(Click to enlarge)-(and no stupid puns intended.)
I found this arresting image on the amazing Dutch Circus Museum website a while ago. It dates from the 1920’s, I think.
(CAUTION! When you follow that link you will immediately be subjected to irritating and loud announcements in Dutch. There’s a button at top right that turns off the ringmaster style announcer. Find it quickly. Use it. It is your friend.)
Every time I see this picture in the folder where it lives on my hard drive, I wonder about the people standing around in that model village so long ago. What became of them? How did they manage during the war years?
The website doesn’t give a lot of information about them, and regrettably not much about anybody else save for the barest minimum.
It makes me wonder though, that if an entrepreneur were to succeed in assembling a troupe of people of restricted growth (P.O.R.G) (Note to sub: Check this for political correctness.), and parade them before the paying public in a circus under the banner: Schaefers Liliput Co., then it’s within the realms of possibility that that same mind might just be capable of building a three fifths scale model village for them to live in, No?
(This is pure fantasist conjecture on my part, so please don’t take the idea seriously, charming though it might be.)
Put that worrying thought aside for a moment, and stop concentrating on the lad on the left who looks as if he has an extreme case of hirsutism.
The museum, being a museum, can only hold up for us a graphic reflection of times gone by.
I believe that it’s a good thing that those times that allowed the objectification of people as circus freaks are now history.
Lionel The Lion Man
Whatever happened to Lionel, “Half Man & Half Lion”? It’s hard to imagine living a life of such strange otherness, and then gracefully retiring from it, without some serious re-adjustment. I’m trying, with great difficulty, to visualise Lionel queueing quietly and unobtrusively for his pension in the post office.
While reading Shakespeare.
Solomon The Man Monkey: – “He goes on Sunday to the church”.
This image is absolutely a fruit of its times, and can’t easily be discussed outside its historical context.
I harbour a mental image of a modern day creationist trying to reconcile the idea of this embodiment of evolutionism turning up at church every Sunday. Natty suit though.
Solomon is so transparently not human that, aside from all the moral challenges that his presence radiates, it’s impossible for us to empathise with him. We may share 98% of his genes but we do not share 98% of his feelings.
This next person (or persons) is just so bizarre as to register as a surrealist artwork in his or their own right.
The freakishness of what I see initially blocks my humanity, my empathy. At least to start with.
But then after slowly taking in the evidence in front of me, I start to wonder about the realities of everyday life for this man / couple. Not just the strangeness of talking with his / their tailor, but his / their acceptance by ordinary people: Neighbours, shopkeepers and so on.
What on earth would your life be like had you been born with the same condition?
Almost too weird to contemplate.
The next couple at least have the choice of separating should they want to. However it seems that a tragical but symmetrical collection of injuries has cast them together on the stage of life, and their mutual interdependence binds them tightly together in a sad union that exists for as long as the public has a liking for amputee uniped soldiers doing a novelty act.
I imagine that theirs was not a long and fruitful career, given the ready supply of mutilated soldier comic turns available in Europe of that time, but, hey, what else could they do?
I also wonder what rôle the nurse figure played in their on and off stage lives?
This last selection from the Circus Museum is just heartbreaking. (I’m sorry I can’t link to the original image because the site is riddled with venomous and repugnant use of Flash, but if you are a dedicated image truffler, you will find this one without too much trouble.)
All I can say is that it is the picture of 2 human beings, photographed in a circus environment because that was the only place that offered them validation and a degree of dignity at that time..