourself.

On Derren Brown's science of scams page, there is a bit of debate about Pepper's ghost. The gorilla-girl will tell you how to use it to great effect even though I'd pay out a couple $10 to see that performed well.

Its worth the entrance price, with a good biblography and further reference sections. ( )
  anamuk | Oct 16, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0813123585, Hardcover)

The carnival sideshows of the past have left behind a fascinating legacy of mystery and intrigue. The secrets behind such daring feats as fire-eating and sword swallowing and bizarre exhibitions of human oddities as "Alligator Boys" and "Gorilla Girls" still remain, only grudgingly if ever given up by performers and carnival professionals. Working alongside the performers, Joe Nickell blows the lid off these mysteries of the midway. The author reveals the structure of the shows, specific methods behind the performances, and the showmen's tactics for recruiting performers and attracting crowds. He also traces the history of such spectacles, from ancient Egyptian magic and street fairs to the golden age of P.T. Barnum's sideshows. With revealing insight into the personal lives of the men and women billed as freaks, Nickell unfolds the captivating story of the midway show.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:34 -0400)

On small-town ballfields and county fairgrounds, the sideshow performers set up their tents and trailers in the shadow of the Ferris wheel. There they amazed us with daring feats such as fire eating and sword swallowing, intrigued us with exhibitions of human oddities and various "anatomical wonders," and yes, deceived us with illusions such as "Atasha the Gorilla Girl" and even outright fakes. These bizarre spectacles engaged the mind as well as the eye. Was the human blockhead act, in which the performer pounded a large nail or ice pick into his nostril, real or fake? Was the so-called allig… (more)

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