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Freaks: the “Monsters” of the Barnum and Bailey Circus of the early 1900s

2 min read

Before the cinema, television, YouTube, Netflix and similar, the circus was one of the most popular entertainment among people from all walks of life. Those who think that animals forced to perform against their nature suffer an unacceptable form of violence, would probably be horrified by the custom, very popular from 1800 until the first half of 1900, to showcase the so-called freaks.
Most of the attractions of the circuses at the time were deformed men and women who, often against their will, had to perform for public enjoyment. In the United States, the two most famous circuses presenting these shows, called “freak shows”, were the Ringling Brothers and the Barnum&Bailey Circus.

Between 1920 and 1940, the photographer Edward J. Kelty, a rather mysterious figure, adopted a nomadic life in the wake of the circus carriages, equipping a truck, which served him both as a photographic laboratory and as a bedroom.

Even if the theme of the images would be considered politically incorrect to the present day, his photographs still exert a strange attraction, and show an extraordinary technique. The book “Step Right This Way: The Photography of Edward J. Kelty” collects many of Kelty’s circus images. And also the movie “Freaks” of 1932 took a cue from these stories…..

Source, and For more photos.

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