"Step right up, ladies and gentlemen," called out the sideshow barker. "See a three-legged man, frog boy, people tattooed from head to toe, and lizard man with his forked tongue!"

Huge banners arrayed across tent fronts illustrated these old sideshow wonders, enticing viewers inside to see the "real thing" for themselves. Now tattooing has become quite common, and labeling people as fat or giants or dwarfs is no longer acceptable. And since modern surgical ways "normalize" most joinings and multiplications of body parts that were once a potential source of income in the circus world and shame in the real one — now the sideshow has all but disappeared. Coney Island's Sideshows By the Seashore is the only survivor, and it has been considerably tamed down.

Historic sideshow banners are now collectors' items and one of the finest collections is right here in Michigan with Jim Secreto. He has kindly lent a selection of them to Kresge Art Museum for exhibition in Circus: The Art of the "Strange & Curious", May 5–July 27, 2007. He is also lending us his beautifully carved and painted wooden scale models of performers and wagons.

Opening Reception

Friday, May 11, 6–8 p.m.
KAM invites the curious and fun-loving to "step right up" to an opening reception with sideshow atmosphere featuring circus fare and entertainment. Circus-style treats will include popcorn, hot dogs, and other fairway goodies as well as beverages. Circus and sideshow entertainers will be on hand, including fortune tellers, clowns, magicians, and even a barker!

In honor of the "painted ladies and men" of bygone sideshows, there will be a tattoo show. The cost of attending the reception and exhibition is FREE and packs of fairway tickets will be available for purchase, redeemable for food, drinks, and special entertainment (fortune-telling, face painting, etc.)


Jarring Bodies:
Thoughts on the Display of People with Unusual Bodies

Wednesday, June 6, 2007, 7 p.m., Room 118,
Psychology Building (old Physics Building)

Lecture by Alice Dreger, Ph.D, Medical Humanities and Bioethics Program, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Illinois.

What’s the real history behind how people with norm-challenging body types have been displayed and treated in our society? This talk will explore some of the key features of the historical progression from the time Chang and Eng Bunker, "The Siamese Twins" who made a fortune exhibiting themselves, to today, when our culture tries to limit images of people like the Bunkers to medical textbooks and "news" magazines that show these people chiefly as examples of nature's pity and medicine's heroism. Dreger is the author of One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal and Intersex in the Age of Ethics, among other publications.


Wednesday, July 18, 7 p.m., Wells Hall, B106
Director: Tod Browning, 1932 (66 min.)

German "little person" Harry Earles plays Hans, who falls in love with long-legged trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). Discovering that Hans is heir to a fortune, Cleopatra inveigles him into a marriage, all the while planning to bump off her new husband and run away with brutish strongman Hercules (Henry Victor). What she doesn't reckon with is the code of honor among circus freaks: "offend one, offend them all."
— Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

Genuine circus and carnival sideshow performers were cast for this film. An accompanying hour-long commentary featurette, Freaks: Sideshow Cinema, further enlightens viewers about the lives of these performers before, during, and after the filming of Freaks. It includes interviews with David Skal, author of a biography of director Tod Browning, sideshow performers and historians Tod Robbins and Johnny Meah, actors Mark Povinelli and Jerry Maren, and current sideshow performer Jennifer Miller. Len Sawisch, Ph.D., will provide an introduction to the film and commentary on its personal significance in his own life.


Tuesday, June 12, 12:10 p.m., Kresge Art Museum
Tuesday, June 12, 12:10 p.m., Kresge Art Museum

With Jim Secreto, Collector :
Thursday, June 28, 5:30 p.m., Kresge Art Museum
(KAM will remain open until 6:30 p.m. during this gallery walk.